Leicester City: Ten factors behind the Foxes' success story
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.
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 Play 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.
Leicester's signings 2013-14
- Kevin Phillips (Jan, from Crystal Palace, free).
- Riyad Mahrez (Jan, from Le Havre, undisclosed).
- Gary Taylor-Fletcher (Sep, from Blackpool, free).
- Marcin Wasilewski (Sep, from Anderlecht, free).
- Ryan Watson (Sep, from Wigan, free).
- Dean Hammond (Aug, from Southampton, undisclosed).
- Ignasi Miquel (Aug, from Arsenal, loan).
- Zoumana Bakayogo (July, from Tranmere, free).
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.
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.
City's league season in stats
- Leicester have scored more goals, 76, than any other Championship team, and conceded 38.
- City have kept 14 clean sheets in league matches.
- Only two players have been sent off in 2013-14 - Paul Konchesky and Matt James.
- David Nugent (20) and Jamie Vardy (16) have scored more goals (36) between them than Blackpool (34) and Charlton (27) have managed in total.
- Nugent and Kasper Schmeichel have been ever-presents for Leicester.
- Fourteen players have started 10 league games or more
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."
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."
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.
A helping hand
As well as top scoring for Leicester with 18 league goals, David Nugent leads the way in assists with 13, the joint Championship best along with Nottingham Forest's Andy Reid and Ipswich Town's Aaron Cresswell. Lloyd Dyer and Anthony Knockaert are next best for the Foxes with five each.
Source: Football League and Leicester City [April 5, 2014].
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."
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.
Leicester's permanent managers since the Foxes last played Premier League football in 2003-04 (in addition to nine caretaker bosses).
Micky Adams (Apr 02 to Oct 04), Craig Levein (Nov 04 to Jan 06), Rob Kelly (Feb 06 to Apr 07), Martin Allen (May 07 to Aug 07), Gary Megson (Sep 07 to Oct 07), Ian Holloway (Nov 07 to May 08), Nigel Pearson (Jun 08 to Jun 10), Paulo Sousa (Jul 10 to Oct 10), Sven-Goran Eriksson (Oct 10 to Oct 11), Nigel Pearson (Nov 11 to present).
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."
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."
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.
Foxes' famous five
The key victories that have helped Leicester to promotion.
- Opening day triumph: Nigel Pearson's men banish memories of their play-off heartache with a gutsy 2-1 win from a goal behind at Middlesbrough on 3 August.
- Bouncing back: The Foxes put derby defeat by Forest behind them as David Nugent scores twice on his 100th City appearance in a 2-1 victory at Ipswich on 23 November.
- Signalling intentions: Jamie Vardy registers the only goal to underline Leicester's promotion credentials at pre-season promotion favourites QPR on 21 December.
- If you score three: Leicester end the year on top of the Championship after twice fighting back from a goal down to beat Bolton 5-3 in an eight-goal thriller at home on 29 December.
- Demolition Derby: A superb attacking display sees Leicester destroy promotion rivals Derby County with strike duo Nugent and Vardy both netting in a 4-1 success on 10 January.
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."
Additional reporting by Matt Halfpenny.