We’re exactly halfway through the season and Leicester fans couldn’t really have asked for any more heading into 2009. This is Leicester City’s best start to a season since the introduction of three points for a win. City are two points clear at the top of League One, seven points clear of third placed Millwall and have a 14 point cushion on play-off chasers Stockport in seventh.
Some statistics speak for themselves, the Foxes have suffered the fewest defeats (2), conceded the fewest goals (19) and, along with Oldham and Millwall, have kept the most clean sheets (9). Leicester have the best home record in League One, including a mightily impressive nine home wins. For the first time in six seasons, the Walkers Stadium is a fortress.
Leicester’s winning streak of five games this season is something the club have not matched since the promotion campaign on 2002/03, but still short of the club record 7 wins last achieved in 1993. The club’s current run of 10 league games unbeaten is the longest active sequence in the League One, but Nigel Pearson’s men will have to stay undefeated until mid-February to beat Peterborough United’s record of 16 games without a loss.
The numbers above tell us Leicester are doing well, to find out why, we have to dig a little deeper.
One of the most striking contrasts between this season and last has been the consistent starters in the Leicester line-up. Last season only defenders in the form of Richard Stearman, Patrick Kisnorbo and Gareth McAuley started 75% or more league games. This term is has been the forward players who have first on the team sheet. Matty Fryatt, Lloyd Dyer and Andy King have been ever-present, whilst Steve Howard and Matt Oakley have joined them over 75% of the time. The only defensive player to make this mark is the impressive Aleksander Tunchev.
And whilst defensively Leicester appear solid, it’s clear that tinkering has the power to unsettle. In October, a month in which Leicester picked up just six points from five games, the back four was changed for every single match.
Last season Leicester used a staggering 41 players, the most in the Championship. This season City have used 26 players, average amongst sides in the division. Martin Allen’s Cheltenham have already used 37 players this year, and have featured in the bottom four since October. Go figure.
A significant change for the better this season has been City’s ability to play to the form book. This season, unlike any other in recent memory, Leicester have been ruthless is putting away teams when expected. Leicester have taken a mightily impressive 29 points of a possible 36 against teams in the bottom half of League One. Only MK Dons (31 points) can better this record.
Equally, the Foxes have been impressive against their rivals, in a league table comprising the top six, Leicester lie second with 10 points from 15. Oldham have proven strongest against their top six rivals with 11 points from 15, but lie fifth in League One instead of top because they’ve only managed 19 points against teams in the bottom half. Surprisingly, both MK Dons and Millwall have taken just three points against sides in the top six, a factor that could prove telling during promotion six-pointers in March, April and May.
Another area of dramatic improvement has been in front of goal. Matty Fryatt’s 18 goals have made him Leicester’s most prolific striker since Derek Dougan. As well as being the division’s joint top scorer, Fryatt has taken the most shots in League One. The Fryarstarter makes the keeper work with two thirds of his attempts, but Fryatt’s strike rate is just 19.56% – he literally needs five chances for every goal he scores. As a result, whilst there is no doubt Fryatt has excelled in League One, whether he can cut it in the Championship remains an open question.
Discipline is another factor which Nigel Pearson seems to have installed in his side. Leicester have the 4th best disciplinary record in League One, this despite having the division’s most penalised player. Steve Howard has been responsible for 68 of the 261 fouls called against Leicester this season, more than one in four City infringements. More pleasingly, Leicester are one of only two sides in League One yet to have a player dismissed. They’re also yet to concede a penalty, only City and Colchester can claim that this season.
Perhaps the only really bad news in statistical form comes off the pitch. Leicester’s average attendance this season is down nearly 4,000, from 23,508 to 19,572. If we conservatively guestimate the number of concessions and suggest an average ticket price of £15, that will equate to a loss of revenue over the season of £1.38m. It’s just one figure to show how desperately Leicester need to return to the Championship at the first attempt. Fortunately, if the numbers play out as they have so far, City are in good shape to do just that.
Program Note: I’ll be on Foxpodder tomorrow after the Crystal Palace game to discuss the season so far. To listen to the show and to subscribe, click here.