MONDAY VERDICT: Leicester City 5 Wanderers 3
IT is hard to know what is more worrying – the class gap between Wanderers and their hosts, or how long it could potentially take to bridge it.
For the last few seasons Nigel Pearson has steadily built a team that now looks capable of lasting the distance and escaping the Championship – and under some considerable pressure too.
But this result shows just how far Dougie Freedman has got to go before he will be able to say the same and just how much patience will be necessary at the Reebok for that to pay dividends.
The Scot is under pressure from supporters, who still have the Premier League glory days fresh in their minds. But equally, he is also acutely aware that the players he has under his charge are under-performing as they sit 18th in the table, defending quite as badly as they did at the King Power Stadium.
This might have been good to watch for the neutral but for the manager, who prides himself on organisation and the structure of his system, this was a horror show at times.
The pain was eased slightly by some clinical first-half finishing, not least from Andre Moritz, who continues to be a bright shining light in a gloomy old climate.
When all was said and done, though, Wanderers’ deficiencies were laid bare in one of the most chaotic games since the 5-4 defeat at Peterborough United early in Freedman’s reign.
Wanderers twice led the game at 2-1 and 3-2 and yet never looked entirely on top.
Moritz and Jermaine Beckford cancelled out Danny Drinkwater’s opener then, after Anthony Knockaert had headed his side level, Moritz grabbed a second.
Matt Mills put through his own net to make it 3-3 at half time and in the second half Leicester’s quality told, Lloyd Dyer and Gary Taylor-Fletcher making up for Dave Nugent’s missed penalty.
Whatever gameplan either Freedman or Pearson had prior to kick off was cast out of the window early on as the King Power went goal crazy.
Just five minutes in Drinkwater opened Pandora’s box with a low drive from the edge of the box, helped by a deflection.
The pressure had been invited by a poor touch by Medo 10 yards outside his own box but was finished off smartly by the former Manchester United trainee after Matty James had fluffed his first volley.
The home fans, buoyant after going top of the league with a Boxing Day win against Reading, were quick to rub in the advantage. Beckford had been given a hard time from the Leicester fans from the moment his name was read out by the stadium announcer but never more so when he fresh-aired a chance to level the scores 13 minutes in.
But just 60 seconds later the King Power was sent into hushed silence as Chung-Yong Lee drifted down the right channel and pulled a cross back for Moritz to poke in past Kasper Schmeichel.
Even the Wanderers fans didn’t seem to know how to react – but when Beckford then fired their side into the lead a minute later, the reaction was one of pure delirium.
Jay Spearing found the striker in loads of room just inside the penalty box and his finish was as clinical as they come into the bottom corner.
There was a short respite as the game settled but just as Freedman must have thought he had things as he wanted them, Dyer tore past Alex Baptiste and delivered a cross for Knockaert to head home at the far post.
A chance to reflect on the fact that this was the same Belgian who had scored against Nottingham Forest on the last day of last season and denied the Whites a play-off spot? Not on your nelly.
Instead, Moritz gave Wanderers the lead yet again as he collected a pass from Tim Ream and then sent a measured shot into the bottom corner.
Clearly no lead could be taken for granted – so it was no surprise when Leicester levelled yet again just two minutes later.
After a spell of pinball in the penalty box, Paul Konchesky’s shot bounced up cruelly into Mills’ face and over the line with Andy Lonergan already well beaten.
Half time gave everyone a chance to draw breath – and Freedman to replace Rob Hall with Darren Pratley for some stability – and almost immediately after the restart Wanderers should have been celebrating a fourth. Beckford picked up possession near half way and with Chung-Yong and Moritz for company went for the shot rather than the pass, with Wes Morgan making the block.
As if things hadn’t been frantic enough, Zat Knight and Jamie Vardy then decided to throw an off-the-ball altercation into the mix.
Both players, oblivious to the game going on around them, stood forehead to forehead before the Whites defender aimed a shove in the Leicester striker’s direction.
Home fans bayed for a red card but referee Mick Russell, after speaking to his linesman, decided a last warning and a yellow was enough.
Wanderers got a major let-off when Knockaert curled a free-kick against the bar and Liam Moore somehow managed to slide the rebound wide of the open goal.
And sensing that his side were definitely losing their attacking zip, Freedman opted to send on Mark Davies for Moritz in an effort to get a bit more mobility around the increasingly isolated Beckford.
The midfielder almost made an instant impact, driving a deflected shot at goal that had to be superbly tipped round the post by Schmiechel.
Back came Leicester and after Vardy had been played in on goal by James, he was brought down by Lonergan to earn the home side an incredible 14th penalty of the season in all competitions.
Nugent had scored eight of them – but found Lonergan at his best with a brilliant save to his right.
No sooner had the adrenaline started to pump than reality hit home. A matter of seconds later Dyer whizzed down the left flank again, finding the bottom corner with another well-aimed shot.
In truth, Wanderers were beaten long before sub Gary Taylor-Fletcher tucked in a fifth with a minute to go.
They had seen a decent shout for a penalty turned down when Pratley’s shot was charged down by a flurry of Leicester bodies – a rare case of solid defending on the day – but mustered little else.
Just as 2012 had done, 2013 ended with a whimper, rather than a bang.