Anthony Knockaert’s glorious stoppage time winner sent Leicester City into the npower Championship play-offs with a nerve-wracking 3-2 victory over Nottingham Forest at the City Ground.
Bolton’s 2-2 draw at home to Blackpool means The Foxes have sealed sixth spot and now face a two-legged play-off semi-final clash against Watford starting on Thursday 9 May at King Power Stadium.
In an end-to-end match, Forest’s Simon Cox opened the scoring in just the third minute when he rifled in from six yards, but City responded brilliantly to take a 2-1 lead into half time.
First Matty James curled an effort through a crowded penalty area from 20 yards to level, before Andy King nodded Knockaert’s cross past Karl Darlow at the back post just before the break.
However Forest were again quicker out of the blocks and brought the scores back level at 2-2 five minutes after half time when Elliott Ward headed Andy Reid’s free kick into the top corner.
But in stoppage time, City hit Forest ruthlessly on the break, and after playing a perfect one-two with Chris Wood, Knockaert lashed the ball home from six yards to keep the Premier League dream alive.
There was just one change for The Foxes from the side that lost narrowly to Watford last time out, with top scorer David Nugent returning to the XI for the injured Paul Konchesky.
The change meant that Jeff Schlupp deputised at left back in a 4-4-2 formation that saw Nugent pick up his strike partnership with Wood once again.
Forest meanwhile made two changes to the side that beat Millwall with Chris Cohen and Darius Henderson in for Radoslaw Majewski and Billy Sharp in a midfield diamond formation.
A sea of blue filled the away end in a ferocious atmosphere at the City Ground, however, as early as the third minute, the host got their noses in front through Cox.
City failed to clear the ball as it was cross in for Cox, who despite having his first effort blocked, was able to rattle in a right footed shot from six yards for 1-0.
The Foxes tried to muster a response and got into some decent positions without being able to test Forest ‘keeper Darlow – the lively Knockaert, operating from the right flank went close on his left foot when he picked the ball up from a throw and hit a dipping shot that shaved the top of the crossbar in the 15th minute.
Four minutes later a lung-busting run from Schlupp saw the ball bobble to Nugent 20 yards out, who took a touch before unleashing a stinging right foot shot that was tipped acrobatically over the bar by Darlow.
The news that Bolton had gone behind against Blackpool began to trickle through from the stands and the response from the players was almost instantaneous.
James played a clever short corner with Lloyd Dyer, catching the Forest defence napping, meaning he was able to fire a curling right-footed shot through a crowd of players and past an unsighted Darlow into the bottom corner to level the scores.
Both sides then exchanged chances as the game became more and more open, and Nugent had the best of those just before the half hour, but he lent back and fired over after a nice ball from Dyer put him in.
City followed up with another flurry of chances – James’ deflected shot almost beating Darlow and then Nugent’s glancing header going wide of the post.
Forest boss Billy Davies then replaced injured right back Greg Halford with Majewski, meaning Cohen switched to the full back position.
In the 37th minute, from the stands came the chant ‘2-0 to Blackpool’, and from the pitch came the reaction.
First Dyer advanced down the right and forced a fingertip save from Darlow, and it was followed by a vicious volley from Michael Keane which was blocked on the line by Collins as Wes Morgan went into the book for a foul on Reid.
But Pearson’s men kept up the pressure and were rewarded with a hugely deserved goal just before the break when Knockaert dinked a ball to the far post for King to nod home, putting City 2-1 up and into the play-off positions, at least temporarily.
However, the goal seemed to spur the hosts into life in a frantic final few minutes of the half, which also saw Bolton pull the scores back to 2-2 against Blackpool, as a flurry of corners in which Henri Lansbury forced a wonder save from Schmeichel, and Ward had an effort cleared off the line.
Both teams returned unchanged after the break, but it was City who mustered the first chance as Nugent pulled the trigger on a shot that was blocked by Danny Collins, amid some handball appeals from the Leicester contingent.
However, just like in the first half, Forest stunned City with a goal inside five minutes of kick off through Ward – the big defender getting on the end of Reid’s free kick to head into the top corner for 2-2.
De Laet then left the field of play with an injury in the 56th minute to be replaced by Liam Moore, who slotted in at right back.
Just a minute later, a golden chance fell the way of Wood when Dyer’s deflected effort found him in the box, but he was unable to control the volley on his left foot and watched it drift wide.
With Bolton still deadlocked at 2-2, a goal for City would put them back in the play-off spots, and were it not for a well timed block by Ward on Nugent’s cross and the referee blowing for a foul amid an almighty goalmouth scramble, they could have gone 3-2 up.
It was win or bust for The Foxes, and in their second change, Pearson opted to introduce striker Harry Kane for Dyer to give the side some added firepower, while Forest brought on Lewis McGugan for Reid.
Both teams scrambled to take the lead, and after Sharp was introduced for Adlene Guedioura ten minutes form time, Forest wasted a great chance, when Cox fluffed his lines one-on-one with Schmeichel.
With chances coming their way on the break, City poured forward; an opportunity eventually falling to Knockaert, who saw it blocked as Pearson threw on Ben Marshall for Keane with five to play.
It was frantic, and as the fourth official signalled four minutes of added time, City struck decisively.
A break up field saw Knockaert and Wood two-on-one at the back. The Frenchman played in Wood on the right, who unselfishly sent the ball back Knockaert’s way and he made no mistake in firing it into the net from six yards to sent the 2,000 travelling Blue Army wild in celebration.
Forest (4-4-2): Darlow, Harding, Collins (c), Guedioura (Sharp 74), Cohen, Henderson, Reid (McGugan 62), Halford (Majewski 33), Cox, Lansbury, Ward
Unused subs: McGugan, Tudgay, Blackstock, Ayala, Alrashidi
Goal: Cox 3, Ward 50
City (4-4-2): Schmeichel, De Laet (Moore 56), Morgan (c), King, Dyer (Kane 60), Keane (Marshall 85), James, Schlupp, Knockaert, Nugent, Wood
Unused subs: Drinkwater, Vardy, Logan, Gallagher
Goals: James 23, King 42, Knockaert 90
Attendance: 28,646 (2,025 away)
Referee: Mike Dean