Tony James

Remembering Leicester City's Other Great Escape takes an in-depth look back at Leicester City’s other 'Great Escape', which saw the Club dramatically stave off relegation to the Third Division at the start of the 1990s.
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Everyone can recall City’s remarkable survival during the 2014/15 Premier League season, when the Foxes sat bottom at Christmas, before eventually finishing 14th in the top flight under Nigel Pearson.

Rewind 25 years and Leicester were in a similarly precautious position, although it was relegation from the old Second Division, now the Championship, that was on the cards.

When assistant Gordon Lee replaced David Pleat in the manager's hot seat in January 1991, the Club was staring at relegation to the third tier of English football for the first time in history.

The Foxes went into the season with optimism, but winning the opening game of the season 3-2 at home to Bristol Rovers proved to be a false dawn.

Under Pleat, the team quickly slipped down the table, losing the next seven league games. Pre-season hopes of promotion were replaced by relegation worries.

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David Pleat
David Pleat

David Pleat was replaced by Gordon Lee in the Leicester City hot seat in January 1991.

City went out of all cup competitions in the first round they entered, losing 2-1 at Millwall in the FA Cup Third Round after a 3-1 aggregate defeat against Leeds United in the League Cup Second Round.

There was also a Full Members Cup Round One (Northern Area) exit at the hands of Wolverhampton Wanderers, losing 1-0 at Filbert Street in November.

Following a 3-1 defeat by Blackburn Rovers on 26 January, 1991, Pleat left the Club.

Chairman Terry Shipman also departed at the same time, with Martin George coming in, with Foxes skipper Ali Mauchlen assisting Lee with coaching duties.

The new manager had an immediate impact, winning his first two home games in charge against Plymouth Argyle and Barnsley respectively.

But a difficult season continued, and after failing to win any of their final three away games of the season, Leicester were sitting in a precarious position.

It came down to the last fixture of the campaign, against Oxford United on 11 May, 1991, when City's fate was out of their own hands.

They needed to better West Bromwich Albion’s result to preserve their status as a Second Division club for another season. 

Some 19,011 fans packed into Filbert Street to create Leicester’s highest attendance of the season and hoped to witness a miraculous escape from relegation, while the Baggies travelled to face Bristol Rovers.

Leicester piled on some early pressure, particularly from set pieces, but Alan Judge was in fine form in the Oxford goal, making several saves in the first-half as the tension increased around the ground.

David Kelly’s 14 league goals had helped keep the side in contention of surviving, but it was centre-half Tony James who scored what proved to be a crucial strike.

James made the breakthrough from Kevin 'Rooster' Russell’s corner - after the ball bounced around the box, he flicked it into the roof of the net to send the Spion Kop into rapture.

Failing to hold on to leads had been the story of Leicester’s season, but they had no trouble when it really mattered, as one goal was enough to secure the most crucial of three points.

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Tony James
Tony James

Tony James scored the goal that kept Leicester City in the Second Division in 1991.

Leicester’s narrow 1-0 victory, coupled with West Brom’s draw with Bristol Rovers, sparked wild celebrations among the Filbert Street faithful, who spilled out onto the pitch at full-time to celebrate with the players.

Meanwhile, at Twerton Park, the Baggies were consigned to relegation to the Third Division, alongside Hull City.

The final league table saw City finish with the record of 14 wins from their 46 games, ending the season 22nd in the 24-team league and two points ahead of Albion. 

The escape was even more remarkable considering Leicester spent the majority of the campaign in the bottom two and ended the season with a league-high 24 defeats.

Lee’s brief, but successful, spell in charge came to an end on 30 May, 1991, soon after the season had finished, when Brian Little was appointed as manager. Promotion was the aim.




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