Leicester City can't take games lightly
Nigel Pearson maintains he respects the League Cup. But his second-string XI certainly didn't against Shrewsbury Town as Leicester City went down 1-0 on Tuesday. You have to give the plucky League Two side credit, as they joined Nottingham Forest, Brighton and Manchester City as just the fourth visiting team to win at Leicester's King Power Stadium in the past 12 months.
Leicester lacked both intensity and desire in match. They were complacent. You might expect this from their strongest XI. After all, it's quite a comedown to go from Chelsea to Shrewsbury in a matter of days. But this was largely a reserve side. Pearson made eight changes against the club where he started his professional career.
You can argue the lineup Leicester fielded wasn't used to playing together, and were pretty young, too. But you can't maintain the Foxes had one eye on Premier League survival, since only four players (Liam Moore, Paul Konchesky, Anthony Knockaert and Riyad Mahrez) are likely to get regular starts in achieving that goal.
It staggers me that those on the fringes of the first team, like New Zealander Chris Wood (who rattled the bar with a header) and defender Marcin Wasilewski (who has been linked with a move back to Anderlecht), weren't more intent on proving a point. The League Cup could be their only chance to try and force their way into contention, since Pearson is sure to show a stronger hand in the FA Cup.
The truth is, the Leicester boss won't lose much sleep over the loss, which had echoes of the tame 4-2 home defeat to Burton Albion at the same stage two years ago. He won't admit it publicly, but a League Cup tie so early in the season -- sandwiched in between games with Chelsea and Arsenal -- was an unwanted distraction.
The club's only aim is staying in the Premier League. But that will only be achieved if Leicester maintains the momentum and winning mentality from their Championship-winning campaign. Victories are, in all likelihood, going to be few and far between this season, which is why it was important to get one on the board against Shrewsbury.
Former Leicester manager Peter Taylor didn't think Wycombe's infamous FA Cup quarterfinal giant killing in 2001 would impact on Leicester's season, but the club went into free fall immediately afterward. Of course, you can hardly compare it to a 1-0 defeat to Shrewsbury, but my point is no game should be taken lightly, since you can't foresee how it will affect confidence and morale.
The loss was only Leicester's second in 18 games against lower-league opposition in the League Cup, and that tells you it's not a competition the Foxes usually take lightly. Martin O'Neill proved it is entirely possible to stay up and have a cup run, even winning the tournament in 1997 and 2000. With O'Neill-like charm, Pearson also talked up Leicester's chances of silverware, which made the taming by the Shrews even more disheartening.
There's obviously no point in dishing out undue flack for a slipup that will be quickly forgotten if Leicester avoid the Championship trapdoor. Plus, let's not forget how encouraging the performance was at Stamford Bridge last weekend. Based on that, you can hardly say the Foxes lack intensity, discipline or pace -- and yet all those qualities were spectacularly absent against Shrewsbury.
This will lead some fans to conclude that the squad still lacks depth. The strongest XI can hold their own in the top flight, but the rest of the squad can't even see off a League Two side.
One of those players was Gary Taylor-Fletcher, who was a spectator for much of the Shrewsbury game. The 33-year-old keeps maintaining he has a "key role" to play this season but, right now, he looks like the footballer who preseason forgot. When Jamie Vardy is fit, I doubt he will make the bench, and quite right, too.
Taylor-Fletcher appears embarrassingly unhealthy, and is thus entirely incapable of causing Premier League defenders problems until he sheds a few (hundred) pounds. If he continues to be part of Pearson's plans it suggests Leicester could really do with another striker (perhaps Blackburn's Jordan Rhodes) between now and when the transfer window slams shut.