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June 12, 2013 / ultrafox1963

Leicester City – Season Review 2012-13

The Foxes Trust interviewed correspondents about their impressions of the 2012-13 season.  This is the full version of the ElectricCello editor’s response.

How did you rate our season overall?

Once again, the side punched well below its weight, especially on its travels. Although it produced occasional moments of brilliance, particularly during the first half of the season, the last three months saw a dramatic and disturbing slump.

It wasn’t a vintage Championship campaign – at least two of the sides promoted will probably come straight back down again – and we may well have squandered the best chance of promotion we’re likely to have for some time.

I’ve seen a few online comments from sections of the fanbase claiming that as we made the playoffs, the season should be judged a success. That analysis is not only complacent but wrong. In most seasons, a total of 68 points would have seen us finish nowhere near the playoffs.

Even if we’d somehow made it to Wembley and prevailed there, there were so many flaws in the team that instant relegation would have been inevitable. Derby’s horror season in 2007-08 – from which, five years on, they’ve still to recover – provided a gruesome indication of our likely fate.

But another failed season helps to build the idea that we don’t really “belong” in the top flight. Having spent nearly a decade in the lower leagues, too many fans seem prepared to readily tolerate, accept and even welcome mediocrity. That type of attitude, which sadly appears particularly prevalent among the younger generation, is toxic to our club.

Meanwhile the owners seem willing to give the manager more time. I suspect that is as much to do with their own lack of self-belief as in genuine confidence that he has the quality needed. After all, with all due respect to them, they’ve hardly covered themselves in glory so far with their record of managerial appointments.

They must be asking themselves, though, how much longer they can carry on pouring good money after bad. When they took over, their anticipation would have been for one, maybe two, seasons of heavy losses. Now they’re facing at least four.

What was your highlight of the season?

The win at Forest was important for many reasons – ending a league hoodoo that had endured at their place for four decades, but also preserving our status as the top side in the East Midlands and stopping the hosts from making the playoffs. The fact that we were able to regain a top-six spot ourselves was an added bonus.

The six-goal hidings dished out to Ipswich and Huddersfield were enjoyed at the time. But both those sides would later gain revenge for those results and show how badly our challenge fell off the rails.

What was your biggest disappointment?

The last 30 seconds of the Watford playoff second leg were as bad an experience as I have been through in over 40 years of watching this side.

I don’t attach too much blame to Knockaert for missing the penalty. Even top players have been known to fail from the spot. But to concede a goal immediately afterwards exposed once again the lack of discipline, organisation and professionalism which had sadly become a recurring theme in recent months.

At least Watford’s defeat in the play-off final means we now have the opportunity to go back to Vicarage Road and put them back in their place.

Having been in the automatic places earlier in the season, we only just scraped into the play offs, what do you think were the main reasons for the slump in form?

Opposing teams came up with a game plan to close us down and deny us space. Too often, the manager didn’t have a plan B to counteract that. We faced a number of games where our character, nerve and resilience were put to the test, and on too many occasions we came up short, especially away from home.

Overloading the side with young players didn’t help either. As games came thick and fast, stamina became a real issue with the team – as shown by the number of times we lost points to goals conceded in the last five minutes.

Some of the senior players need to look at their own contributions. At times it looked as if they were content to stay in their own comfort zone, on their big contracts. Do they have the hunger, the ambition or the drive to take City to the next level? I’m not convinced they do.

Wes Morgan won all the official player of the season awards, would he have been your choice and who else impressed you this season?

For the first six months of the season, he looked like the defensive leader we’ve missed for far too long. His anticipation and tackling was acknowledged, not least by fellow players, as among the best in the division.

However, he didn’t escape the general malaise which afflicted the team in the closing weeks. Maybe off-field issues and rumoured interest from other clubs unsettled him, especially as he was being asked to act as “nursemaid” to other members of the defence more often than maybe he should have done.

Overall, I’d say Kasper Schmeichel, who again showed great quality and consistency throughout the campaign, probably should have edged player of the season.

Ritchie De Laet and Matty James had solid first seasons for us, Liam Moore and Jeff Schlupp continued their progress from the previous season and Chris Wood had an exceptional first month, even if he went off the boil later.

Anthony Knockaert has attained cult hero status with many fans, and his heroics at Huddersfield and Forest will linger long in many memories. But there were too many games, especially in winter where his contribution was far less substantial. Overall, the fears that the rigours of a 46-match league season would prove too much for him turned out to be justified.

Which of the players failed to live up to your expectations?

Another argument regularly used by the manager’s apologists is his prowess in the transfer market. However, even that wasn’t so evident this season.

Zak Whitbread had a debut from hell against Burton and never really settled. Jamie Vardy faded after a promising start, while Ben Marshall and Danny Drinkwater didn’t quite make the progress that many had hoped.

Of the more established players, Sean St Ledger struggled to recover from injury setbacks and Martyn Waghorn seemed to be frozen out altogether. I doubt whether either of them will be around for the start of next season.

Loan signings were a mixed bunch. Michael Keane impressed before tiring towards the end of the season and Harry Kane was a real disappointment. As for Jesse Lingard, the less said about him, the better.

Overall do you think Nigel Pearson has improved the squad since his return?

There seemed to be a lot more coherence during the early part of the season. But the underlying weaknesses that existed under previous managers are still present. Unless and until they are corrected, further progress will be difficult.

Off the pitch, the financial accounts up to May 2012 revealed further significant losses, that wages equated to 129% of turnover and with further loans of £15.6m up to 30th Nov 2012, what are your thoughts on these figures?

Very worrying. Last season’s figures were unsustainable and these are even more so. Some of the big-money players have been moved on, but others remain, even though it’s clear they do not figure in the current manager’s plans. Few clubs in this division will be able or willing to match the terms and conditions of their current contracts.

From June 1st 2013 financial decisions taken by the club will face sanctions in the 2014/15 season if the club does not conform to Financial Fair Play targets which for next season only permits £5m of investment by the owners. With that in mind how do you think the owners will approach next season?

I think we may see a certain degree of creative accounting (as has already happened at other clubs) to give us a little more leeway under FFP. But with the wage bill at its current level, I’d be surprised if we saw too many more million-pound signings arrive over the summer.

We’re probably in a situation where we need to sell before we can buy, and that may mean that players have to leave who fans might have preferred to keep, as indicated by the imminent departure of St Ledger. The list of players out of contract will also be scrutinised more closely than in previous years.

Keeping your above answer in mind, what changes to the squad would you make?

I don’t see any of the current players (not even Schmeichel) as being irreplaceable. If we receive decent offers they will have to be considered. The addition of an experienced, combative central midfielder is as imperative now as it was last summer. 

Are there any particular players you would recommend to add?

Abdou and Trotter of Millwall have caught my eye whenever I’ve seen them. Either could give us the bite we badly lack at the moment.

On the assumption Nigel Pearson remains manager, if you had the opportunity to sit down and give him some advice, what would you say ?

Somebody at the club needs to sit down with him and conduct a detailed, thorough and hard-hitting appraisal of what went wrong. It should have happened twelve months ago. I’m not sure it did.

He’s had four seasons at second-tier level (three with us and one with Hull) and must be concerned that he hasn’t made the impact that he or many of us would have hoped for. Several City managers (Gordon Milne, Micky Adams, Martin O’Neill) achieved promotion at the first time of asking in this division. Significantly, none of those would have been indulged in failure by either the boardroom or the stands the way that he has.

He also needs to start directly engaging with fans more, as he seems to have become isolated in recent months, and in the current situation that isn’t helping either him or the club.

One of the most frustrating features of his tenure is his insistence, bordering on obsession, with trying to shoehorn Andy King into a 4-4-2 formation when it’s been patently obvious for the past five years (ever since the League 1 season) that system doesn’t suit him.

Which clubs do you see as the main threat for promotion next season?

Of the teams coming down, both Wigan and QPR will need to rebuild (not least because of FFP requirements) and any challenge from them is unlikely. Reading still have a core of players from their title season, and with Nigel Adkins in charge may be best placed to regroup.

Several sides improved substantially over the second half of the season after changes in management and must be considered as contenders. Bolton, Forest and Ipswich come into that category, while Charlton have made solid and steady progress under Chris Powell and could be a decent outside bet. With new owners and a reasonable transfer budget, Leeds could be in the mix too.

Any other observation you would like to make?

If we ever again go through the situation we had on the night of the Middlesbrough home game, I’d like to think that someone at the club would have the sense to have the game postponed.

The weather and traffic conditions were so poor that police were advising fans not to travel and their views should have carried more weight than they did. I can’t recall any club in English professional football treating fans with such open contempt.

When Arsenal were faced with the potential for traffic problems on Boxing Day, they asked for the league to cancel the fixture. So it’s not if there wasn’t a precedent there.

Many fans seemed only to care that we won the match, which we eventually did. But had a car skidded on the ice and crashed into a tree or lamp-post, either to or from the match, the result would have been irrelevant. The damage to the club’s reputation would have set us back years.

I don’t have too many issues in general with games being moved for TV, as long as the club receives sufficient recompense, which won’t happen while we remain stuck in the lower leagues.

What does irritate me is the number of midweek games, more often than not of dubious quality, which clash with Champions League on TV and impose on the fans’ social calendar.

A 46-game league is far too long and needs to be cut, for the sake of players and fans alike. Is it any wonder our international sides struggle in major tournaments, when the emphasis at every level of the game is on quantity of football rather than quality?

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