Match Preview: Leicester City vs Watford

There’s little doubt about it, this is Leicester City’s biggest home match in three years.

Just how important the result will prove to be depends on your outlook. Many have put this down as a ‘must-win’, a category often overused but probably not in this instance.

A draw is only enough if you believe the following two things;

1) That Bolton will lose at Cardiff or at home to Blackpool.
2) That Leicester can get their first League win at Nottingham Forest since 1972.

If Leicester lose this one their season could mathematically be over by 5 p.m. tomorrow.

And defeat is hardly unthinkable.

Despite recent losses at Peterborough and Millwall, Watford posess the Championship’s best away record. Against the Championship’s top half they’ve won seven times on the road, losing only three.

Leicester’s defence hasn’t kept a clean sheet in 11. It must now try to keep out the Championship’s top scorers. The Hornets have scored 82 goals, 13 more than Cardiff who have the second highest tally in the division. If Leicester’s back-line offers the visitors as much time and space as Balckburn did last weekend then the floodgates could open.

But Leicester look like they have some fight left. Coming back from behind to claim points against Bolton and Crystal Palace suggests at least the Foxes will not let their season end with a wimper.

Watford’s last win here was also their first and only victory at the Walkers/King Power Stadium. Danny Webber’s late winner against a side that had been made favourites for promotion in 2004/05 showed that it would take Leicester longer than a year to get back to the Premier League. No-one thought it would take nine years. Defeat here would almost certainly confine City to a decade in the wilderness.

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The race for the playoffs: a guide

The race for the playoffs is going down to the wire. Here’s a handy guide to the teams who still have a realistic shot of making it.

4th) Brighton & Hove Albion

Points: 69
Goal Difference: +23
Remaining Fixtures: Leeds United (a), Wolverhampton Wanderers (h)
Points gained in reverse fixtures: 2
Form: W2 D4 L0 F11 A4

Brighton’s resounding win over Blackpool looks to have all but secured their place in the playoffs. One more win will do it. If Leicester lose at home to Watford on Friday Brighton would all but mathematically secure a top six finish with a point at Elland Road thanks to their exellent goal difference.

5th) Crystal Palace

Points: 67
Goal Difference: +10
Remaining Fixtures: Blackburn Rovers (a), Millwall (a), Peterborough United (h)
Points gained in reverse fixtures: 7
Form: W0 D2 L4 F2 A13

The Eagles need five points from their remaining fixtures to guarantee a playoff spot, but theirs is a fixture list few will envy. All three of the sides Palace have to play might still be desperate for points. Ian Holloway’s men are without a win in seven but will almost certainly have to scratch a win from somewhere to avoid their season ending on 4th May.

6th) Bolton Wanderers

Points: 66
Goal Difference: +8
Remaining Fixtures: Cardiff City (a), Blackpool (h)
Points gained in reverse fixtures: 4
Form: W4 D0 L2 F11 A8

Bolton are peaking at exactly the right time. If they make the playoffs few will fancy their chances against the Trotters. But Dougie Freedman’s men could find themselves outside the top six by the time they head for a tricky looking away trip to Cardiff. If Leicester take at least a point at home to Watford their superior goal difference will send Bolton 7th. A home match against a struggling Blackpool looks a good bet for 3 points, so next weekend will be pivitol to Bolton’s chances of making a swift return to the Premier League.

7th) Leicester City

Points: 65
Goal Difference: +23
Remaining fixtures: Watford (h), Nottingham Forest (a)
Points gained in reverse fixtures: 1
Form: W1 D3 L2 F8 A10

Leicester’s destiny is no longer in their own hands and their fixture list couldn’t be much tougher. Thanks to thier goal difference four points could be enough for Leicester but only if Bolton lose one of their remaining two games, Crystal Palace take just two points from nine, or Brighton lose both of their remaining games. A point at home to Watford will ensure the Foxes have something to play for on the final day. But given their hopeless away record at the City Ground, Leicester could really do with winning their final home match.

8th) Nottingham Forest

Points: 64
Goal Difference: +4
Remaining Fixtures: Millwall (a), Leicester City (h)
Points gained in reverse fixtures: 1
Form: W0 D4 L2 F4 A8

In mid-March the was a four point gap between Forest and 7th, now they’re two points behind Bolton and know that realistically maximum points are required. If Forest fail to win at Millwall and Crystal Palace, Bolton and/or Leicester win next weekend then it’s all over for Billy Davies’ men. That being said, the likelyhood is the final match of the season could just as easily decide if it is to be Forest or Leicester who creep into the playoffs on the last day.

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Match Preview: Crystal Palace vs Leicester City

It’s one thing to have your destiny in your own hands. It’s quite another to overcome three sides you’ve yet to beat this season to claim a top six finish.

As discussed previously, Leicester probably only need to win two of their remaining three games. But does anyone really fancy going to the City Ground looking for a first league win since the Birch was in short shorts? Exactly.

So to make life slightly easier for themselves, Leicester really need a win a Selhurst Park, and there are reasons to be cheerful.

For a start, Crystal Palace can’t buy a goal. Ian Holloway’s men haven’t found the back of the next for 454 minutes. In their last two home matches relegation threatened Barnsley secured a draw and Birmingham City thrashed the Eagles 4-0.

Even better the influential Palace captain Jedinak, who bossed the midfield in the season’s first meeting between these sides, is serving the second of a two-match ban.

This is a real opportunity for Leicester consolidate their position back amongst the top six.

But as much as Palace’s recent form (2 points from 18) has boosted confidence of a rare away win, Leicester still have many improvements to make.

Goal starved Eagles fans are likely to be licking their lips over Leicester’s recent defensive record. The Foxes haven’t kept a clean sheet in 10 and can no longer boast to be the Championship’s meanest defence.

Glen Murray might have scored in just one of his last nine appearances for the Eagles, but his 30 goals this season is not a record to treat lightly.

And Leicester’s away record is hardly anything to write home about either. Not since January have they won three points on the road (a 4-0 win at Bristol City). Nigel Pearson’s men have only won away at one side in the top half, Middlesbrough.

So how to win here? Well avoiding calamity in the first five minutes would be good. In the last five games Leicester have seen an own-goal (Barnsley), a red card (Millwall) and a penalty (Bolton) put them on the back foot. In the Championship only one game in eight is won by the side conceding first.

There is renewed hope and opportunities to win at Selhurst Park have been rare this season. Leicester could really do with taking their chance.

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Leicester City 3-2 Bolton Wanderers: Key Numbers

This is getting silly now. Does anyone want to join Cardiff in the Premier League?

Leicester were the only side from 2nd to 8th to win last night. As a result their chances of making the top six have improved significantly.

Leicester could need to win their last three games, but only if Bolton or Nottingham Forest manage that too. Since Bolton have won three and lost three in their last six, and Nottingham Forest have failed to win any of their last five games, Leicester’s superior goal difference really could mean 70 points is enough.

Of course, Leicester’s first win in 10 does not immediately signal the start of another run. For most of the match Bolton were more inventive with the ball despite playing only four players in advanced positions. And Nigel Pearson’s deployment of a flat back five in stoppage time showed just how desperate City were to hang on in the end.

But there were signs of the link-up play and creative movement that Leicester fans saw earlier in the season too. And the emphatic finishes from Dyer and Schlupp will do much to restore confidence. Chris Wood, who comfortably converted his first-half penalty, was a different player afterwards.

The key numbers;

3 – Last night the Foxes conceded for the third time in the opening five minutes. Previously at Leeds it was Jeff Schlupp who conceded a third minute penalty. And Michael Keane’s own goal at Barnsley set the tone of that dreadful afternoon. On both occasions Leicester lost. Leicester’s win last night was their third of the season having conceded the opening goal.

5 – Leicester have scored more goals in their last two outings than they had in their previous eight. City’s defence will now look to pick up their game at a Crystal Palace side that has failed to score in 456 minutes of football.

7 – This was the seventh penalty that Leicester have conceded this season. Kasper Schmeichel has saved three of them and, just as he did on Friday, went the right way in trying to keep out David Ngog’s effort. At the other end Chris Wood converted Leicester’s fourth penalty of the season.

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Match Preview: Leicester City vs Bolton Wanderers

There was a time not so long ago when this looked like one of the easier games in Leicester’s run-in. To be precise, it was 10 weeks ago. On the 2nd February Leicester were 2nd in the Championship, Bolton were 20th. A seemingly insurmountable 19 points separated the sides. Now Bolton sit pretty in the play-off spot Leicester fans had for the longest time assumed would be theirs at the very least. Lose tonight, and Leicester will surrender all but a mathematical chance of claiming it.

Bolton’s rise has been spectacular. Since dropping to 20th in February the side has picked up 29 points from a possible 39. In the same number of matches Leicester have managed to scrape together eight.

Much of Bolton’s turnaround has been down to an imperious recent home record. Since Boxing Day Bolton have won eight and drawn just one of their last nine home matches.

But on the road Wanderers have been far from invincible. Dougie Freedman’s men have yet to win back to back away matches, and haven’t won on the road against a side higher than 16th in the Championship.

In contradiction to their progress in the league Bolton start well in matches. Only Watford and Cardiff have scored the opening goal more often in the Championship this season. But hope for Leicester comes from the knowledge that the Trotters have dropped 29 points from winning positions. Only Burnley have been more careless.

Leicester fans know a thing or two about conceding late goals themselves of course. The Foxes would be nine points better off but for goals conceded in the last five minutes since February.

A clean sheet would be useful, the best defence in the Championship hasn’t kept one of those in nine games. Some more clinical finishing would be welcome too.

But realistically even a win tonight would not makes the Foxes favourites to make the top six. Nigel Pearson has said no less than four wins will do, and he’s almost certainly right. It would therefore be comforting if Leicester had won any of their four reverse fixtures against Bolton, Crystal Palace, Watford and Nottingham Forest. Sadly they haven’t.

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Match Preview: Leicester City vs Birmingham City

When these sides last met at St Andrews a draw was enough to put Leicester top of the Championship on goal difference. Since then, it’s actually Birmingham City who have won more points than the Foxes, 41 compared with 38. That’s as much a telling indication as any of just how badly Leicester’s promotion campaign has faltered.

And yet, whilst the faintest glimmer of hope remains Leicester must press on.

City have five games remaining, and at the very least must win three of them to stand any chance of ending the season in the top six.

It really is hope that is keeping Leicester fans going at the moment, the sides’ form offers no consolation at all. Eight games without a win. One win in their last dozen outings. Four goals in their last eight games. This is Leicester’s worst run of form since Rob Kelly was in charge.

The pillars of Leicester’s promotion campaign have broken down. First the defence, which whilst still statistically the strongest in the division, hasn’t kept a clean sheet in eight games. And the club’s attacking threats aren’t helping either. No goals from Chris Wood or Andy King in their last eight appearances. No goals for Ben Marshall in nine. No goals for Anthony Knockaert in 10. No goals for David Nugent in 11 games.

In fact, Nugent has collected more yellow cards (4) than goals (3) since Christmas. A sign perhaps of the growing frustration for a player who in January looked destined to hit the 20-goal mark.

Birmingham meanwhile can’t quite be assured of a place in this division next season just yet. That 53 points might not be enough shows just how closely the Championship is fought. And the Blues have been fighting for their place hard. Four away wins in their last six trips on the road, including a 4-0 thumping of Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, mean Lee Clark’s side deserve respect.

Leicester’s defence will need to be back on top form to keep out a Birmingham side whose away goal tally (30) is bettered only by Watford and Cardiff this season.

And Birmingham will dig in, they’ve lost just once this season when the scores have been level at half-time.

The question is, which Leicester City will they be fighting against?

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Brighton & Hove Albion 1-1 Leicester City: Key Numbers

There was more frustration for Leicester’s travelling support as yet again the Foxes conceded late on. Yesterday’s match was more in the ‘must not lose’ than ‘must win’ category, but the path to the playoffs has become even more difficult thanks to that equaliser.

To make the playoffs now City will probably need more points from their last five games than they’ve won in the previous 13. To put it politely, that’s unlikely.

The key numbers

7 – Before Leicester met Peterborough in February they had yet to conceded a goal in the last five minutes of a league game. Since then Peterborough, Ipswich, Cardiff, Millwall and now Brighton have scored in the closing stages, costing the Foxes seven points. Leicester have won seven games this season by one goal. The Championship is being led by Cardiff and Hull, who have won 17 games by that margin.

19 – Nine weeks ago Bolton Wanderers were 20th, 19 points behind Leicester City who were 2nd. Today they both sit on 60 points. Tuesday’s meeting could see Bolton above Leicester in the table for the first time since September.

60 РThe Foxes are just one point better off this year than they had been at this stage last season. They can no longer match the points total on the 2009/10 side which reached 5th place on 76 points on a wage bill of £14.5m.

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