Leicester’s race for Premiership survival took an unusual twist over the weekend when manager Nigel Pearson was reportedly sacked only for the club to backtrack and insist he was still in charge, at least for now. Pearson who has managed the Foxes for 3 and a half years now and guided them back into the Premiership after a 10 year absence appeared to be a dead man walking after his side slumped to yet another defeat at the weekend against Crystal Palace. The loss, Leicester’s 15th of the campaign, leaves them bottom of the league with only 14 games left. To make matters worse for Pearson, he was caught up in a pitch side tussle with Palace midfielder James McArthur who he appeared to choke after the player accidentally slid into him. Both Pearson and McArthur insisting that it was nothing but jovial banter (which the pictures seem to suggest also) but that has not stopped the British press from blowing it out of proportion. Even Palace boss Alan Pardew, who himself was involved in a pitch side incident last year when he head butted Hulls David Meyler, laughed off the incident.
Regardless of the intention, the backlash on Pearson has been swift with many calling for his head. So when the news broke that the club had sacked him, the dots were connected fairly swiftly that his pitch side brawl was the last straw and Pearson was dismissed. Shortly after the story broke, various media outlets were reporting on potential replacements such as Bolton manager Neil Lennon, a former Leicester player himself and Brentford boss Mark Warburton. But before any bets could be placed, the club did a dramatic turnaround insisting that they had not sacked Pearson, that the media reports were wrong and that he remained in charge. Pearson will now be in the dugout for Tuesday’s away clash with Arsenal but few believe that he will last much longer.
Leicester have been poor this season despite some inspired performances against the likes of Manchester United and Tottenham. Their stunning 5-3 win over Louis Van Gaal’s men back in August should have set them on their way but instead proved to be an early climax on what they could realistically achieve. Eleven defeats and two draws from the next 13 games saw the Foxes slide further down the table and into the relegation zone where they have stayed ever since. Like many of the sides around them, Leicester’s away form has been dismal with only two wins (against fellow strugglers Hull and Stoke) worth writing home about. With the third worst defensive record in the league, survival in the Premiership looks unlikely unless they can shore things up. However there are bigger problems up front where Leicester has the second worst strike rate with 21 goals, 9 more than Aston Villa. To solve this problem, Pearson spent big in the transfer window recruiting Croatian hit man Andrej Kramaric from HNK Rijeka. The 23 year old comes with a big reputation after breaking numerous goal scoring records in Croatia including hitting an amazing 450 goals for Dinamo Zagreb’s youth team before making the step up. Leicester fought off an aggressive challenge from Chelsea for his signature with the hopes that Kramaric could be the answer to their prayers. He has yet to score in three appearances but given his previous exploits it won’t be long before he does.
Whether Pearson is around to see those goals is a different question. Little has changed in the Leicester approach in recent months with the system and style now becoming somewhat stagnant. After Arsenal on Tuesday, Leicester faces Aston Villa in the FA Cup before travelling to Goodison Park to face the underperforming Everton side. March and April will be the make or break months for Leicester in their quest for Premiership survival, with key ties against Burnley, Sunderland, QPR and Hull all on the agenda. If Pearson is to be sacked, Leicester will need to act quickly to replace him with someone who can inspire the team and kick start them back into action. That person clearly isn’t Pearson who looks dazed and confused by the whole situation. Hard not to be given the drama that surrounded Sunday and the calamitous handling of his sacking turned reappointment. Next time however there will be no drama, just a swift and brutal end to Pearson stay at the King Power Stadium.