David Nugent

Former Player Remembers: David Nugent (Part Two)

In this second instalment of his conversation with Club Historian John Hutchinson, former England striker David Nugent talks about his time on Filbert Way with Sven-Göran Eriksson and Nigel Pearson, why he left Leicester, and his subsequent career.
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Previously recalling his career before he signed for Leicester City at Liverpool, Bury, Preston North End, Portsmouth and Burnley, Nugent's time at Deepdale included an England debut and a goal for the Three Lions, while his spell with Pompey led to glory in the FA Cup. It was quite a tale leading to his Foxes career.

Explaining how his move to Leicester City came about in the 2011 close season, David said: “I was signed by Sven-Göran Eriksson. I had a phone call from him out of the blue. He said: ‘We want to sign you. We can see that you can score a lot of goals’.

“The summer I signed, Leicester bought so many other players, including Kasper Schmeichel, Paul Konchesky and Sean St Ledger. Most of us had our first game for Leicester in a pre-season friendly against José Mourinho’s Real Madrid side, which was surreal. I’ve got some pictures of that match, like the one of me and Cristiano Ronaldo.

“Everyone thought we were going to trounce the Championship that season, but with so many new players it was hard to gel.”

Three days after a 3-0 home defeat to Millwall in October, which saw City slip to 13th in the Championship, Eriksson left the Club and, in November, Leicester’s old coaching team led by Nigel Pearson, and aided by Craig Shakespeare and Steve Walsh, returned to Filbert Way.

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David Nugent

Scoring in the first leg of the infamous 2013 Championship Play-Off Semi-Final with Watford.

“Nigel was such a great man,” David added. “I got on with him so well and that’s when things started to go well for the Club again. He got rid of the players he didn’t want and signed the ones he wanted. Wes Morgan arriving in January was a massive signing for us. He also signed Danny Drinkwater and Ben Marshall in January and, at the end of the season, Matty James and Richie de Laet also signed.”

At the end of his first season, David was the Club’s top scorer with 16 goals and Leicester finished in ninth place in the Championship. In the close season of 2012, Jamie Vardy arrived from Fleetwood and, in January, another striker, Chris Wood, was secured. On his debut against Huddersfield Town, Wood scored twice in a 6-0 victory. Later a young Harry Kane arrived on loan.

David made 49 league and cup appearances that season and was once again top scorer. As late as February, the Club was in second place. Then the team only won two out of 16 games. Going into the final match of the season at Nottingham Forest, the Foxes were in seventh place.

Both teams had to win to stand any chance of qualifying for the Play-Offs, provided that Bolton Wanderers beat Blackpool. The score was 2-2 as the teams went into added time.

“That’s when Anthony Knockaert scored,” David continued. “This got us into the Play-Off Semi-Finals against Watford. I scored in both legs. We won the first leg 1-0 at home and then, right at the end of the second leg, with the score level on aggregate at 2-2, Anthony won a penalty which he insisted on taking. If he’d scored, we’d have got to Wembley, but he missed and, 20 seconds later, Troy Deeney scored at the other end following a quick counter-attack and won the tie.

“I was the most senior player on the pitch, and I should have taken the penalty, but if someone grabs the ball, I’m not going to go over and cause controversy, so I thought: ‘Let him have his glory’. After the game, Anthony was in tears. For Kingy (Andy King), who was obviously Leicester through and through, it was horrible!

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David Nugent

Scoring past Thibaut Courtois at Stamford Bridge.

“When Deeney scored, I just sank to my knees. All their fans ran onto the pitch, slapping me on the head. It was just horrible. When we kicked off, the referee immediately blew his whistle to end the game. Watford’s celebrations just kept on going. All my family was in the away end. It was hard.

“It played on my mind for the whole summer. I went on holiday and then I think we all thought: ‘Right. It’s not going to happen again’. Everyone came back to pre-season training as fit as a fiddle. We smashed all the fitness tests.”

The following season (2013/14), Leicester City won the Championship title with a Club-record 102 points and broke another six Foxes records as well. For the third consecutive season, David was the Club’s top scorer, with 22 goals.

“I played in all 46 league games that season and missed just one cup game,” he explained. “The partnership between me and Vards (Vardy) started to tick as well. At the end of the previous season, he’d gone to Nige and Shakey (Shakespeare) and said: ‘I’m not good enough. Can I go on loan and try to get some games?’ But, believing in him, they refused to let him go. I hope I helped him. We had such a good partnership on and off the pitch.

“Riyad Mahrez signed in January that season. What a player he was! He was just like the size of my little finger, but he was the strongest person I’d ever seen for someone that size. With his low centre of gravity and his skills, you couldn’t get near him. In games we’d just think: ‘Give it to Riyad’. He was a special, special player.”

On 14 December, Leicester embarked on a run of 21 consecutive league games without defeat. The last game in this sequence was a 2-1 victory over Sheffield Wednesday which confirmed promotion with six games to go. They then lost at home to Brighton & Hove Albion.

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David Nugent

Returning to the Premier League with the Foxes.

“We’d been celebrating for a few days and we got battered 4-1,” Nugent said. “Leo Ulloa scored twice for them and Leicester signed him that summer. We won the last four games. One of them was winning 1-0 at Bolton, when we won the title with two games to go. Lloyd Dyer scored. It was the only goal he ever scored with his right foot!”

City were back in the Premier League after an absence of 10 seasons.

“At the start of pre-season season, I was out of contract,” David recalled. “But I was adamant that I wanted to sign once we’d got the right deal, which I did. We’d just been promoted. Why would I want to leave?

“An early highlight was beating Manchester United 5-3. They had Robin van Persie, Radamel Falcao, Wayne Rooney and Ángel Di María in their side. It was Vards’ first start of the season as he’d been injured. He was up top with Leo. I was just behind them as my job was to mark Daley Blind. We were 2-0 down after about 15 minutes. Ulloa scored to make it 2-1 at half-time.

“Ander Herrera got one on the hour to make it 3-1 to United and then Vards just tore the defenders to shreds. He won a penalty, which I took and scored. Then Esteban Cambiasso made it 3-3. Leo netted a penalty to make if 4-3 and Vards scored a fifth to wrap it all up.

“Esteban had won everything in football. His experience on the pitch helped a lot. He was so calm both in the changing room and on the ball. He liked to slow things down when we were under pressure.

“We played some really good football that season and, although we were losing every week, our confidence wasn’t low. After some games we’d think: ‘How have we just lost that?’ One of those times was when we scored three at White Hart Lane and lost 4-3.”

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David Nugent

A superb volley against Liverpool won the Club's Goal of the Season award and a vital point at Anfield.

Among other highlights for David that season were his goals at Goodison Park and Anfield, where he scored against Liverpool with a superb volley which was the Club’s Goal of the Season, voted by the fans.

Thinking back, David said: “My family, who were Everton supporters, were behind the goal at Anfield. My Liverpool supporting friends were there too. I was on the bench for that game because Nige wanted to be more defensive. I was so angry about this, but managers have to make tough decisions. That’s why I’ll never be a manager.

“I came on when Drinky (Danny Drinkwater) got injured half an hour in. We went 2-0 down, both penalties, and then I scored to make it 2-1 and later Jeff Schlupp equalised. Taking a point at Anfield made us very confident.”

With nine games to go, Leicester were seven points adrift from safety. Then came the Great Escape, with seven wins and a draw in the last nine games of the season. The only loss was to champions elect Chelsea. This enabled the Foxes to finish in 14th place in the Premier League. David’s stand-out game in this run was the away victory at West Bromwich Albion.

“We went 1-0 down and I scored the equaliser,” David said, looking back. “Later, we went 2-1 down and we equalised again, and then in stoppage time, Vards scored the winner, shooting into the bottom corner and the rest is history, isn’t it?”

At the start of the following season, when the Foxes went on to win the Premier League title, David left Leicester City.

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David Nugent

Nugent ended on 59 goals in 180 Leicester appearances.

“When Nigel left in the summer, I was gutted for him,” he added. “I played nearly every game when he was there. We went to Austria for pre-season training not knowing who the new man would be until Claudio Ranieri arrived two days later.

“Then I was told I wouldn’t be playing as many games that season and that Middlesbrough had made a bid. I said I would stay and fight for my place, even though Shinji Okazaki had just signed and Vards had just been called to the England squad. I was confident in my ability to do well at the Club.

“But then I realised that I didn’t want to sit on the bench every week. I had 18 months left on my contract and, if I wasn’t playing, who would sign me next year? I still had the reputation of being a good player. Wouldn’t It be better to go to Middlesbrough in the Championship and get promoted?

“I was absolutely gutted to leave Leicester. Middlesbrough were promoted back to the Premier League that season, but I was made up for the Leicester players when they won the Premier League. I got invited to Vards’ party when they won the title, but I didn’t go.

“The team spirit we had at Leicester was probably the best I’ve ever had in a squad. We all got on. We were like a piece of glue, always stuck together. Every time we did something, everybody went. There weren't any outcasts.”

David spent 18 months at Middlesbrough, before moving to Derby County in January 2017 and spending three seasons in the Championship. This was followed by two more seasons back at Preston North End. He ended his playing career with a short loan spell at Tranmere Rovers before retiring as a player in 2021 after a career in which he made nearly 700 appearances, scoring 171 goals.

Today David, whose 10-year-old daughter trains at LCFC Women’s Academy at Belvoir Drive, still lives in Leicestershire, doing media work for Foxes Hub, BBC Radio Leicester and Sky Sports. 

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