To call the appointment of Nigel Pearson at Leicester City a new dawn would be something of a misnomer, for most Foxes fans the outlook of the League One landscape remains unremittingly bleak. For City’s first away game the majority of the travelling support will be housed in a stand with no roof, at their second, fans will remark that even that failed British pole-vaulter from the Olympics would have been able to clear the shelter with room to spare. The future, at least the immediate future wholly lacking in quality or TV coverage let alone quality TV coverage, does not look bright. Perhaps this explains the muted nature of City fans’ greeting of Nigel Pearson. Some have counted their blessings, not so secretly pleased at having been spared the agony of John Gregory. Others lament that the club could not have pulled in a bigger name, still deluding themselves to City’s desperate fall from grace. The rest of us have seen it all before; Milan convinced that this time he has found “the right man”, the manager keen to take on the challenge at such a ‘big club’, the press secretly starting an office pool as to how long the new guy might last, the motions are all too familiar.
Much of the reaction to Pearson’s appointment has been directed to the concern that he is still very much an unknown quantity. He has a bare bones managerial record at best, coupled with experience working under two of the worst Newcastle mangers in recent times. What positives, if any, did he take from his time with Roeder and Allardyce? And in reality, was his achievement at Southampton really all that miraculous? A closer look at his time at St. Mary’s would suggest otherwise.
On 31st January 2008, Southampton found themselves 14th in the Coca-Cola Championship. Pearson officially took over on 18th February, and by the end of the month, the Saints had dropped to 19th. Just one win in March saw the club slip into 21st place and by the end of April a further solitary win saw the Saints going into the final day on the verge of relegation. It was only a 3-2 victory at home to Sheffield United that saved Southampton at the expense of Leicester. Pearson’s record of three wins, seven draws and four defeats suggests that such a performance was the exception and not the rule. Southampton under Pearson were a sinking ship, only some last minute buoyancy (and of course, the failure of others) kept them afloat.
Still, his time at Southampton at least appears to have given Pearson confidence in his managerial ability, something he’ll need in spades to deal with his first duty as Leicester boss, sorting the wheat from the chaff in the playing squad. Once that mammoth task is complete he’ll need to add personnel of his own. We can do a breif history here. Restricted to loan transfers at Southampton, Pearson opted for the following loan signings;
Richard Wright – Played 7 games, kept 2 clean sheets
Ian Pearce – Played in a 1-1 draw at Scunthorpe, never seen again.
Vincent Pericard – Striker who started once and appeared as a sub on four occasions. No goals.
Chris Lucketti – Sheffield Utd defender who played four times and only missed the last game due to the terms of his loan deal.
Chris Perry – Six starts, Southampton conceded six goals during those games.
Perhaps understandably, it appears Pearson is a better judge of defenders than he is forwards but the loan market is a dubious place from which to determine a manager’s eye for talent – you only get to choose from rejects. In short, if Milan allows Pearson to flash some cash, there’s no telling how successful or otherwise his purchases will prove to be.
One facet Pearson will have install in his new squad will be something that has over the last five years been sorely lacking at Leicester, team spirit. In this area, fans can find some encouragement. Southampton finally managed to perform when it really mattered on the final day, coming from behind to do so. The Saints also managed to salvage points from losing positions at Scunthorpe, Wolves and Blackpool during Pearson’s short reign. Compare that with Leicester’s one win and five draws from losing positions in the entire season, and already we can see potential for improvement.
What might concern fans the most however, is that in picking a manager who spent his entire career playing as a defender and spent much of his coaching life under defensively minded managers, Pearson might fail to solve Leicester’s most fundamental problem, their inability to score. Southampton weren’t exactly prolific in front of goal under Pearson, netting just 14 times in 13 games. It was never Leicester’s back line that was the problem and Pearson will have to learn how to improve City’s potency in front of goal if he hopes to make the Foxes’ stay in League One as short as possible.
We will wait and see.