If success were to be measured on visits to Wembley, Leicester City would be in the running for the tag of ‘Team of the Nineties’. The Filbert Street outfit headed Wembley way on six occasions during that period, but half of those visits ended in heartbreak.
One such visit Spurs fans will not need reminding of the outcome — Allan Nielsen saw to that in the final of the 1999 Worthington Cup. Aside from that occasion, Leicester were so nearly in danger of being tagged the Premiership nearly men in the early part of the decade.
The climax to three seasons running saw the Foxes take their place in the Division One play-off final, and at the end of the first two they returned to familiar surroundings. In was in 1994 that Brian Little’s team emerged from the play-off pantomime victorious, beating local rivals Derby 2-1 with two goals from central defensive stalwart Steve Walsh.
Filbert Street was not a top-flight venue for very long. Leicester struggled, Little departed to Aston Villa and even manager-of-the-moment Mark McGhee could not prevent the inevitable drop.
The following season was disrupted by the leaving of McGhee, who found the challenge of restoring Wolves to former glories irresistible. Enter one Martin O’Neill.
Not universally accepted at first, the livewire Northern Irishman inspired his new charges to a late rally which saw Leicester surge to the play-off final for the fourth time in five seasons. Crystal Palace provided the opposition, and the game was a whistle blow away from a penalty shootout at 1-1 when Steve Claridge struck from the edge of the Palace penalty area to signal despair for the Londoners and joy for O’Neill and his merry men from the east midlands.
Since gatecrashing the Premiership on the back of Claridge’s late strike, Leicester found their feet among the elite to such an extent that they have not finished outside the top ten in four seasons. O’Neill’s stock continued to rise, with two League Cup triumphs, providing passports to Europe, doing no harm to his burgeoning reputation.
During his spell at Filbert Street O’Neill was openly targeted by both Everton and Leeds, while being coveted by many club chairman. The loyal former Nottingham Forest midfielder resisted overtures before succumbing to an invitation to restore the fortunes of Celtic in the close season.
Leicester reacted smartly and swiftly reacted to secure another young manager tipped for great things. Former Spur Peter Taylor was appointed following a hugely successful spell with the England under-21 side and a season with Gillingham that saw the Kent club promoted to Division One.
Taylor obviously has a solid base to work from, but made an impression to such an extent that the expected exodus of established stars did not materialise and he used the proceeds from Emile Heskey’s switch to Liverpool to strengthen the squad.
It was not until nine games in to the new campaign that Taylor tasted Premiership defeat — and that was when Manchester United visited Filbert Street. Confirmation of his progress came when the Football Association came a calling to ask if Taylor would take care of the England team while a replacement for Kevin Keegan was sought.
Sven Goran Eriksson is on his way, while Taylor will stay on as an able lieutenant with a view to the Swede grooming him to be a possible future England coach in his own right.
Defeat to Liverpool followed the Manchester United setback, but Taylor’s men are now firmly back on track and sitting pretty in third place. White Hart Lane has been a happy hunting ground on their previous two visits — it is now high time for the Foxes to be outfoxed.