Well, who would have thought it? We’re midway through January and the mighty Leicester City are leading the way in the Sky Bet Championship after drubbing local non-rivals, Derby 4-1 at the King Power Stadium. Okay, I suppose the result against Derby is perfectly believable – some things never change. Regardless, last Friday the Foxes produced their best performance of the season to date, against genuine promotion contenders in the Rams, who would probably agree that the three-goal winning margin more than flattered the away side.
The mood around the King Power Stadium right now is one of confidence and optimism, following last season’s unspeakably cruel end, the blue army, myself included had expected little more than another play-off foray this campaign. An air of disingenuous optimism surrounded the camp, with many predicting that our young squad wasn’t capable of bettering the end of last season’s dip in form, especially considering how little Nigel Pearson had to spend thanks to our frivolous cash flashing back in 2011. Fortunately for us blues, Nigel Pearson and his backroom staff have harnessed last season’s Vicarage Road heart ache and turned it to our advantage. The side is a year older, a year wiser and a year more experienced and it’s shown on the pitch. As of the 11th January 2014, the Foxes have notched up an unprecedented 54 points from the opening 25 league games. You would have to go back to Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2008 to find a larger haul at this stage of the Championship season. In fact, City have already amassed a gap of 10 points to 4th place, County, 13 points to the orgulous Nottingham Forest and a massive 16 points to 7th place.
Believe it or not, the Foxes have churned out top-notch performances and results all season and haven’t simply found themselves top due to their ability to con the referee in to a spot-kick. Seriously, go back and watch them all, there is possibly one contentious decision out of the lot. Opposing fans don’t seem to realise that the pace of Dyer, Vardy and de Laet cutting in to the box causes defenders to stick a leg out, hope for the best, and usually get the worst. I suppose there should be a limit on how many times a team can get tripped up in the box, eh? Moving on, the team’s successes have been inspired by the ever brilliant performances of Danny Drinkwater and Lloyd Dyer, who feels like a new signing this season despite having joined the club five years ago. Jamie Vardy has also come in to his own in the opening act of this campaign, producing far better displays than he did last term, as he made the step up of three divisions. In all honesty, I could ramble on for hours praising the improvement of nearly all of Leicester’s regular starters – they really have been that good so far. And yes, I know, I keep using the term ‘so far’, I’m going somewhere with it…just not yet.
Lurking in the background of Leicester City’s promotion charge is the dreaded talk of finance. Many Foxes were worried that Financial Fair Play would stifle us this season, thankfully it hasn’t and thankfully, our wonderful owners, Vichai and Aiyawatt have seemingly wiped the club of £103m worth of debt. However, as a consequence, they have been less than reluctant to renew the contracts of several City starlets presumably on Premier League wages. This July, eleven players including Kasper Schmeichel, Wes Morgan, Paul Konchesky, Lloyd Dyer and David Nugent are set to become free agents unless contracts are assured. The club have stated that the issue will be addressed at the end of the season, once our place in either the top or second tier is confirmed, which given the financial backing we’ve already had, is understandable. However, more recently Nigel Pearson, who himself is out of contract in Summer, has stated that negotiations are making ‘some progress’. I really do think this is a topic savoured by the doom and gloom merchants that attach themselves to Leicester City Football Club. I can’t see for an instant why any of these players would want to leave us whilst we’re in the position we’re in and I can’t say Pearson will readily let any of them go should any offers come in. The situation is far from ideal but we need to trust the club on this and hope it’s not as catastrophic as some ‘fans’ would have you believe because it probably isn’t.
Another thing nagging at the back of the minds of many Leicester fans is the end of last season collapse the Foxes faced in 2012-13. City picked up just 15 points out of 51 from February to May last year. However, given the steeliness we’ve seen from the side this term and their ability to come back from losing positions and grind out results when they haven’t played their best, there is no reason for the blue army to be too fearful of another implosion in that respect. It’s hard not to start dreaming of the Premier League, particularly after performances like last Friday’s, even I, as anxious and cautious as I am about premature celebrations, have started to dream of what now seems like the surreal concept of a Leicester City promotion to the top flight. In fact, in my ten short years following the club, I can’t remember a more positive feeling around the club, so as a fan base lets approach this with some cautious optimism, the job is nowhere near done and with Queens Park Rangers and Burnley snagging at our coat tails, any misplaced arrogance could see us slide in to the play-offs but as we’re in the poll position right now, there is no reason we can’t be celebrating in May. To fit the old cliché, the remaining twenty-one games are cup finals – starting with Leeds away on Saturday. Keep the faith – this may just be our year.
Pictures: Leicester Mercury / This is Leicestershire