An exquisite half-volley from Leicester’s David Nugent and a late penalty save from goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, gave Nigel Pearson’s men a hard-fought victory over promotion hopefuls Middlesbrough in Friday night’s Championship clash.
Boro substitute Marvin Emnes saw his 89th-minute spot-kick repelled by City’s Danish stopper, giving the hosts’ their fourth consecutive league victory.
Before Schmeichel’s heroics, Nugent had conjured the game’s stand-out moment. Collecting Chris Wood’s flicked pass, the forward unleashed an unstoppable first-time strike across Jason Steele and inside the ‘Boro stopper’s right-hand post.
Tony Mowbray’s side made a significant contribution to an engaging encounter, but lacked a clinical finish to reward their impressive build-up play.
The FA’s Peter Glynn looks at the attacking design of the two Championship promotion hopefuls.
Kasper Schmeichel was nowhere to be seen at the final whistle.
It was only when Leicester City’s players dispersed from their celebratory circle that the Danish goalkeeper was revealed. Given the stopper’s acrobatic last-minute penalty save, it was unsurprising that Schmeichel was the centre of attention amidst relieved Leicester bodies.
The delight at the penalty save was made more significant given that which had gone before. Many goalscoring chances had been passed up by both sides before David Nugent provided the evening’s best moment with 20 minutes remaining.
First to react to Chris Wood’s deft flick over Middlesbrough defender Andre Bikey, Nugent was first to collect the resulting bouncing ball. And with one flash of his right foot the game was won.
The execution of the forward’s 13th strike of the campaign was made even more impressive given the acute angle. Nugent's match-winner was guided expertly inside the far post beyond the despairing reach of Steele in the visitors’ goal. It was a moment of clinical finishing that stood out on an evening when wastefulness was common.
Here’s a Future Game practice which helps young players develop their finishing skills:
Given the delayed kick-off, freezing temperatures and disruption to travel plans which saw some Leicester players abandoning their cars en-route to the ground, it would have been understandable if rhythm was absent in the opening exchanges. However, Middlesbrough began the game with a verve and vigour which belied the plummeting temperatures.
There is much to admire about the design of Tony Mowbray’s team. However, trying to define a set formation during the Teessiders' attacking phases is a difficult task for those who want to see the game reduced to rows of numbers.
For the most part the visitors played without a traditional centre forward. With no apparent central target their threat was concealed, instead multiple willing forward runners lurked in withdrawn positions.
It was common to see any of Boro’s midfield or attackers occupying the traditional centre forward position. Unsurprisingly, the visitors have recorded 19 different goalscorers this season.
Here’s a Future Game practice which helps young players develop their forward-runs in attacking areas:
On-loan Chelsea youngster, Josh McEachran most commonly filled the central attacking role. The 19-year-old forms part of an attacking unit that, when combining their flexible movement and intricate passing, sweep around the field as if playing mini-games of keep-ball.
One of the England Under-21 midfielder’s stand-out moments came nine minutes before the break when his delicate outside-of-the-boot poked pass put Emmanuel Ledesma through one-on-one with Schmeichel. However, the Argentine’s dinked shot was easily gathered by City’s 'keeper.
The moment would provide a summary of the visitors’ evening: incisive approach play, lacking a clinical finish.
Mowbray will be frustrated his side did not capitalise on their dominance when they were in the ascendency. In addition to the penalty save, the home side had Schmeichel to congratulate for another match-winning save, the stopper propelling himself in the way of Bikey’s first-half header from Grant Leadbitter’s corner.
In comparison to the visitors, Nigel Pearson’s men offer greater attacking thrust. This was the Foxes' fourth consecutive league victory, a run of form owing much to the growing understanding between Wood and Nugent.
Here’s a Future Game practice which helps young players develop their attacking combination play:
Wood, a recent purchase from West Brom, and scorer of six goals in the last three league and cup games, is a perfect foil for the scampering Nugent. Flanked by the slippery wide-pair of Anthony Knockaert and Ben Marshall. Pearson’s forward line is a complementary blend of power and pace.
Chances were plentiful. Nugent had two efforts ruled out for offside and both he and his strike partner saw countless opportunities repelled by Steele. Nugent lurks, hovers and waits, before springing into life, timing his runs to chase onto balls played in behind the opposition.
Throughout the evening, Leicester’s forward arrangement was subject to change. Midway through the opening period Nugent was moved to the right to counter the threat posed by George Friend and Scott McDonald down Middlesbrough’s left.
The visitors’ wide pair displayed efficient link-up play; McDonald regularly stepping infield to allow Friend to overlap. It was from Boro’s left that an opening goal had looked most likely. McDonald had a collection of efforts from this avenue, cutting inside and striking at goal with his right-foot.
Nugent’s positional change freed the diminutive Frenchman, Knockaert, to move inside to occupy dangerous spaces behind Wood. Leicester immediately had a more fluid feel to match their opponents.
Earlier in the first half, Knockaert had posed the hosts’ greatest threat. The French Under-21 international stepping inside from the left to drill a shot with flew beyond Steele’s hands, striking the centre of the bar and bouncing down off the line and out. Fittingly, a layer of snow was shaken vigorously from Steele’s bar.
Nugent and Knockaert swapped again in the second period. It would prove decisive as Nugent went on to cap the game with his memorable moment.
Advice for grassroots coaches:
- Young players should be encouraged to develop their finishing skills by replicating game-related attacking scenarios. Coaches should include shooting practices which challenge players to shoot from a variety of angles, utilising many different service types (high balls, crosses, rebounds from the 'keeper, first-time shooting);
- Young players should be encouraged to develop the tactical understanding to change their tactical shape numerous times during games. Here, both sides adopted different formations during different periods of the game.
Peter Glynn is the Editorial Manager at St. George's Park and editor of The Boot Room, The FA's Coaching Magazine. Peter is a journalist and has been with The Football Association for five years and holds the UEFA B Licence and The FA Youth Awards 1 and 2.
The Future Game Tactics Column takes a weekly look at the evolution of the modern game, linking to practices from The FA's Future Game philosophy and providing advice and tips for grassroots coaches.
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