The second placed Tigers took on fifth placed Leicester City in what always promised to be a spicy encounter given the recent history between the two clubs. The 1,500-2,000 visiting fans topped up a Boxing Day crowd of 20,321 at the KC Stadium and were treated to an interesting, if not always entertaining encounter between two very even looking sides who were levelled further by the rain pouring down throughout half time and the second period. Leicester manager Nigel Pearson was hardly mentioned by the KC crowd showing the level of satisfaction there is with the current incumbent. Aside from one phenomenal move being met with chants of “We’re not boring anymore”, Pearson was an afterthought.
Steve Bruce isn’t afraid to change a winning team but on this occasion, David Meyler’s suspension meant he didn’t have much choice. Sone Aluko played for the first time in December with Robert Koren dropping into midfield. Leicester countered our 3-5-2 system with a 4-3-3. Ben Marshall and Anthony Knockaert played as deep lying wide players to create a barrier of five in front of their back four. Marshall closed James Chester quickly whenever he tried to bring the ball out of defence and James and Drinkwater got very close to Koren whenever he picked up possession. You could never accuse Nigel Pearson of not doing his homework. Leicester were on a run of one win in five and looking to avoid a third successive defeat which seems remarkable given the talent they have at their disposal. You get the feeling that if they put as much effort in in the other games as they did to try and counter-act us, they’d pick up a few more results.
Tigers 3-5-2: [G] Jakupovic [D] Chester, Faye, Hobbs [M] Elmohamady, Brady, Evans, Quinn, Koren [F] Aluko, Simpson
Leicester had the better of the opening 20 minutes despite not showing a lot of ambition. City were jittery, passed methodically and occasionally poorly and struggled to find any rhythm. Leicester knocked the ball long into the channels for Nugent to chase and while most balls ran through, he found a couple and allowed Knockaert to get into the game around the box. The Frenchman has a reputation for scoring goals from distance but fortunately for us, he’s not as effective from 16 yards. He scuffed an early chance from a Konchesky pull-back before he managed to beat Hobbs for pace on their right but dragged his shot across goal. A third let-off came when Evans misplaced a pass in midfield allowing Marshall to release Drinkwater but Jakupovic raced off his line to narrow the angle and beat the shot away.
The Tigers came to life in the second quarter and will rue the chances that went begging. With Leicester defending in numbers and remaining compact without the ball, a goal would have drawn them out for the rest of the game. Sone Aluko had a quiet time on his return to the side but it was no coincidence that when he was able to get into the game, we had our best spell. Aluko dropped off the front, spun a couple of defenders and fed Robbie Brady whose excellent cross was cleared brilliantly by Whitbread ahead of the waiting Elmohamady. Aluko then robbed Drinkwater in midfield but despite being pulled back and then tripped as he approached the “D”, no free kick was awarded. Koren and Aluko were starting to find each other, backed up by the busy Quinn and the tireless Brady. When they forced a corner, Koren’s delivery sailed over everyone to the far post where Faye arrived unmarked and headed down and just wide of the post. He put his head in his hands and he had every reason to. It was a sitter by his standards. Koren and Aluko then linked up again, played a one-two before Koren’s pass slipped through to Simpson. The weight of the ball was perfect for Simpson to shoot first time but instead he went around Schmeichel and his shot from a tight-ish angle was kicked of the line by De Laet. I’m normally an advocate of going around the ‘keeper but I really felt this one needed hitting first time.
We’d regret those two chances and a third that came shortly after. This one though was crafted so beautifully that had it gone in, it wouldn’t just have been a game changer, it would’ve had goal of the season all wrapped up. The Tigers were in possession and under pressure in our own box. Instead of smashing the ball clear, we played several risky looking passes with Chester finding Koren who laid off to Faye who found Evans before Quinn and Elmohamady completed the clearance or so we thought, Elmo then carried the ball into midfield where Koren and Quinn were involved again. The ball fund its way through Simpson to Aluko and he ran towards the penalty area and fired in a left footed shot that Schmeichel tipped wide at full stretch. What a goal that would have been. Koren fired in a free-kick that Schmeichel parried away after Brady had teased a fouled and a yellow card out of De Laet with a run in behind. Half time came shortly after and the team were denied a round of applause by a bizarre corner routine that annoyed every Tiger in the stadium. City won a corner with seconds remaining of stoppage time. The ref allowed it to be taken and everyone in the crowd knew the drill. Once the corner was cleared, it’d be the half time whistle. Koren and Quinn apparently don’t know this because they took the corner short and while Quinn attempted to return the ball to Koren, the ref blew up. There was anger in the air at that cock up!
As mentioned, the rain came down at half time and it put a dampener on the second half. Leicester were well organised again having survived a few scares and happy to let City play the ball around in front of them. Liam Moore replaced De Laet at right-back, probably because Pearson didn’t want to let him go up against Brady while he was on a booking. The first 20 minutes or so of the half ticked by with very little to report. Despite plenty of endeavour, City failed to get in behind Leicester. Aluko drifted out of the game, Elmohamady saw very little of the ball and they worked hard to stop the Quinn/Brady double act opening up space on the left. Leicester had the first opportunity of note in the half when Moore’s cross was sliced by Abdoulaye Faye but flew inches wide of the post with Jakupovic stranded. Tom Cairney replaced Corry Evans, who was disappointing with his distribution all afternoon, but struggled to impact the game. As at Derby on Friday, City were forced to face a succession of corners, probably four or five, but defended manfully. Jakupovic is a little unconvincing but was decisive enough and fought his way through the crowd to meet a couple. He also saved a shot from Ben Marshall but goodness only knows how because he went down low and it ended up looping up and over the bar. The big Bosnian kicks the ball quite well but frustrated all game by not distributing quickly enough. He turned down chances to throw out short and we ended up having to challenge for the ball in the air which isn’t our forte. Jay Simpson battled hard throughout and should’ve won more for the side because Wes Morgan was wrestling him every time. The ref had a grip on it early on but then decided he couldn’t be bothered anymore and let Morgan do as he wished.
Simpson forced the only real save from Schmeichel in the second half when we broke out of defence and Aluko played him in on the left. Simpson used Aluko’s run to create space for a shot but his left-footed effort was at a good height, as they say. City switched to a back four for the last five minutes as Aluko and Faye were withdrawn and Rosenior and Proschwitz thrown on. Neither had a great impact but City did create the last chance to win the game. Quinn crossed superbly from the left, Proschwitz hit the near post, Simpson the far and it was Simpson who met the cross full on and headed straight into Schmeichel’s arms. Anywhere else on target and he probably scored. And that was that.
On the whole, this wasn’t a bad point to gain. Leicester are one of the best sides in the division, despite recent form, and will cause most other teams a problem. While far from our best we coped with them pretty comfortably and carved out several match winning chances. While winning at home is vital to a promotion push, this was a far cry from some of the home games like Peterborough, Blackpool and Burnley and, given our away form, we can be happy with the odd home draw against fellow promotion chasers. What we need to do is follow this up with a win at the weekend. 4 points from 6 at home is a reasonable return. 1 or 2 from 6 really isn’t. If we are to win the next one, we’ll need to improve vastly in the midfield where we were unusually sluggish. Evans and Koren both passed poorly under moderate pressure at times and our football wasn’t slick enough to cause them a problem aside from a short spell in the first half. Sone Aluko caused Leeds all sorts of problems in the reverse fixture but he was too easily marked out of the game because the slow passing meant space was absorbed by retreating Leicester defenders and midfielders. To his credit, Aluko went looking for the ball second half and spent a lot of time on the right wing but was too far away from goal to hurt them. On the one occasion he did give them the slip, Zak Whitbread picked up a booking for a very cynical grab at Aluko’s shirt.
The next game won’t be an easy one. L**ds will smarting from a hefty defeat to Forest today and from their home defeat by the Tigers earlier this season. They have a “combatitive” (e.g. Dirty) midfield and front players who can score from out of nowhere. They are a dangerous opponent and it should be another cracking game. It will definitely require a step up in performance to claim three points but it would bring great reward. We’d go into 2013 in the top two in the Championship, we’d put more points between ourselves and the pack outside the play-off places and we’d complete a first league double over L**ds since 1988. With the transfer window about to open, all that might get Papa Allam’s juices flowing enough for him to finance the striker we look like we need. It’s an exciting time at the KC again. You can tell that by the fact that “Judas” Pearson was in the opposing dugout today and no-one really gave a toss. We’re too wrapped up in our team and our staff to care. Long may that continue!