MATCH VERDICT: Bolton Wanderers 0-1 Leicester City
NIGEL Pearson will be pitting his wits against Jose Mourinho next season but tonight he followed “The Special One” by claiming silverware at the Reebok.
Wanderers once watched Chelsea celebrate the title on home turf and were reduced to the role of honourable hosts once again last night as Lloyd Dyer’s second-half strike earned the win Leicester City needed to secure top spot from Burnley.
Dougie Freedman claimed after a 5-3 defeat back in December that the Foxes were the best side in the division, “by a million miles,” in fact.
He will have been happy that the yawning class gap that appeared that afternoon at the King Power Stadium had been closed somewhat four months later.
Leicester head to the bright lights of the Premier League with an excellent young side and a brand of football that is quite a treat to watch. That Wanderers ran them close will give Freedman some cause for optimism, even though his side lost their unbeaten record.
Wanderers’ starting line-up and formation was certainly a departure from the norm.
With Alan Hutton absent, Hayden White was drafted in for his first start at right-back – Alex Baptiste nowhere to be seen – while Zat Knight also came back in alongside Matt Mills and David Wheater in a new-look back five.
Neil Danns was ineligible while another ex-Foxes man, Jermaine Beckford, was dropped to the bench.
Wanderers were effectively set up to contain. And thanks to Leicester’s lack of urgency around the penalty area in the first half, they succeeded in their task, to a degree.
The back line rode their luck at times, and the gaps between youngster White and the much more experienced Mills gave the Foxes plenty of encouragement.
Pearson’s side looked completely at ease with their own system – in fact the only criticism that could be levelled at them in the opening 45 minutes was that they were over-comfortable.
Danny Drinkwater pulled the strings with consummate ease in midfield, picking holes at random.
Andy King had a shot deflected narrowly wide, Wheater blocked a goal-bound effort from Riyad Mahrez – who then tested Adam Bogdan with a vicious swerving effort from the edge of the box that almost caught the Hungarian napping. For a few, very brief, moments between the Leicester dominance, we did get a chance to see some bright football from Wanderers.
Jay Spearing played Jutkiewicz through for one golden chance, his shot struck high, wide and off-balance, but there were a few little exchanges that suggested if they could keep it tight at the back, there was certainly something in the game for them to take.
Slowly, the crowd started to wake from their slumber. But just as the Whites seemed to be getting back on an even keel, the visitors clicked through the gears.
Drinkwater and Matty James forced Bogdan into further action, before Knight got away with a mis-directed header that bounced inches over his own bar.
Perhaps that convinced Freedman to change things in the second half, with White hauled off at the break in favour of Beckford for an extra body up front.
Despite the reshuffle, it seemed normal service was resumed as Bogdan was called upon once more to beat away a dipping shot from Knockaert.
But the visitors’ insistence on trying to walk the ball into the net was working against them and suddenly, Wanderers began to fancy themselves for a goal. Had Jutkiewicz brought his shooting boots, they would have got one too.
Chung-Yong was become increasingly influential and the Korean weaved his way through two challenges to give Jutkiewicz a close-range chance he skewed just wide.
A couple of minutes later, sub Beckford put a wonderful ball over the top for his strike partner to chase on to and though he did well to out-pace Marcin Wasilewski, he shot was again aimed just off target.
Just as Andy Kellett was preparing to enter the game for his Wanderers debut, Jutkiewicz had another golden chance. Rob Hall – who would make way for Kellett – saw his shot deflected into his path but this time Kasper Schmeichel was on hand to parry his shot wide.
The game now wide open, Wanderers kept trying to play football. One great move involving sub Kellett ended with Beckford scuffing his shot from a good position.
Chris Lester came off the bench for his senior debut with 15 minutes remaining but it was asking a lot of the two youngsters to drag their side back into the game.
In the end, the East Midlanders rather cantered to victory and a rousing celebration with the Championship trophy at the end.
It is a blueprint for Freedman to follow – let’s not forget that while the Leicester fans chanted Pearson’s name at the end, there were times when the songs were not so sweet.