Matt Oakley

Remembering When Leicester Got Back On Track In 2008/09

Over recent seasons, Leicester City supporters have toasted several magnificent achievements by the Football Club, but the 2008/09 campaign remains one of the Blue Army's favourite.
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The 2008/09 season was a year of joy for the Foxes faithful as they embarked on a tour of new territory with their team breaking countless records in the process.

It came after perhaps the darkest year in the Club's entire history, as 124 years of history culminated in a decisive trip to Stoke-on-Trent on Sunday 4 May, 2008.

Not once since the Club was formed on the King Richards Road in 1884 had City slipped into the third tier of the English football pyramid.

For Stoke City, the goalless draw on Stanley Matthews Way was enough to seal promotion to the Premier League under Tony Pulis.

Leicester, though, needed three points to prevent their slide. The year of three managers - Martin Allen, Gary Megson and Ian Holloway - came to a bitter end.

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Richard Stearman
Richard Stearman

City were relegated from the Championship at the end of the 2007/08 season.

It was a season that had begun with ambitions of returning to the top table of English football, but closed with the Club tumbling to their lowest-ever point.

Holloway, who won nine of 32 games in charge, swiftly departed after the season's end and Chairman Milan Mandarić turned to Nigel Pearson.

He was the manager who, at least in part, had inadvertently contributed to Leicester's plight by guiding relegation rivals Southampton to safety at their expense. 

Changes were inevitable, and faces both came and went over the summer, but the job specification placed on Pearson's desk was simple: promotion, as quickly as possible.

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Nicky Adams, Lloyd Dyer, Nigel Pearson and Michael Morrison
Nicky Adams, Lloyd Dyer, Nigel Pearson and Michael Morrison

Pearson looked for youthful talent to bolster his squad in the summer.

The fact remained that City still had a squad, including the likes of Matt Oakley, Steve Howard and Matty Fryatt, which was capable of restoring their second tier status. 

Former Middlesbrough captain, Pearson, meanwhile, operated quietly in the summer that followed. He searched for new signings with a point to prove. 

In many cases, they were players other managers had overlooked. Unlike demotion from the top flight, relegation to League 1 comes with little financial parachutes. 

As a result, the likes of Michael Morrison, Lloyd Dyer, Nicky Adams, Aleksander Tunchev and 39-year-old Chris Powell - the Club's oldest-ever player - signed up to the cause on a shoestring budget.

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Steve Walsh, Nigel Pearson and Craig Shakespeare
Steve Walsh, Nigel Pearson and Craig Shakespeare

Pearson, alongside Steve Walsh and Craig Shakespeare, held a supporters' evening on Filbert Way after their appointments.

Paul Dickov also returned to City, six years after his 17 goals, alongside another 13 from Brian Deane, fired Leicester to an instant return to the Premier League under Micky Adams in 2003.

A new squad dynamic was built with a clear profile, one with a nucleus of talented young players, including Academy graduate Andy King, sprinkled with essential experience.

Three summer loan signings also came in to aid the cause; Kerrea Gilbert, from Arsenal, Liverpool's Jack Hobbs and Reds goalkeeper David Martin.

Out went Gareth McAuley, Richard Stearman, Iain Hume, Rab Douglas, Alan Sheehan, Louis Dodds, Sergio Hellings, James Chambers, Radostin Kishishev and Eric Odhiambo.

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Matt Oakley
Matt Oakley

A large home crowd awaited City on the opening day of the new season.

When the big day came, an opening day victory was secured over MK Dons on Filbert Way, courtesy of a brace of strikes from Fryatt, easing the nerves among the Blue Army.

There were six debutants on show for the Club that day on Filbert Way, while a crowd of 23,351 was the fourth-largest in the country, despite City's new lowly ranking on the football pyramid. 

Defeat to Millwall the following month, though, following wins over Tranmere Rovers and Cheltenham Town, brought back a feeling that City may become entrenched in the third tier.

In those early weeks, there was trepidation in the air after every setback, no matter how minor, but City quickly found their feet and started to enjoy their new surroundings. 

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Lloyd Dyer
Lloyd Dyer

Dyer was one of many players to earn cult status at the Club in 2008/09.

From Cheltenham to Hereford, Walsall to Hartlepool, the 2008/09 season became a grand tour of new grounds rather than the nightmarish trap Leicester thought they had tumbled into.

From the final week of November, Leicester took control of top spot, not once letting their grip loosen. Fryatt also netted two consecutive hat-tricks against Dagenham & Redbridge and Southend United.

The performances of Mark Davies, signed on loan in November, were catching the eye, but as City looked to make the move permanent, former manager Megson and Bolton Wanderers sealed the transfer.

Pearson's response was to bring in Tom Cleverley from Manchester United until the end of the season in a move which was to become yet another shrewd piece of business by the Club.

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Max Gradel
Max Gradel

Gradel rushes away to celebrate with the travelling fans after netting a stunning late equaliser at MK Dons.

Midfielder Astrit Ajdarević, from Liverpool, and Hull City defender Wayne Brown also come in on loan deals to provide Pearson with further options in the New Year.

Throughout the campaign, the most common starting XI was: Martin; Gilbert, Morrison, Hobbs, Mattock; Oakley (c), Berner, King, Dyer; Fryatt, Howard.

Other stars played a key role as well, such as Max Gradel, whose last-gasp free-kick at MK Dons in February sealed a fondly-remembered 2-2 draw at stadium:mk.

An unfortunate run of injuries, though, meant Leicester had to continue operating in the loan market, with no less than six goalkeepers representing the Foxes throughout the season.

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Steve Howard
Steve Howard

A giant goal from Howard all but secured promotion for the Foxes against Leeds.

Martin, Paul Henderson, Mark Bunn, David Stockdale, Tony Warner and Carl Pentney all adorned the 'keepers gloves at some point throughout 2008/09 for City.

Perhaps the most memorable moment of the season came on 13 April, 2009 as Leicester welcomed promotion rivals Leeds United, managed by former Fox Simon Grayson, to Filbert Way.

A tense affair with the three-time English champions followed, but there was Howard, in the second minute of added time, to nod Oakley's corner past Casper Ankergren to put City on the cusp of promotion.

That feat, plus the League 1 title, was achieved in glorious sunshine in Essex as a brace from Fryatt sealed a 2-0 win over Southend at Roots Hall, another ground the Blue Army had seldom visited before.

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Matt Fryatt
Matt Fryatt

Fryatt - who's in the there somewhere - is mobbed by his colleagues and the Club's supporters.

A week later, City's final home game of the campaign, a 2-2 draw with play-off hunting Scunthorpe United, was followed by a euphoric trophy presentation in front of a sell-out home crowd in Leicester.

The final day of the season, on the other hand, took the Foxes to Crewe Alexandra, where the Foxes faithful marked the occasion by wearing fancy dress in the terraces at Gresty Road.

Berner, Dyer and Fryatt got on the scoresheet to secure a 3-0 triumph for Pearson's men as a string of new Club records were written into Leicester City's history books.

City ended 2008/09 having secured their highest figures for league wins (27), points (96), away wins (14), away goals (43) and successive unbeaten games (23).

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Matt Oakley & Nigel Pearson
Matt Oakley & Nigel Pearson

Oakley, City's captain in 2008/09, made 45 league appearances for the Club, scoring eight goals, that season.

The 27 league goals netted by Fryatt, 32 strikes in all competitions, was also the best showing by any Leicester City player since Arthur Rowley's tally of 44 in 1956/57.

In the space of just one year, the entire club had reversed its trajectory, the solemn mood had lifted, and Leicester looked bravely into the future with their Championship status restored. 

The Club entered its 125th anniversary season amid buoyant optimism with Hobbs, Brown and Ajdarević making their loan deals permanent, while Pearson also secured the signings of Dany N'Guessan, Chris Weale, Robbie Neilson, Richie Wellens, Paul Gallagher and Yann Kermorgant.

While play-off heartbreak awaited the Foxes in Cardiff at the end of the following season, 2008/09 will always be remembered as the year when Leicester City fans could finally begin to look upwards.

Leicester City Crest

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