Evening Championship fans! A packed penultimate weekend of action begins tonight with a decisive clash between third and seventh as Leicester City
take on Watford at the King Power Stadium. Both sides are desperate for three points in a make-or-break clash at the top of the table.
Watford travel to the Midlands tonight knowing only a win will keep their faint hopes of automatic promotion alive. Gianfranco Zola
's side trail Hull City in second place by four points, meaning that anything but a victory will see the Tigers earn automatic promotion before they face Bristol City tomorrow.
Leicester are perhaps even more desperate for a positive result tonight following a run of just one win in their last 11 games. Nigel Pearson
's side will move into the playoff places if they avoid defeat at home this evening, piling the pressure on promotion rivals Bolton Wanderers, Crystal Palace and Nottingham Forest.
There are no excuses for the Foxes tonight, with Pearson's squad in rude health ahead of tonight's vital encounter. After a horrible run of results in 2013 Leicester have turned the tide in recent weeks, edging Bolton before earning a credible draw against Palace last weekend. A win tonight would be a huge turning point for Pearson's side in the race to join the playoff party.
Watford will provide a stern test of Leicester's playoff credentials tonight, with the Hornets winning 11 of their 22 away matches so far this season. A recent wobble on the road has seen the Hornets lose their last two matches away to Millwall and Peterborough United. If Zola's men must settle for the playoffs an improvement in form is a must, starting at the King Power this evening.
Zola's side have also struggled in recent weeks, particularly as the form of top scorer Matej Vydra
has dipped. Last weekend's 4-0 win over Blackburn Rovers was their first in four and saw strike partner Troy Deeney
return to form with a brace. Watford need their forward duo to find form tonight or Hull's promotion party will begin earlier than expected.
BREAKING TEAM NEWS!
The starting lineups have been released at the King Power, with one notable inclusion for the visitors. Vydra has been recalled to the starting XI ahead of Fernando Forestieri
after missing the Blackburn match and will start tonight. A full look at both sides will follow in just a few moments.
LEICESTER: Schmeichel, De Laet, Konchesky, Morgan, M Keane, King, Dyer, James, Knockaert, Schlupp, Wood
WATFORD: Almunia, Doyley, Pudil, Cassetti, Chalobah, Ekstrand, Hogg, Anya, Abdi, Deeney, Vydra
Vydra's inclusion is not a surprise but still remains a big call for Zola, who decided to change a winning side despite that impressive rout at home to Blackburn. Forestieri will be disappointed to miss out but with victory imperative tonight the visitors need their main marksman to fire this evening.
Leicester boss Pearson has resisted the temptation to make changes tonight, deciding to name an unchanged XI from the side that drew at Palace on Saturday. That means Dave Nugent
, Harry Kane
and Danny Drinkwater
all continue to miss out for the home side, with Chris Wood
trusted to lead the line.
With Leicester having the luxury of a fairly large and injury free squad to choose from Pearson's decision to stick with the same side is a surprise, particularly given their patchy form in recent weeks.
Watford's squad has suffered with injuries in recent weeks, particularly with experienced defenders Nyron Nosworthy and Fitz Hall on the long-term injury list. A settled starting XI has been trusted to deliver tonight as the Hornets go in search of a 12th Championship victory away from home.
The Hornets are chasing a third successive Championship victory over Leicester tonight, but have not beaten the Foxes away from home since 2004. Almen Abdi
and Forestieri were both on target in a 2-1 win when the two sides met earlier this season, in a match which saw Zak Whitbread
dismissed for a second bookable offence.
Tonight's match represents a landmark for Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel
. The Danish starlet has been ever present for the Foxes this season and makes his 250th appearance in English football this evening.
A quick glance at both benches shows that each manager has quality options to change the match late on. Nugent, Kane and Drinkwater could all come on for Leicester, while Watford have Forestieri and Cristian Battocchio to bring on as creative players. A full look at both benches will follow shortly.
LEICESTER SUBS: Logan, Drinkwater, Whitbread, Marshall, Moore, Nugent, Kane
WATFORD SUBS: Bond, Yeates, Murray, Briggs, Geijo, Battocchio, Forestieri
PREDICTION! For all its worth in the most unpredictable competition in English football I think Leicester's dire need for victory could see them over the line tonight. Watford are more than capable of proving me wrong however, particularly if Vydra manages to end a run of 10 games without a goal. The smart money is on both teams to score tonight, with attacking quality at both ends of the pitch.
Both teams are out to a raucous atmosphere at the King Power Stadium, which looks to be just under capacity this evening. Both teams know there is little room for error tonight as the promotion race comes to a close. A reminder that a defeat for Watford tonight will see Hull City promoted to the Premier League before playing tomorrow!
After a slightly delayed start Leicster get us underway and immediately pump the ball forward in search of Schlupp, but Watford are alert to the danger and clear with authority.
Pudil makes a clever run into the penalty area and sees his attempted cutback to Deeney cut out by a late interception from Keane. Watford are unable to create a goalscoring opportunity from the corner kick but have shown an early warning sign that they are capable of breaking in numbers on the counter.
Anya is next to break with purpose from deep for the Hornets, but fails to pick out one of three Watford players in the penalty area as Morgan scrambles clear. Leicester show urgency to stride forward quickly at the other end, with Dyer winning a corner kick off Doyley. Again a poor deliver lets down the attacking side as Ekstrand clears to safety with a header at the near post. A frantic start at both ends to this important match!
Leicester look to be pressing the action in the early stages, with Watford happy to wait for the chance to break forward in numbers. Wood chases down a lost cause in the corner and wins a throw in the final third for the Foxes. Eventually a neat exchange between Dyer and Konchesky sees Watford regroup and win back possession as both sides look to stamp their authority on the match.
A sustained spell of pressure for Leicester is ended by a poor pass from Konchesky. Just before that misplaced forward ball Dyer just lost out in straight race for pace with Anya as the home side look to stretch the play on both flanks.
Knockaert wins a corner kick after a well-timed tackle from Doyley turns the ball behind. From the resulting corner Morgan towers above his marker but gets too much on a powerful header that flies well over the crossbar. That has to go down as a chance missed for the central defender given the time and space he was afforded from close range.
At the other end Watford are quick to launch a counter thanks to a clever forward pass form Vydra. His through ball found Abdi just inside the penalty area. His attempted cross towards Deeney was poorly executed as the midfielder slips and fails to make proper contact.
There is barely time to pause for breath as Leicester charge forward and win a cheap corner as Almunia sends the ball behind under little pressure. De Leat meets a bobbling ball in the penalty area but has his shot deflected wide, before Watford eventually scramble clear at the second time of asking. Both sides look vulnerable early on in a crucial clash.
SAVE! Watford have just come within inches of taking the lead through Hogg. Schmeichel somehow managed to spill a low cross from Anya into the path of the midfielder but made a rapid recovery to swarm on the rebound and turn a soft shot wide. A fine reaction save from the Danish keeper that just about gets Leicester off the hook.
YELLOW CARD! Leicester forward Schlupp has just picked up the game's first caution after a needless late lunge on Hogg saw him make no contact with the ball. Watford want to continue with an advantage but the referee brings play back and awards a booking.
The home side have a free kick just outside the penalty area after Cassetti brought down Schlupp in a wide area. Knockaert has time to consider his options but misses a packed penalty area after smashing an aimless cross behind for a goal kick.
A lively start has just slowed in the last few moments as Leicester probe without finding a killer pass in the final third. A poor goal kick from Almunia has the visitors back under pressure, but Doyley and Anya clear effectively and buy their defenders a breather.
Schlupp beats two defenders before cutting inside to send a low cross into the penalty area, but Ekstrand reads the danger and clears for Watford. Dyer and De Laet keep up the pressure but once again the final ball is a disappointment and allows Watford to counter through Abdi, who smashes wide from 20 yards.
SHOT! An instinctive strike from King has just gone inches wide as Leicester come close to breaking the deadlock. A bouncing ball completely deceived two Watford players, with King taking advantage to strike on the half-volley from 20 yards. His dipping drive looked destined for the far corner but ended up falling beyond the near post, much to a sprawling Almunia's relief.
Dyer gets the better of Doyley and flashes a low cross into the six-yard box. Wood is ahead of his marker and looks well placed to tuck home at the near post, but somehow fails to make contact with the ball drifting wide to safety. That was a golden opportunity for Leicester to take the lead and Pearson knows it, showing his frustration on the touchline.
Knockaert is the latest to let fly from range as Watford retreat and offer the midfielder a chance to shoot from distance. His striker has power but lacks accuracy, ending up at least five feet over the far post.
Konchesky steals the ball from Anya in the opposition half, but takes too long to find a forward pass and allows the Watford winger to atone for his error and make an important interception. Leicester look the more assured in possession at this stage but both sides look more than capable of finding the first goal.
Pudil makes a vital last-ditch interception to stop Wood tapping in at the far post and as Almunia punches clear Watford have a chance to counter. Vydra and Deeney are confronted by three Leicester defenders and eventually the latter's cutback is misplaced as both sides pause for breath.
Clever movement from Deeney sees him react quickest to a long diagonal pass from Cassetti, but his first touch in the penalty area is a real disappointment and trickles behind for a goal kick.
GOAL! Leicester 0-1 Watford (Deeney)
Just before the break Watford are ahead as Deeney turns home from close range after meeting a header back across goal from Ekstrand. Moments before the visitors had come close as a clever run and finish from Abdi forced Schmeichel to make a fine save at his near post. Leicester failed to deal with the following corner kick and now trail moments before the interval.
GOAL! Leicester 0-2 Watford (Chalobah)
A quite incredible strike from Chalobah has seen Watford take a two-goal advantage at the King Power Stadium. Around 30 yards from goal the defender lets fly and unleashes a rocket that flies in off the crossbar beyond a helpless Schmeichel. A genuine contender for goal of the season out of almost nothing has the Hornets in complete control of this crucial Championship clash!
Watford are nearly out of sight in the very next attack as Hogg sees a low shot cleared off the line after intelligent approach play from Vydra. Leicester badly need the half-time whistle as we enter the final minute of added time.
HALF-TIME Leicester 0-2 Watford
After a largely even first period Watford have pulled away with two decisive strikes just before the break. A poacher's finish from Deeney was quickly followed by Chalobah's thunderbolt and Zola's side now look set to prolong the promotion race for at least another day.
Leicester looked more than a match for the visitors early on and had chances to take the lead, which were ultimately spurned. While the defending for the corner kick which led to Deeney's goal was disappointing, there is absolutely nothing any side can do to prepare for a special strike like Chalobah's gravity-defying hit soon after.
Pearson now has it all to do if his side are to stay in the playoff race, with a defeat leaving their chances of a top-six finish looking very bleak. Expect to see the likes of Nugent and Kane introduced quickly in the second half as the Foxes are forced to chase the match.
That last five minutes of the first half served as a prime example of Watford's ability to be clinical on the counter. The Horners have the best away record in the Championship and now look very much on course for their 12th win on the road this season.
A reminder that as things stand Watford will go a single point behind Hull City in the race for second place and automatic promotion. If Leicester are unable to produce a comeback Hull will need to beat Barnsley tomorrow to secure a return to the Premier League.
In truth Watford should be out of sight after Hogg's low shot proved central enough for De Laet to clear off the line. A more composed finish from the midfielder would have surely seen the Hornets take an unassailable 3-0 lead, but Zola must be delighted with his side's advantage at the interval.
SUBSTITUTION: Leicester have indeed made a change at the break, swapping Nugent for Schlupp in attack. Expect to see the home side adopt a more direct approach as they desperately search for a route back in the match.
CHANCE! Almost immediately Nugent has his first strike on goal, controlling brilliantly before volleying wide of the far post from just inside the penalty area. Leicester need their experienced striker to conjure up a moment of magic from that range in order to keep their promotion push alive.
Doyley concedes a corner kick as he intercepts a forward pass down the line from King. Leicester send both central defenders forward but the visitors are able to clear easily and break with purpose through Anya. His pass finds Deeney, who elects to cut inside and just shows too much of the ball to a diving Schmeichel in the penalty area. The warning signs are there for Pearon's men, keep the ball in the final third or risk being picked apart on the counter.
Once again the home side waste a set-piece chance, which came after Abdi brought down De Laet. Knockaert's delivery fails to beat the first defender, with Morgan's efforts to keep the ball alive out wide all in vain as Watford are awarded a goal kick.
Abdi strides forward to meet a cutback from Deeney and has a curling shot blocked just outside the penalty area. Watford look comfortable to sit and wait on the counter, as they have done to deadly effect away from home for much of the campaign.
More superb wing play from Anya sees a prolonged spell of Watford possession win a corner kick thanks to a tackle from Konchesky. A fine spot from the referee sees Deeney win a second successive corner, which is cleared at the near post by Nugent.
Watford look in complete control as Pudil bombs forward to provide an outlet from full-back. Pearson needs to make another change quickly, with his side unable to keep possession in central midfield and build a platform to get back in the match at this stage.
Leicester make their second change and introduce another forward option in youngster Harry Kane. He replaced Lloyd Dyer
as the home side switch to a three-man forward line born out of necessity.
GOAL! Leicester 1-2 Watford (Kane)
Within two minutes of coming on Kane has given Leicester a lifeline after heading home from close range. The forward managed to stay onside and meet a curling cross from Konchesky to finish with his first chance of the match. Watford are convinced he was offside but replays show that the linesman got his decision correct. Game on at the King Power with more than 20 minutes to play!
Kane continues his impressive introduction by forcing Almunia to save at the second time of asking at his near post. After being in total control of the match suddenly Watford look a little rattled as they bid to regroup and maintain their narrow advantage.
Leicester make their final change and its another attacking option brought into the match. Ben Marshall
comes on for Knockaert as the Foxes search for an equaliser. Meanwhile at the other end Watford have a hopeful penalty appeal for handball turned away as Anya's cross is blocked by Keane.
De Laet pushes forward for the home side and beats two defenders on a driving run into the penalty area. His attempted cross is eventually blocked behind by Cassetti for a corner kick. A cross has Watford caught by surprise as Marshall forces Almunia to make a strong save at his near post. The Foxes want a penalty just before the shot as James tussles with Hogg, but the referee is unmoved.
SUBSTITUTION: Watford make their first change and with 15 minutes left the swap is a cautious one. The excellent Anya is replaced by Matthew Briggs, who will provide support for Doyley in the closing stages.
A heavy collision between two Watford defenders results in a stoppage as Ekstrand and Briggs both require treatment. Marshall was caught in a sandwich by the two defenders but seems fine to continue, while both visiting players remain down injured and seemingly winded.
YELLOW CARD! After a short spell of recovery both defenders are fine to continue, but Briggs is quickly involved as he brings down Morgan with a late lunge. The referee decides to book the youngster for his mistimed tackle near the corner flag, which is a slightly harsh call.
SUBSTITUTION: Nugent is just unable to meet a long diagonal pass forward as Watford look to close out the final 10 minutes by switching to a five-man defence. Zola uses the break in play to make another change, with Yeates coming on for Chalobah, who will remember his contribution tonight for many years to come.
YELLOW CARD! Nugent has picked up a silly booking for his angry reaction to conceding a free kick for his physical challenge on Yeates. The forward smashed the ball away to show his disdain for the decision and left the official with little choice but to hand out a caution.
SUBSTITUTION: Pearson is next to berate the official for failing to award a fairly obvious throw to the home side. Meanwhile Watford make their last change in midfield as Battocchio comes on in place of Abdi, who in spells was excellent either side of the break.
Battocchio quickly gets involved, running down the clock near the corner flag in a neat exchange with Deeney. Briggs then does exactly the same in a composed forward run, winning a throw deep in the final third.
Konchesky hangs a dangerous cross to the far post in the closing stages, but no Leicester player reads the ball as Watford get time to clear. Yeates makes a meal of his clearance and allows Marshall to close him down and win a corner kick. Again the set-piece delivery is disappointing for the home side, who have failed to use their physical advantage for much of the evening.
Zola is out on the touchline telling his players to stay calm under pressure, with Leicester desperately searching for a late equaliser. The assistant raises hopes among the home crowd by awarding five additional minutes, much to Zola's disgust.
Almunia beats Nugent to flick at the far post but elects to punch, allowing Leicester to recycle possession and keep the pressure on. James has the chance to cross from deep but wastes it, sending a poor pass out for a throw. Morgan then concedes a cheap foul allowing the visitors to push upfield and finally clear their lines.
Vydra wastes time next to the corner flag and eventually wins a free kick for an over-zealous challenge from De Laet. Deeney joins his strike partner out wide to win a corner kick as time ticks away for Leicester to respond. They eventually smash upfield with a looping clearance, forcing Ekstrand to find touch with his clearance.
FULL-TIME Leicester City 1-2 Watford
In the end Watford survive a nervy finale to clinch all three points and keep the race for automatic promotion alive. All eyes will now turn to Oakwell tomorrow, where a win for Hull City against Barnsley will see the Tigers promoted.
Defeat for Leicester leaves their chances of a playoff place hanging by a thread. Nigel Pearson
's side will now have to rely on other sides to slip up to keep their push for a top-six finish alive on the final day.
Well that just about does it for Sports Mole's coverage of a vital Championship clash. Thanks for joining us and be sure to check in tomorrow for a packed weekend of action across the Football League. Goodnight!