Leicester City: Ten factors behind the Foxes' success story

By Owen PhillipsBBC Sport
Leicester City's David Nugent, a fan and manager Nigel Pearson

Leicester City have dominated the Championship this season and have confirmed their promotion to the Premier League with six games of their season remaining.

After a turbulent time on and off the pitch which has seen nine different managers in the 10 years since they were last in the top flight, manager Nigel Pearson has followed Sven-Goran Eriksson's free-spending reign with a free-scoring exciting side.

BBC Sport takes a look at some of the main reasons for their success, with a little help from former Foxes striker Steve Claridge and BBC Radio Leicester's Leicester City commentator Ian Stringer.

Something to prove

The heartache of a failed promotion bid - particularly one that ended in such cruel circumstances as the dramatic play-off semi-final defeat against Watford last May - can and often does lead to a nasty hangover the following season.

Anthony Knockaert

However, a relatively chirpy Pearson said at the start of the campaign that their pain, following a miserable promotion run-in, could spur them on to great things this time around - and so it proved.

Claridge: "It can work both ways. The effect can be overwhelming and have a big impact. The disappointment when I lost with Millwall at the same stage was massive. But the difference was that maybe we over-achieved. Leicester possibly under-achieved last season and it can work for you. They understood what was required and were determined to get it right."

Stringer: "Seeing the Foxes players' tears at Vicarage Road last season had a massive impact on them - and the fans. You could somehow see that they would come again. The heartache was massive but it provided brilliant motivation."

Settled side after a sensible summer

Whether by design or enforced because of Financial Fair Playexternal-link concerns, Leicester's lack of significant summer signings seemed to work in their favour and Pearson has trusted the players who performed so well for much of last season.

Midfielder Dean Hammond arrived from Southampton but has been a fringe player, Zoumana Bakayogo has not started a league game for the Foxes after joining on a free transfer and loan signing Ignasi Miquel has struggled to force his way into the side.

Others have arrived and made an impact - notably Kevin Phillips and Riyad Mahrez - but Pearson has largely kept faith with the nucleus of the side from last season.

Claridge: "He has filled in the gaps. A lot of the signings have been under the radar and there just hasn't been the hullabaloo that came with Sven, who was spending £5m here and £3m there. That has meant there has not been the same scrutiny, pressure and expectation on the side. I have no doubt that makes a huge difference to everyone, including the fans who were not turning up expecting to roll teams over. They have benefited from not having all that attention on them."

Stringer: "Nigel kept the spine of his team. The side barely changed from last season and has not changed much throughout the season. He mostly added players with experience - something he said the side lacked at the back end of the last campaign and lots of players have contributed."

Keeping the faith

Pearson's second stint as Leicester boss looked almost certain to be coming to an end at some point in late 2012, just 12 months after his reappointment. The speculation was so intense that the club's Thai owners even took the unusual step of eventually issuing a statement defending their man after a mixed start to the season.

Harry Redknapp and Paul Ince were just two of the names mentioned as Pearson's possible successor and "scrapper" Pearson also felt the need to fight his corner in March last year during a miserable run of just two wins from 16 games. The reward for the patience shown by owners and fans as Pearson's side began to take shape has been spectacular.

Claridge: "It's fantastic that the owners have stood by Nigel Pearson. There have been moments where they could have got rid of him, but he has proved what a good manager he is. He did very well in his first spell, did a good job at Hull and has done even better this time. The club learned a hard lesson with Sven, but they do seem to have learned. Building a team and structure does not happen overnight and they have stuck with their man which was brave, but the right thing to do."

Stringer: "He did so much groundwork following Sven so why waste it? Last season we started to see the results but it was clear that experience was the final touch - and that has been added."

Keeping it simple

In an era when confusing formations, meticulous planning, complicated systems and tactics and endless statistical analysis are seen as way to guarantee success, Pearson's side seems to benefit from mixing the no-stone-unturned, behind-the-scenes approach with stunningly simple but effective tactics.

The 4-4-2 has worked wonders for most of the season, providing a solid spine and the basis for their success. A confident and very loud goalkeeper, strong and imposing centre-backs, a solid dependable midfield with more than a little quality - and plenty of pace and nous out wide and up front. Simple but effective.

Claridge: "Nigel Pearson has a system and good players and they all believe in that system. Even in games when I have seen the two midfielders under pressure against a midfield three they have always believed in what they are doing and thought they will get an area of control at some point. They might drop a forward in sometimes, but they have not switched systems and panicked."

Stringer: "They started with three at the back at Middlesbrough and won but after two league games they went to 4-4-2 and it has worked a treat. A settled and extremely organised defence who communicate effectively has given greater balance and confidence to the attacking players. And Pearson's substitutions have been really effective. Chris Wood, Kevin Phillips and Riyad Mahrez have all come on and scored crucial goals."

Wes Morgan

Keeping Big Wes

Nottingham Forest's relentless pursuit of their former captain Wes Morgan eventually failed. Whether it was just an attempt to unsettle, or was deadly serious - only Forest will know.

But fail Forest did, and the considerable presence of "Big Wes" was a huge reason for City's solid defence. Morgan has signed a new contract and has said he is eager to sign a longer deal. And Pearson is just as eager to keep the man he named as captain and sees as a key part of their plans next season.

Claridge: "If you lose your best players it undermines the dressing room. And after the way things ended last season it's likely it would not have taken much to undermine the dressing room going into the new season. But they managed to have the attitude that 'we went close so let's go to the next level'. If they had sold Wes Morgan, or Liam Moore to Fulham, the players may have questioned things. Are we trying to progress or just treading water?"

Stringer: "Wes is the inspiration. The desire, dedication and attitude he shows is an example to everyone on and off the pitch. And it shows the club's intent too. Selling the captain would have sent a message to the rest of the league. Wes wanted to play for a Premier League team and that team is Leicester."

Jamie Vardy

Inspiring confidence

The manager's ability to stay calm and at times dull, kept expectations relatively low, lessened the pressure on the players and helped build confidence steadily.

But it's Pearson's careful management both on and off the pitch that has really shone through and been vital in nurturing the young talent who have all been in need of a bit of love and attention for a variety of reasons.

Pearson's support for Morgan during those transfer rumours and his careful nurturing of Moore's emergence have been vital, while both Jamie Vardy and Matty James have been quick to praise their manager having struggled with their confidence.

Claridge: "As a manager you buy the right players - make sure they have the correct attitude, treat them on a level playing field and tactically put them in the right positions. If you get that right the rest follows."

Stringer: "When I spoke to Wes at the time Forest were sniffing around, he said the manager showed him a lot of love. Sometimes players have said it feels like playing for a headmaster but Nigel Pearson knows when to put an arm around their shoulder and when to kick them up the backside."

Pace, more pace and wondrous wingers

Anthony Knockaert's heart-breaking penalty miss in the play-off semi-final against Watford seems a very long time ago and his influence has been a feature of a goal-laden season.

The Frenchman's fleet of foot, trickery and quality on the ball has provided countless chances and is the perfect foil and attacking compliment for the searing pace of Lloyd Dyer on the other wing.

The speed and twin goal threat of David Nugent and his rejuvenated strike partner Vardy have ensured a good number of the opportunities that have been carved out have been taken.

Not only that, the Foxes seem to have unearthed another gem in Mahrez who scored a late equaliser in the 2-2 draw against Forest and a stunning goal in the superb second-half fightback against Blackpool.

Claridge: "It's simple. Pace scares teams, and the system and players Leicester play means they have good pace up front and out wide. Nigel Pearson has a deep-seated belief in what he does. The two boys in midfield don't chase games. They sit and the forwards and wingers are the real threat."

Stringer: "Jamie Vardy stands out because of the amount of running and chasing up front. Every team needs a pest and Vardy is undoubtedly a pest. The wingers have been incredible. The French pair have been grabbing the headlines but Lloyd Dyer has been sensational - the best season of his career. His pace is frightening."

Team spirit

Pearson has a smaller, tighter unit having cleared out many of the players signed for big money and on big wages by his predecessor Eriksson.

Pearson's ruthless streak was show in his handling of talented players with Jermaine Beckford leaving for Bolton amid persistent rumours of a bust-up, while Matt Mills was another to be moved on.

Only 22 players have been used in the league this season and the spirit and togetherness has been abundantly clear throughout their impressive campaign.

Claridge: "Spending huge amounts of money can 'unlevel' the dressing room. It does not always work. There seems to be a togetherness in the dressing room and on the pitch. Everyone puts in a shift, and even a skilful player like Knockaert has developed a great deal defensively. If good players work hard, it is infectious."

Stringer: "There are no egos and that's evident. When the full-time whistle goes they all celebrate together, they celebrate goals together and when it's been tough - like Watford away with all the bad memories - they have performed and showed true spirit."

Players from Leicester City

Staying injury free

Every successful team needs luck on the injury front and Leicester have kept their key players fit for most of the season. Striker Chris Wood's absence has been felt, the big striker having a nightmare with a hamstring problem and only managing five league starts so far in an injury-hit campaign.

But Wood was struggling to break into the team ahead of Nugent and Vardy anyway and, aside from a knee injury for squad player Sean St Ledger, and a rib injury for Moore, there have been relatively few issues.

Claridge: "They have been fortunate but they have a strong squad with players to do specific jobs and I think they would have coped with more injuries. I have seen them make five and six changes in games and it's been seamless. Players have been asked to do specific jobs, not a role they are not used to. A central midfielder has come in to central midfield and full-backs have come in at full-back, not wing-backs playing as a full-back. The players know the system and are not being asked to play out of position."

Stringer: "You hear talk about the importance of pre-season and the fact the club have just hosted a seminar on injury prevention attended by the Football Association and most Premier League clubs tells its own story."

Foxes fans

The travelling support have turned up in impressive numbers and Pearson and his players have been quick to pay tribute to their backing - particularly away from home.

The vast majority stuck with the manager through tricky times last season and have made the most of the 27 league wins they have already racked up this time around.

There were 3,000 at Burnley last week, 2,200 at Wigan on a Tuesday night, 3,600 at Blackburn Rovers and more than 3,500 travelled to see the 3-0 win over Barnsley at Oakwell for a midweek game last month.

Claridge: "Leicester is big city and they love their sport. The crowd have been behind the manager and bought into what he is doing. Everyone has been in it together this season. I think everyone felt a bit scolded by what happened with Sven and you could see the unity this season."

Stringer: "I have been among the fans pre and post-match for much of the season and the passion and support sends shivers down your spine. The away support has been phenomenal. The noise has been staggering and they have lapped up every moment of a scintillating season."

Leicester City fans

Additional reporting by Matt Halfpenny.

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