Leicester City moved to within one win of clinching the Sky Bet Championship title after David Nugent’s goal gave them a narrow victory over promotion hopefuls Queens Park Rangers at King Power Stadium.
Nugent struck decisively midway through the second half – a fine right foot finish from a narrow angle after a pass from Danny Drinkwater – meaning the Foxes will be league champions if they beat Bolton Wanderers at the Reebok Stadium on Tuesday night.
In a closely fought encounter, City had several earlier chances to take the lead, with Andy King having the best of them when he rounded Robert Green and forced Nedum Onuoha into a goal line clearance in the first half.
It didn’t matter in the end however, as a second yellow card 10 minutes from time for QPR’s Benoit Assou-Ekotto helped the Foxes quell the visitors’ threat and see out a Club record 28th league victory of the season.
There were two changes for the Foxes, with King and Anthony Knockaert starting in a 4-2-3-1 formation as Lloyd Dyer dropped to the bench and Jamie Vardy missed out as a precaution with a groin injury.
The R’s meanwhile made six changes to their side. In-form attacker Ravel Morrison was on the bench, while top scorer Charlie Austin was left of the squad entirely.
Despite City’s reshuffle in terms of formation, they took no time at all to make their intentions clear to the visitors with two sweeping moves from left to right, which both ended in blocked shots from Riyad Mahrez.
The Foxes were taking care of the ball well, and despite Nugent being flagged offside twice in the opening stages, he timed his run perfectly to meet King’s pass on 13 minutes. His cutback fell to the incoming Knockaert on his weaker right foot and the shot went high and wide.
For the R’s, lone striker Modibo Maiga saw a snapshot pushed around the post, while Niko Kranjcar wound up a powerful right footed drive which Kasper Schmeichel again did well to tip over the crossbar.
Knockaert’s trickery around the edge of the penalty area threatened to create things for the Foxes, but after the early chances, the game settled into a slightly slower tempo until a goal-mouth scramble in the 34th minute.
A QPR corner came on from the right, and at the near post, Kranjcar twice swung a leg at the ball, but two excellent saves from Schmeichel and a big clearance from Ritchie De Laet averted the danger.
At the other end King couldn’t quite generate the power needed on a volley to beat Robert Green, while Assou-Ekotto was fortunate to escape with a yellow for a foul on Mahrez.
But by far the best chance came on 40 minutes, and it was through a Karl Henry error. The midfielder was caught napping with a short pass from his goalkeeper, with King and Knockaert quick to capitalise as the former rounded Green and sent a low shot at goal, only to see Onuoha clear off the line.
Maiga and Knockaert both then went close as the first 45 minutes ended all square – leading Rangers boss Harry Redknapp to bring on Shaun Wright-Phillips for Yossi Benayoun after the break.
Several of the visitors were walking a tightrope on yellow cards after Gary O’Neil picked one up for a lunge on Knockaert, while Kranjcar almost picked up a second yellow for a late challenge on Mahrez.
But as the hour mark passed with no further chances for either side, Pearson acted swiftly to introduce Matty James and Lloyd Dyer to the fray at the expense of Dean Hammond and Knockaert.
After the change, it was a matter of seconds before the Foxes had their noses in front thanks to a series of intricate passes on the edge of the Rangers box.
Nugent gave it to Mahrez, who found Drinkwater, who again moved the ball into the run of City’s top scorer, who produced a sublime first time finish from a narrow angle on the right to find the bottom corner for 1-0.
Former Fulham and West Ham striker Bobby Zamora replaced Maiga with 20 minutes left as the visitors looked to respond, and had a good chance to do so through Kranjcar’s free kick, which was deflected just wide by the wall.
A knock for Jeff Schlupp saw Liam Moore come on at left back in City’s final change, while things got worse for QPR when Assou-Ekotto was given his marching orders with a second yellow card following a foul on King.
Dangerman Morrison came of for Kranjcar and did look a threat on the counter, but in truth the Foxes were well in control against the 10 men of QPR at that late stage, and comfortably saw out a win that puts them within touching distance of the league title.
CITY (4-2-3-1): Schmeichel, De Laet, Drinkwater, Morgan (c), Hammond (James 67), King, Schlupp (Moore 77), Knockaert (Dyer 67), Mahrez, Wasilewski, Nugent
SUBS NOT USED: Taylor-Fletcher, Logan, Phillips, Wood
GOAL: Nugent 67
QPR (4-4-1-1): Green, Simpson (c), Suk-Young, Onuoha, Hughes, Kranjcar (Morrison 82), Henry, Benayoun (Wright-Phillips 46), O’Neil, Assou-Ekotto, Maiga (Zamora 71)
SUBS NOT USED: Dunne, Keane, Murphy, Donaldson
ATTENDANCE: 27,386 (829 away)
REFEREE: Scott Duncan