ITWM is joined by Leicester City fan James Knight (@MFoxx2) to assess the club’s chances of promotion.
Here it is – the business end of the season. With only two months plus change of league football to play, the online predictors are coming out, fixture lists are being scoured and prayers are being logged with the big guy. Here at Watford, the fans can smell a promotion push. Vicarage Road is reeking of the bittersweet stench of hope and possible Premier League football. But there are others with their eyes on the same prize: Leicester, Crystal Palace and Hull are all stalking Cardiff with intent. So how are their late season charges shaping up? To find out, ITWM has enlisted fans of the competitors to allow us a glimpse into their war rooms, starting with James Knight, supporter of fifth placed Leicester City..
ITWM: So, you’re fifth at the moment, but with two games in hand of the other four teams chasing league leaders Cardiff. How would you say the season so far has measured up to the fans’ pre-season expectations?
JK: I think everyone expected/demanded a better season than the last one (9th), which we’ve got. With the outlay over the course of the last couple of years we probably expected automatic promotion too, which is still a possibility. I think we all wanted more of a challenge for top spot as well, but Cardiff have been out of sight for a while now.
Looking at your results, I think it’s fair to say that consistency has been the problem for Leicester this year. Two sequences of five wins in a row have been followed up by extended, largely winless runs. Is this going to cost you in the long run?
Probably. It certainly cost us any hope of winning the league and depending on how these two games in hand go it might have cost us second place as well. Inconsistency has been a problem for the last couple of years and it’s frustrating in the extreme. Virtually everyone in the league suffers from it to some degree because that’s just the nature of the Championship, but dropping points to Peterborough, Barnsley, Birmingham et al may well turn out to be costly aberrations.
It’s hard not to notice your goal difference (+25 at the moment). Leicester have got a pretty impressive attacking corps with international superstar David Nugent supported by Anthony Knockaert and Chris Wood, but you also have a stellar defensive record, especially away from home. How that’s happened with Zak Whitbread and Richie de Laet in the side?
In all seriousness, de Laet has impressed me a lot. I was distinctly underwhelmed at the beginning of the season but I think he’s turned out to be a solid defender and is good going forward as well. Whitbread is a walking calamity for the most part but has been shunned ever since we got Michael Keane in from Manchester United. It’s difficult to explain why our defensive record is so good; they manage to keep clean sheets despite not looking all that impressive quite a lot. Think Kasper Schmeichel and Wes Morgan have to take a lot of credit for holding it together so well.
You have a busy beginning to March, with five games in fifteen days. How well do you think the squad will be able to cope with this? Do you feel the squad has strength in depth and is it affected by any injuries at the moment?
The depth question is a difficult one because on paper we look to have a fairly strong squad of about 15/16 players, but when those on the fringes have been given a go we’ve looked absolutely awful. Against Burton in the League Cup we played a second string side and got hammered and then against Huddersfield in the FA Cup recently we looked poor again. For a side with about 60 strikers lurking about we’re incredibly reliant on David Nugent and Chris Wood for goals and both have picked up knocks of late. Nugent’s got some sort of neck problem going on which is troubling him and Wood is just back from a knee problem. How well we fare over the next fortnight might depend heavily on whether they can fully get over those niggles.
You have a mixed run-in, with an especially tricky last four games. How do you think your side will stand up to pressure? Have they shown much mental fortitude this season?
Oddly, for a Leicester side, yes. Traditionally they blow a ridiculous amount of points through conceding late goals but this year the defence has been resilient enough to grind out wins we usually throw away. The game against Middlesbrough on Sky a few weeks back was an example of that, when Schmeichel saved a penalty in the last minute.
That said, it does look a tough run in, mostly because we hardly face any sides who have nothing to play for. Even teams like Barnsley have been fighting recently and there’s a couple of horrible looking away games in there as well. With any luck we can hit one of those runs of form again and worry about chasing second rather than looking over our shoulders.
Who’s got to step up and perform if you’re going to force your way into the top two?
Other than the strikers we could do with our wingers getting back to something like their early season form. Knockaert in particular is a real player but since the turn of the year has gone off the boil a bit and we need him firing again. He’s not even made the starting line up in a couple of games recently, which might help spur him into action.
How do you see it going? And what would you be happy with?
I think second spot is slipping out of our reach now, unless we really go on a run. Nine points is a lot to make up even with games in hand. I wouldn’t be entirely happy with the playoffs because the wounds of last time are still all too raw, but if that’s what it has to be then so be it.
Have you seen Cardiff, Palace or Hull this year? What do you think about each of them?
I’ve seen all of them come to Leicester; Hull weren’t very impressive and we beat them quite comfortably but they seem to have improved quite a lot since then. We beat Palace as well but they looked a much better side and Bolasie and Zaha were excellent. Caused our full backs no end of problems. It’s become a bit of a football hipster thing to say, but I thought Bolasie was the more impressive of the two. Cardiff came and did a job on us; they weren’t exciting to watch in the same way as Palace but looked a really good team. Leicester played well enough to beat most sides that day but couldn’t break them down and Bellamy scored a nice goal to win it. Based on that very small sample size it’s surprising Hull are doing as well as they are.
Finally, what do you make of Watford; both as the league’s undisputed entertainers and pantomime villains?
Maybe my morals have been eroded by the fact Leicester are owned by dirty foreign money too, but I don’t really see the problem with what they’re doing. A couple of years back Sven brought in a whole host of loan players at Leicester and there wasn’t anything like the same outcry, mostly amusement that it failed and various quarters telling us teams of loanees can never be successful. So for people to turn round now and say it’s obvious Watford have a huge advantage from being able to get in so many loans smacks of sour grapes. It’s a bit disrespectful to the job Zola’s done there as well. I do think it’s strange how there isn’t a limit on foreign loans, mind.
From a footballing point of view I’ve seen Watford a few times, including when Leicester went to Vicarage Road, and they play really good football. Little Fernando Forestieri gave Liam Moore such a torrid time he’s gone from being linked with Man United to shipped out on loan to Brentford. Personally, I’d have no problem if they went up. Except that they’d probably be stealing our place, of course. The faux-Italian, cheating bastards.
*These fixtures belong to the Football League, I don’t own this intangible mix of words and dates.