Frustrated Leicester City boss Nigel Pearson has dropped a big hint that it could be all change for Saturday’s FA Cup fifth round trip to Norfolk following the mid-week defeat at Watford.
With the Canaries in the finest of fettles courtesy of their latest away win of the season at Swansea last weekend, this week’s round of Championship fixtures found the Foxes travelling to Watford as their play-off ambitions start to stutter.
Fresh from a 2-1 win over Cardiff City, Pearson was clearly hoping for a decent result at Vicarage Road to keep their quest for a play-off finish on course.
That hope looked well-placed as two, fine strikes from the much-travelled David Nugent put Norwich’s FA Cup opponents in the driving seat at 2-1.
But the Hornets’ rallied and a late strike from substitute Craig Forsyth condemned Pearson’s men to a 3-2 defeat. They now sit nine points short of the play-off positions with 15 games left to play.
What is interesting – and encouraging – from a Norfolk perspective is the onus Pearson continues to place on Leicester’s league ambitions; that the ‘one or two changes’ that he foresees for the trip to Carrow Road could yet be a case of keeping some of his powder dry for the last play-off assault ahead.
That – maybe – this weekend’s FA Cup trip to East Anglia comes as more of a distraction that anything else. The manager admitted to the local paper, The Leicester Mercury, that he was ‘frustrated’ by the lack of a league fixture this weekend.
All of which might point to Leicester’s thoughts being elsewhere as the Canaries look to make home and Premiership advantage count and grab a place in the last eight of this season’s competition.
“We have to wait a bit longer for the next league game, which is a frustration, but we have a cup game which gives me an opportunity to look at one or two different options,” Pearson told the paper on the back of Tuesday night’s unwelcome reverse.
They also appear to have a weakness at set-plays. Coming up against the Premiership team with a penchant for big headed goals off big set-plays and teasing crosses, the signs look good for a Norwich success.
Which, of course, will only add to the level of wariness that seasoned City watchers will bring to this weekend’s events. When it all looks just that little bit too good to be true, it usually isn’t.
Equally City boss Paul Lambert will be well aware of what lies next in Norwich’s own league calendar – one Manchester United. He, too, will be thinking about juggling his resources ahead of the clubs’ return to league duty.
James Vaughan’s second goal in as many Reserve outings could yet find him featuring in Lambert’s FA Cup thoughts. Kyle Naughton all-but ended last weekend’s trip to The Liberty playing off one leg; the fact that the on-loan Spurs defender is cup-tied is probably just as well. Adam Drury’s exit with groin trouble could again limit his involvement.
Again, Steve Morison will be champing at the bit for a start again after skipper Grant Holt stole the headlines with his double strike against The Swans. And will Lambert hand kid keeper Jed Steer the chance to shine again after his heroics at The Hawthorns?
Lambert has options – and has a squad of players in a hungry mood.
And as much as the City boss will inevitably seek to play down expectations among the Canary faithful, the fact remains that the Foxes aren’t flying form-wise. And Pearson isn’t the happiest of bunnies.
“(Watford) was a game we should have won, but we started so poorly and lacklustre in certain areas that I will be looking to make one or two changes,” Pearson added, seeking the kind of winning groove that Norwich established in their exit from the Championship last season.
“We need to play consistently and that has been the problem all season. I have been very patient so far in terms of how to change it. I don’t criticise the players openly,” he said. “My responsibility is to put it right and I will do.”