Leicester Preview - Home, Sept 19th
After the Hornet's first back-to-back victories of the season, Leicester are the next side to take on Malky Mackay's Hornets at Vicarage Road this Saturday.
Leicester won League One comfortably last season under former Southampton manager Nigel Pearson. Pearson kept the Saints up the season before, but for some reason his services were not retained at the end of the season. A mistake the Saints hierarchy are surely regretting now. After years building up his profile on the coaching side with Newcastle, West Bromwich Albion and the England U21 setup, Pearson took his first dabble in management late in the 07/08 season. The loan signings of experienced players such as Christian Dailly and goalkeeper Richard Wright galvanized his youthful Southampton side and the Saints avoided the drop. A year later though, Pearson's good work has been undone through the mishaps of Jan Poortvliet, before fellow Dutchman Mark Wotte attempted to save an already fast-sinking ship. Leicester City however, were the beneficiaries of Southampton's poor decision-making as they appointed Pearson manager last pre-season. With the Foxes relegated to the third tier on the final day of the 07/08 season, it was clear promotion was Pearson's goal. He didn't disappoint, his side were promoted with ease, even second-place Peterborough were comfortably behind the midlands side.
Pearson's squad was largely made up of Championship quality players, but as a group the squad was low on confidence after a season of underachievement and ever-changing management. Under Pearson the Foxes were transformed, players such as Matty Fryatt and Lloyd Dyer finally blossomed for the Foxes after several seasons of stagnancy. With astute loan signings such as David Martin of Liverpool, Ben Alnwick of Spurs, former Hornet Wayne Brown, Watford's own Tom Cleverley and Jack Hobbs, also from Liverpool, Leicester had the look of a Championship winning squad about them. Experience was added in the shape of yet another ex-Hornet in Chris Powell, whilst beefy centre back Aleksandr Tunchev was added. Scottish international Paul Dickov returned to add experience to the striking ranks whilst Swiss international Bruno Berner was poached from Blackburn's reserves.
However, promotion would have never been so straight-forward for the Foxes without the goalscoring exploits of Steve Howard and Matty Fryatt. Experience and youth, power and pace, large and little. The ultimate partnership of polar-opposites. Between them, the pair got a mere 47 goals. The season before, Fryatt had managed just three whilst Howard had scored only one more. Their transformation owes as much to confidence as it does to Pearson who surely re-ignited their thirst to punish defenders and goalkeepers. Fryatt, signed from fellow Midlanders, Wallsall, back in 2006 now has an impressive six goals already this season, whilst veteran Howard is yet to strike. It will be a busy day for the Hornet's backline with those two in town however. Paul Gallagher has also been added on-loan this term from Blackburn after he top-scored for Plymouth last season whilst Martyn Waghorn has arrived on loan also, from Sunderland in a move which will help him get regular football and make the step up from the stiffs.
No striker can score goals without supply and the quality backing up Leicester's strike partnership is enough to rival the top end of the Championship without question. The experience of Ray Clemence's son, Stephen, and former Southampton skipper, Matt Oakley has been crucial to Leicester's revival. Oakley was only recruited in January 2008, by which time the Foxes were a sinking ship. However, instilled as skipper and giving a box-to-box role in the midfield, Oakley has been a revelation. It's hard to believe the former Saint and Ram has been around for 15 years, but since making his debut for Southampton in '94, he's clocked up nearly 400 career appearances. Albeit injury, and you could add plenty more to that. Alongside him, Stephen Clemence is getting back from injury, but he's another with top flight experience having plied his trade for both Spurs and Birmingham in the Premier League. Danny N'Guessan will also be an important part of the supply line at the Walkers Stadium as his pace, power and width will be complemented by that of Lloyd Dyer on the opposing flank. Dyer is finally considered a regular after years of frustration and loan spells which have seen him play for five clubs since leaving WBA in 2006.
Likely to replace Clemence in the middle is former Academy graduate, Andy King. A goalscoring attacking midfielder, King burst onto the scene in the relegation season with a wonder strike from distance on debut. With ten goals in fifty-one league starts, it's easy to see why he's highly-rated at the Walkers Stadium, a goal every five games a good return for one of just 21 years of age. Richie Wellens is also in contention for a midfield place after a £1.3m move from Doncaster Rovers over the Summer.
At the back, Leicester are packed with quality and experience also. Robbie Neilson made the move South from Hearts over the Summer on a free, whilst Wayne Brown became a permanent Fox following his loan spell. Both Berner and Tunchev has international caps for Switzerland and Bulgaria respectively. The only downer on the Summer's business was the loss of Joe Mattock, the England U21 fullback. Signed late in the window for West Brom for a fee believed to be around the £2m mark, the Academy graduate had been a fixture in the Foxes lineup for the past two seasons.
Finally, in goal, it's likely to be another freebie in the form of former Bristol City and Yeovil 'keeper, Chris Weale. After an unspectacular and largely redundant period at Ashton Gate, Weale has finally found first-team football again after breaking through with the Glover's some years ago.
Ex Hornets: Chris Powell [9 League Apps + 6 Sub], Wayne Brown [34 + 2]
Likely Watford XI
Hodson Mariappa Cathcart Doyley
Cowie Jenkins Eustace Cleverley
Likely Leicester Lineup
Neilson Brown Hobbs Berner
Gallagher Oakley Wellens N'Guessen
Prediction: Watford 2-2 Leicester City