Martin O’Neill makes an emotional return to the club where he made his name on Saturday as he takes his Sunderland side to face Leicester City.
The ground might be different, but whether it is the King Power Stadium of the modern era or the Filbert Street where O’Neill enjoyed so much success, the former Foxes boss is guaranteed the reception of a messiah from Leicester fans who have never known it so good as when the Northern Irishman was in charge in the 1990s.
Two League Cup victories (and a third final defeat) and successive top half finishes was the basis for O’Neill to forge his managerial reputation and eventually go on to claim the Celtic job, and as Leicester fans wonder if current boss Nigel Pearson can this year emulate O’Neill by winning promotion to the Premier League, Sunderland fans will also be pondering what O’Neill’s magic touch can do for them this campaign.
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The Foxes have won four of their five pre-season matches but they have been against weak opposition and Sunderland are a real step up from the likes of Burton Albion, Nuneaton and Shrewsbury.
But that touch deserted him in the final third of the season, with the Black Cats taking only 12 points from their final dozen league games to limp over the finish line, winning none of their last seven.
The immediate bounce he gave the club after replacing Steve Bruce in December – Sunderland took 22 points from O’Neill’s first 12 league games – has disappeared and with the squad looking uneven and in need of some striking options, O’Neill has much work to do to make his side competetive.
As for Leicester, promotion to the Premier League is the aim of everybody at the club, not least of all the Asian owners, and you would think that Pearson needs to deliver sooner rather than later.
Pearson has of course already achieved one promotion for the club, claiming the League One title in his first stint as manager, and after defecting to Hull City only to be lured back after the Foxes sacked the hapless Sven Goran Eriksson, the former Middlesbrough defender will be striving for the holy land.
His transfer business looks solid, if unspectacular, although the purchase of Fleetwood Town striker Jamie Vardy, who bagged 31 goals in the Conference last season, is intriguing and in a Championship that looks wide open, City look like they will be there or there abouts.
This friendly therefore looks like a good workout for both teams at this stage. Sunderland are the favourites at 6/5, with Leicester at 19/10 and the draw at 11/5. At those prices, the draw looks good to me.
The Foxes have won four of their five pre-season matches but they have been against weak opposition and Sunderland are a real step up from the likes of Burton Albion, Nuneaton and Shrewsbury. Nevertheless, Leicester are in good form and can make it hard for a Sunderland team that looks to be in transition.
With no Nicklas Bendtner, who will not make his loan move from Arsenal permanent, the Wearsiders look short on goals. The Dane was Sunderland’s top scorer last year with just eight, and until that glaring flaw is seen to – at the time of writing, Wolves’ Steven Fletcher has not singed – it looks likely to undermine their ambitions.
And with the Black Cats having drawn 1-1 with another midlands club – Derby County – earlier in the week I wouldn’t be surprised to see a repeat against Leicester.
Recommended bet: Leicester and Sunderland to draw @ 11/5
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