The beginning of the Fox’s demise: Leicester City’s Premier League relegation of 2003/04

leicester relegation
leicester relegation

At the time of writing, Leicester City find themselves just above the bottom three of the Premier League table, having recently picked up a decent run of form. They are still a far cry from the team which won the FA Cup two seasons prior, and even more so than the side that lifted the Premier League title during the 2015/16 season.

It seems as if the magic and spark they once had are beginning to fade away, as manager Brendon Rodgers faces enormous pressure to keep his job.

Many of the Fox’s faithful will have painful memories of their last relegation from the top flight in 2003/04 and how that began a series of unfortunate events which saw them relegated again to League One in 2008.

This piece will review Leicester City’s relegation of 2003/04 and examine how they struggled to keep themselves afloat in the top flight.

A poor start to the season

Under the management of Micky Adams, the Foxes only won one of their opening ten league games, losing seven of them in the process. However, the season started decently enough with a 2-2 home draw against Southampton on the season’s opening day at the Walkers Stadium, with Paul Dickov and Les Ferdinand scoring, before narrowly losing 2-1 against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the next game.

A 0-0 draw followed this up at home to Middlesborough, and it was these types of games against similar opposition at home were the ones that the Foxes faithful believed they should be winning if they wanted to stay in the league.

Next up was a 3-1 defeat away to Aston Villa, in which the Villans wrapped up the game after scoring three goals in the opening 16 minutes. It was their home match against Leeds United in the following fixture that earned them their first league win.

Adams and his players displayed their quality in some style as Dickov grabbed a brace, with Lilian Nails, and James Scowcroft also finding the net as they claimed a 4-0 victory and swept aside a struggling Leeds side.

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This win could’ve been used as a launchpad for their season However, this wasn’t the case, as the Foxes would lose their next five league games in a row.

Their losing streak started with another narrow 2-1 defeat, this time away to Liverpool as former Leicester striker Emile Heskey scored the winning goal for the Reds. However, despite late pressure from Marcus Bent’s 90th-minute strike, Adams’ men couldn’t find an equaliser.

Their next game was anything but a close affair as Manchester United came to town and dominated the Foxes from start to finish. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side picked up a deserved 4-1 thrashing, as Ruud Van Nistelrooy taught the home side a valuable lesson about finishing after bagging a hat trick in the East Midlands.

Although a loss to Manchester United was more or less expected, a disappointing 2-0 defeat in their next game against Fulham at Craven Cottage was far from ideal. Adam’s players put in a worryingly bad performance as Luis Boa Morte scored a brace to earn a comfortable win for the West Londoners.

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There was hope in their home against Tottenham when former goalkeeper Kasey Keller let Dickov’s tame shot slip through his legs and into the net. It appeared as though the Foxes would finally get the luck they were looking for, but in the late stages of the game, Spurs broke Leicester’s hearts as Mbulelo Mabizela and Freddie Kanoute scored to turn things around and steal victory away from Adams’ men.

But if that comeback weren’t bad enough for them, a Midlands derby against Wolverhampton Wanderers would produce an even more remarkable response which would bite Leicester hard.

The Foxes started like a house on fire as Ferdinand bagged two, with Riccardo Scimeca also scoring to put Adams’ team 3-0 up going into halftime. But in the second half, everything started to unravel as Colin Cameron got the ball rolling just seven minutes into the restart. It then became 3-2 just eight minutes later as Cameron slotted home for his second, before Alex Rae made it all square just before the 70th minute with his header.

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Wolves then completed the turnaround with just four minutes to go when Henri Camara scored to make it 4-3 and compound even more misery on the Foxes. After the events at Molineux, you’d be hard-pressed to find any Leicester fan who still had hope of staying up, but their round of fixtures proved they still had what it took to fight for survival.

A glimmer of hope, perhaps?

After their crazy defeat to Wolves, the Foxes appeared to up their game as they went five games unbeaten, which included three wins. Starting with a 2-0 victory over Blackburn Rovers, Adams’ men scored with only two shots on goal as Steven Howey, and Bent found the net to pile the pressure on Rovers Manager Graeme Souness.

This was followed up by an impressive 3-0 win away to Manchester City, in the days before the money came in, as Bent, Dickov and Jordan Stewart scored to take all three points back to the East Midlands, making it back-to-back victories for the first time that season.

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Charlton Athletic was up next, and when Ferdinand broke the deadlock six minutes before halftime, it looked as though the Foxes would go on and claim a third victory on the bounce. But just six minutes from time, Charlton was awarded a controversial penalty after Paolo di Canio seemed to go down dramatically following a tangling with Howey. Nevertheless, the Italian dispatched the spot-kick, and the game finished 1-1.

Adams’ men quickly returned to winning ways with a comprehensive 2-0 win away to Porstmouth at Fratton Park. Ferdinand and Bent got the goals once again as the Foxes continued their momentum, but little did they know that this would be their last victory until March the following year.

However, for now, at least, Leicester carried their momentum into their home game against Arsenal. Despite Gilberto Silva giving Arsene Wenger’s side the lead after an hour, an Ashley Cole red card in the 73rd minute gave the Foxes hope. Then, in the 90th minute, Craig Hignett came off the bench to grab a dramatic equaliser to level the game before the final whistle.

No wins in sight 

Despite their dramatic draw against Arsenal, they couldn’t find a winner and the Foxes would embark on a 13-game winless run. Their momentum also came crashing down after their 2-0 loss to Birmingham City a week later, in a game that saw Leicester reduced to nine men.

Matt Elliot was the first to see red after his challenge on David Dunn, with the away side taking the lead just three minutes later. In the second half, goalkeeper Ian Walker also saw red when he came out of his area and saw his clearance bounce off Mikael Forssell and then Thatcher back towards him, instinctively grabbing the ball. Not long after, Birmingham made it 2-0 to put the game to bed.

Throughout the Foxes’ 13-game winless run, they managed to draw eight matches, with their five other games being defeats. Most of their losses after Birmingham City, barring a 3-2 defeat to Everton, were nothing short of thumping as Chelsea and Aston Villa gave Adams’ men humiliating hiding with 5-0 and 4-0 losses, respectively.

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However, it could be argued that the eight draws were the most disappointing aspect of the run. Examples of this are the 0-0 blanks against Southampton and Wolves, and these were the sorts of games that the Foxes should be winning to keep their head above water.

Some of those costly draws came from conceding injury-time equalisers, including a 1-1 stalemate against Newcastle in which Darren Ambrose got the Magpies a point, and a bitterly disappointing 3-3 draw against Middlesborough. Adams’ men were leading 3-1 with 15 minutes to go when Boro snatched two goals in stoppage time to steal a point away from the Foxes.

More disasters at the back allowed vital points to slip through their grasp when they failed to hold on to a 4-3 lead against Tottenham in the 89th minute to draw 4-4, and a bizarre own goal by Walker ensured a 1-1 result against Bolton. Unfortunately, their errors and inability to hold onto leads are their undoings yet again.

The beginning of the end

Leicester finally got their first win since November when they beat Birmingham 1-0, courtesy of a Ferdinand strike, and when the Foxes drew their next two matches 1-1 and 0-0 against the two Merseyside teams of Everton and Liverpool respectively, it looked as though they might have a glimmer of hope.

However, this was thwarted after they lost 3-2 to fellow strugglers Leeds United in a thrilling contest. After going 2-0 down, Adams’ men brought the game back to 2-2 thanks to goals from Dickov and Mustafa Izzet. But with four minutes to go, Alan Smith found the net and gave the Yorkshire side all three points.

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That seemed to knock the wind out of the Foxes’ sails, as they would go on to lose another three games in a row, with two 1-0 defeats to Manchester United and Blackburn, then a 2-0 loss to Fulham.

They managed to grab a 1-1 draw against fellow survival hopefuls Manchester City, but their next game against Charlton ultimately sealed their fate.

Bent gave the Leicester faithful hope with his lobbed effort within 5 minutes, but just before halftime, Jonathan Fortune headed in Charlton’s equaliser. Unfortunately, things worsened for Adams’ men as Nikos Dabizas was sent off for fouling Jonatan Johansson in the box. As in the reverse fixture, Di Canio dispatched from 12-yards to give Charlton the lead.

Meanwhile, the Foxes were hoping that Newcastle could do them a favour and beat the Citizens, which could keep their survival hopes alive. But this wasn’t to be, as City overcame the Magpies.

Ferdinand got Leicester’s equaliser after 88 minutes played, drawing the match 2-2, but it wasn’t enough, and the East Midlands outfit was relegated from the Premier League. It was a sad end that could’ve been avoided for one reason or another.

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After their relegation, the Foxes spent several seasons in the Second Division as they struggled to get to grips with being outside the top flight. This culminated in their relegation to League One, a huge shock given the club’s size and stature. But they quickly went straight back up under the management of Nigel Pearson.

After a few seasons of stability, Pearson guided the Foxes back to the Premier League in 2014 and managed to keep them up in the first attempt before being let go in 2015, slowly becoming the team we know today.

With the threat of relegation still looming large at the moment, the last thing Leicester fans want is for the club to end up how it was nearly 20 years ago; I suppose only time will tell on whether Rodgers’ side suffer the same fate.