An inability to take chances would prove a common theme for the rest of the year, but the opening games of September would demonstrate this flaw with an unwelcome clarity.
First, Coventry somehow contrived to take a point, and indeed the lead in their match with City at the Richo Arena. This despite making just one attempt on target to Leicester’s 11 and forcing just two corners whilst City wasted nearly a dozen. At least Andy King’s equaliser meant the Foxes had avoided their worst ever start in the second tier.
Then at last, a win, but only after City had fallen behind again against the run of play. Andy King’s brace inflicted Cardiff with their first defeat of the season, and with league leaders QPR the visitors the following Saturday, hopes were raised that City’s poor early season form would be put behind them.
It wasn’t to be. The Foxes trailed 1-0 at half time for the fifth successive league game and couldn’t recover despite 21 attempts at goal. The last three matches had seen City make 61 attempts on goal, as many their opponents collectively had managed against them all season, but score just three times. It was clear what Leicester’s problem was.
The League Cup was proving a welcome distraction and City progressed the 4th Round thanks to a 2-1 win at Fratton Park. Michael Morrison, Lloyd Dyer and Liam Lawrence all scored their first ever League Cup goals during the match.
But Leicester fans expecting to see a repeat performance during the league fixture in front of the Sky cameras were to receive an awful shock. Portsmouth were on the verge of the club’s worst ever league start and had converted just 2.29% of their attempts on goal before the match. It made the 6-1 defeat all the more embarrassing. Calls for Sousa to go became ever louder as Conrad Logan reached dejectedly into the back of his net for the third, fourth, fifth and sixth time. It was Leicester’s biggest league defeat since Ipswich Town had beaten City by the same score in August 2002. Steve Howard’s consolation strike, officially his 200th career goal, was barely worth celebrating.
In Paulo Sousa’s final game in charge the Foxes appeared to have temporarily fixed their scoring problem, but defensive mistakes again cost Leicester. Martyn Waghorn’s opener after just 77 seconds was the fastest Leicester goal since April 2007 (Darren Kenton – 40 seconds, ironically against Norwich). Matty Fryatt scored his 50th league goal for the Foxes and then Leicester’s 2500th all time away league goal, but it wasn’t enough. Leicester lost having scored three times away from home for the first time since October 2003 (a 4-3 defeat at Wolves).
And so it was that within hours of receiving Milan Mandaric’s vote of confidence, Sousa was out. By the end of the day it was becoming clear that Sven-Goran Eriksson was to be appointed as the new Leicester manager. Four previous City managers had gone on to take charge of international teams, but this was to be the first time that a former international manager had taken the Leicester job.
Ten years after Leicester had found themselves top of the Premiership, the caretaker team of Chris Powell and Mike Stowell took charge as Sven watched from the stands for City’s home game with Scunthorpe. They immediately set about lifting Leicester off the bottom of the Championship table. Again the Foxes scored three times, meaning that they’d scored more in the last two matches than they had in the previous seven. Thankfully, this time three goals would be enough.
Sven’s task was outlined starkly: promotion, as quickly as possible. But already the history books seemed to be conspiring against the Foxes. No team in the three points for a win era has ever been promoted having taken as few as eight points from its opening ten fixtures. But it was clear that there was money to spend, and the Swede wasted little time in recruiting a host of new loan signings.
Sven’s first match saw his new side beat Thailand 2-0 in a surreal friendly, before Nigel Pearson returned to the Walkers Stadium with Hull. Perhaps in the circumstances, a 1-1 draw was fitting. But the former England manager soon had the Foxes winning and winning well, with victory at Elland Road deserving of high praise indeed. The following performance at Swansea less so.
The month ended with a long hoped for clean sheet which meant that City, although close, would not beat the 14 match stretch without one which eventually cumulated in Craig Levein losing his job in January 2006. Wayne Brown almost spoiled the day for his old club, but Leicester held firm for a precious 1-0 win over Preston.
The recovery continued at Oakwell, where Miguel Vitor’s header meant that City had scored their first goal from a set piece of the season. A 2-0 win meant the Foxes had claimed successive wins and clean sheets for the first time in 2010/11.
With City on a roll the visit of Sheffield United hardly seemed dangerous. The Foxes were presented with the opportunity of finding themselves at the end of the evening just three points from a playoff place. In the end though, City had to rely on a late, and highly dubious, penalty to save a point. It was the first of many opportunities which City would miss to close the gap on their rivals.
That had been City’s first penalty of the season in the league, but they would have another presented to them at home to Derby. This time Steve Howard’s spot kick sealed Leicester’s first win over the Rams since April 2005. It was the first time the Foxes had scored penalties in successive home games since September 2002. Unfortunately for the big man, Howard’s miss a week later at Ashton Gate proved costly as City went down 2-0 to a reviving Bristol City side. It was another match in which City were guilty of not taking their chances.
Meanwhile as the Sven-Goran Eriksson era got into its stride at home to Nottingham Forest, the Milan Mandaric era came to an end. The Serbian-American businessman left the Walkers Stadium for Hillsborough, and Leicester fans reflected on no fewer than 70 players who had joined the club permanently or on loan during his time as Chairman. A few brave souls tried to remember all their names.
Whilst many aspects of the Mandaric era were open to question, the decision to ditch Paulo Sousa after just nine league games was looking a good one. A 1-0 win against Nottingham Forest meant that in the 10 matches since Paulo’s departure the Foxes had collected 20 points, more than any other team in the Championship.
The league table at the end of November had City in 14th place, their highest position of the season. A league table drawn from 1st October onwards placed Leicester top of the Championship.
The theme of December was inconsistency.
At Vicarage Road, Leicester allowed Watford a two goal start, which the Hornets gratefully accepted having gone seven matches without a win. It was only City’s second defeat in 11 visits to Watford.
Leicester started poorly again at home to Doncaster, but a fortuitous penalty and four second half goals (including Darius Vassell’s first goal in English football since 2008) meant that the Foxes romped home as 5-1 winners.
It was the first time that the Foxes had scored four goals in the second half since a 4-4 draw with Aston Villa in February 1995. It was also the first time five different goalscorers had found the net for City in the same game since a 6-1 win in a League Cup tie at Rochdale in September 1993. The Leicester scorers that night were Oldfield, Ormondroyd, Speedie, Thompson, Walsh and Whitlow. In fact, you could argue there were seven Leicester scorers in the game. Brian Carey had give the home side the lead after putting through is own net.
Then a match played in farcical conditions at Portman Road saw City fail to turn up. They were duly punished by an Ipswich Town side desperate for a win after six straight league defeats. The 3-0 reverse meant that the Foxes had conceded more away goals before Christmas than they had on the road in the whole of the 2009/10 campaign. The defeat also meant City missed the opportunity of heading into Christmas in 7th place.
Another penalty and a screamer from Andy King saved Leicester from a 2-0 deficit at home to Leeds on Boxing Day, but City were unable to complete the same escape act at the New Den just two days later and ended 2010 like this;
P48 W19 D11 L18 F66 A63 Pts 68
Record in All Competitions (including playoffs)
P56 W24 D11 L21 F82 A80
Most Appearances: Andy King – 53
Top Scorer: Andy King – 17
Biggest win: 5-1 vs Scunthorpe (13/02/10) & vs Doncaster (11/12/10)
Biggest defeat: 6-1 @ Portsmouth (24/09/10)
Highest League Position: 4th between 16/03/10 and 26/03/10
Lowest League Position: 24th on 21/08/10 and 28/09/10
Corners Won: 356
Goals Scored from Corners: 1