I can remember it all so vividly. I was sat on my living room carpet directly in front of our television as the penalty was saved and cleared to the right, crossed in and put into the back of the net. It was heart-breaking for me and for thousands of others as a sea of yellow flooded our screens. I am talking, of course, about Troy Deeney’s goal in the Championship Play-Off Semi-Final which sent Watford to Wembley after Anthony Knockaert’s penalty was saved by former Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia in the dying moments of the game. ‘Knockie’ was reduced to tears, Pearson couldn’t believe it and the owners must have contemplated finding a new manager.
But that was all over a year ago now and a lot can change in a year, just ask any Leicester City fan! The owners stuck by Nigel, Knockaert and the rest of the boys bounced back and we are now just a week away from our first game in the Premier League in over a decade, at home to Everton. The impact of the play-off despair could have gone one of two ways, in my opinion: we could let it affect us and we use it as an excuse for the next season or we could use it as an experience and as motivation to bounce back even stronger. Thankfully, we did the latter. Keeping with pretty much the same team, Pearson’s side had a stability and several partnerships that their rivals couldn’t boast (such as Matty James & Danny Drinkwater in midfield and David Nugent & Jamie Vardy up front). This proved crucial as Leicester started as they had left off with early wins over Middlesbrough, Derby and Birmingham, putting the Foxes in 2nd place by the end of August.
After a brief, controversial slip-up at Charlton, Leicester re-grouped and pushed on to further wins before an eventful 2-2 draw at Bloomfield Road, in which Andy King scored one of the goals of the season with a sweet left footed drive from 25 yards. This was before a moment of madness from our ‘Mr. Reliable’ Kasper Schmeichel handed Blackpool a lifeline. Schmeichel was again at fault at Doncaster when he seemed to throw a Mark Duffy corner into his own net which proved pivotal as City went on to lose to that solitary goal.
By the start of November, City were 2nd and went to Vicarage Road in a repeat of the Play-Offs, desperate to gain revenge for May’s pain. The Foxes did so, with a comfortable win, winning 3-0. Chris Wood bizarrely opened the scoring when Almunia’s clearance rebounded off Wood and went in before Knockaert, who had left the field in tears after his penalty miss, scored a sweet volley dispatching Jeffrey Schlupp’s left-wing cross. Lloyd Dyer completed the scoring late on. Next, Leicester faced East Midlands rivals Nottingham Forest at the King Power Stadium but fell to a bitterly disappointing 2-0 defeat. Two more victories followed in November with wins over Ipswich and Millwall, putting City top of the league.
However, consecutive defeats at Sheffield Wednesday and Brighton left some City fans remembering the collapse of the 2012/13 season from February onwards. With two defeats in a row, City had a huge task in facing an in-form Burnley side at home – a 1-1 draw was played out and turned out to be the start of a remarkable run. Leicester’s successful Capital One Cup run came to an end in the quarter-finals as a strong Manchester City side came out as 3-1 winners. But the Foxes then went to Loftus Road and beat QPR in their own back yard to put themselves back in the automatic promotion places, where they would remain until the end of the season. Jamie Vardy’s goal was enough to take all three points and start a run of 9 wins in a row in the league, a club record. This impressive wins over Reading (1-0, putting Leicester in top spot, the place they would keep hold of throughout the season), Bolton (5-3), Derby (4-1 – voted performance of the season) and Leeds (1-0) before a Kevin Phillip’s goal was enough to beat Bournemouth at the Goldsands Stadium.
The winning streak came to an end in style, though, as City trailed 2-0 to Watford before Matty James pulled one back just before the break and midfield partner Danny Drinkwater hit an unstoppable volley, voted goal of the season, in the fourth minute of injury time to clinch a point and stretch the unbeaten run to 11. City then drew at Forest, again 2-2, before three 3-0 wins in a row and a 3-1 against Blackpool, where Riyad Mahrez scored a beauty of a goal from the right-wing. In late March, a famous Chris Wood goal (after Kasper Schmeichel’s header CLEARLY crossed the line) rescued a point against Yeovil was followed by a fantastic 2-0 win at fellow high-flyers Burnley which included another beautiful strike, this time from New Zealand striker Wood, a dipping volley from 30 yards. After a 2-1 home win over Sheffield Wednesday and slip-ups by Derby and QPR, Leicester were officially promoted on 5th April, with six games to spare.
Leicester suffered their final defeat of the season at home to Brighton (the only team to complete the double over the Foxes) by four goals to one, possibly due to the heavy partying that took place over the weekend, ending an incredible 21 match unbeaten run, which stretched four months. City completed the double over QPR before a Lloyd Dyer goal at Bolton confirmed the Championship title for the Foxes. On the final day, Leicester beat Doncaster 1-0 for their 31st league win of the season, relegating Paul Dickov’s men, and Wes Morgan could eventually lift the trophy, followed by a pitch invasion by the fans.
Overall, it was an unbelievable season for everyone associated with the club and one that will last long in the memory of all those involved. The team broke numerous records and will hope to push on and have a steady season in the Premier League. Ultimately, the main aim will be to avoid relegation but a mid-table finish would be a fantastic achievement for Nigel Pearson’s side, who are expected to set out in a standard 4-4-2 as they did for the majority of last season. Schmeichel will be a certainty, along with De Laet and Morgan in defence. The midfield is pretty settled with Knockaert, Drinkwater, James and Mahrez and two of Nugent, Vardy and new record signing Leandro Ulloa (£7m) will start up top. Matthew Upson, Ben Hamer and Marc Alrbrighton (all free transfers) have also been added to a pretty settled side, with a few more signings expected to come in before the end of the transfer window, with Esteban Cambiasso being linked with a move.
Season ticket holder, Brad Smith (16), is feeling optimistic about the new season and said, “I think Leicester will be safe from relegation this season and will cope well with the Premier League due to their style of play. They look very good in possession and will be able to break down their opposition, but a lack of Premier League experience could be their downfall. Last season was the best season being a City fan in all my life and probably the best in a very long time. Last season, we were able to make a very tough league look relatively comfortable.”
With Everton (h), Chelsea (a), Arsenal (h) and Manchester United (h) in the first five games, it won’t be an easy start and will be tough to get early points on the board. However, fast forward to April 2015 and City’s final 8 games. Fans will be optimistic that they face just two sides who finished in the top half last season (Newcastle and Southampton). We all know it will be a difficult season, but let’s just enjoy the ride and see what happens, after all, WE’RE LEICESTER CITY, WE’RE PREMIER LEAGUE!