Pearson's escape act still on track despite end of run
There was enough to suggest Foxes will be fine, writes Simon Hart
Nigel Pearson knows all about escape acts. He was manager of the Carlisle United side saved from relegation to the Conference by an injury-time winner from his goalkeeper, Jimmy Glass.
He was also on the West Bromwich Albion bench when they jumped three places off the bottom of the Premier League on the last day in 2004/05. There was also his own personal Houdini moment when he was reportedly sacked, then reappointed on one strange weekend in February.
What his Leicester City side have produced this past month continues that theme, but the miracle run - four straight top-flight wins for the first time since the 1960s for a team hitherto winless since January - came to an end last night. "Ruining football since 1993" read a banner held aloft in the Chelsea end before kick-off and they certainly spoiled Leicester's evening.
"Fearless" read the message on the paper clappers - the brainchild of the club's Thai owners - which were left on the seat of every home fan before kick-off. A modern spin on the old rattle, they certainly raised the noise levels and for 45 minutes the King Power Stadium felt as energised as Pearson's resurgent side went in search of their biggest surprise yet.
Contrary to expectation Pearson sent out an unchanged team, seeking to maintain momentum despite Saturday's early kick-off against Newcastle. He was not helped by the loss of Andy King after 19 minutes and Robert Huth, such an influence since arriving on loan from Hull, followed him off five minutes later with an ankle problem. Despite full-back Richie de Laet's efforts to plug the gap, Huth's departure would prove particularly costly, though initially, with Didier Drogba initially labouring in attack, a shock still felt possible despite Chelsea's better possession.
One feature of Leicester's recent success has been their tactical flexibility and it undoubtedly helps him to have a player with the knowhow and experience to put these changes into effect out on the pitch. This is where Esteban Cambiasso plays a key role and for 45 minutes at least he did just that.
When he last played in a match involving Jose Mourinho, he was carrying out the Portuguese manager's instructions in Internazionale's 2010 Champions League final triumph over Bayern Munich, and in the first half the influence of the former Argentine international was unmissable.
In one of his early press briefings in the East Midlands he dismissed the suggestion that at 34 he might struggle with the pace of the game. "I don't know any player who can run faster than the ball," he replied - and he showed equally quick wit last night.
There was an early show of class as he dispossessed Willian and, despite slipping on to his backside, flicked the ball up and over the Brazilian's head on to a team-mate. Despite a role just in front of the home defence, he then got behind the Chelsea defence to tee up Marc Albrighton for a blocked shot after Paul Konchesky's effort had come back off a post. Tellingly, he was also in referee Mark Clattenburg's ear, which may have helped him escape a booking after an apparent stamp Eden Hazard's foot.
That experience will have informed him not to get carried away when Leicester went in front through Albrighton on the stroke of half-time. The source of the goal was a familiar ploy - a ball down the channel for the tireless Jamie Vardy to race on to and supply the cross which, via Cesar Azpilicueta's slip, ran on to Albrighton to finish.
It was a good time to score yet, tellingly, Cambiasso left the pitch gesturing like one of Harry Enfield's Scousers, urging his team-mates to calm down. He knows better than anybody how a Mourinho team works and so it proved in the second period.
The home side's work rate remained fantastic but Chelsea, buoyed by that equaliser straight after the restart, made their class tell. The pity for Cambiasso is he was beaten by John Terry to the ball that the Chelsea captain bundled over the line for the second goal and that was that.
For Leicester, the winning run is over, but they remain a point clear of the bottom three and with home games against Newcastle, Southampton and Queen's Park Rangers to come, they will go again. The clappers will be back on Saturday and Pearson's escapologists will get back to work. (© Independent News Service)