Bolton Wanderers 0 Leicester City 1
Nigel Pearson watched Leicester wrap up the Sky Bet Championship title with two games to spare and admitted he did not foresee such a dominant campaign materialising back in August.
The Foxes claimed the three points they needed to be crowned champions at the Reebok Stadium with substitute Lloyd Dyer’s fine second-half strike giving Pearson’s side, who have been at the summit since before Christmas, a 1-0 win over Bolton.
It took Leicester to 96 points, meaning second-placed Burnley, who clinched automatic promotion themselves on Monday, cannot catch them in the final two fixtures.
Pearson, the Championship’s longest-serving manager, has largely stuck with the side who suffered play-off heartache in a crazy contest at Watford last May and that same group has rewarded their manager’s faith by being the division’s stand-out team this time around.
Asked if he visualised those players storming to the title by amassing such a huge points total, Pearson said: “If I’m honest, no.
“If you look at some of the other squads, teams that had come down from the Premier League and a number of the sides who were vying for play-off places and promotion last season - there’s a lot of strong squads.
“The Championship has been very different in terms of how it’s panned out. At the end of last season the difference between the bottom three and the play-offs places was about 12 or 15 points, this year it’s a huge gulf. Clearly there’s been a change and for us to be as successful as we’ve been is a real bonus.
“There’s been some strong sides but we’ve been able to take the disappointment from last season and really make that work for us. The players have shown a determination to mentally deal with the season.
“We have some very talented players and the more experienced players who have come in have done very, very well for us. Overall, it’s probably a good advert for showing a bit of patience.”
The Foxes were promoted earlier this month without kicking a ball when QPR and Derby both fell to defeat. This time, though, they were able to achieve the landmark of winning the title as a result of their own victory.
“It was nice to win It ourselves, especially having gained promotion when we didn’t play,” Pearson noted.
“I think it was nicer for the players to get us over the line tonight in terms of winning the league.
“It was great to be able to finish off the season well and we’ve got to 96 points, which is a really good total with two games to go, and I want the players to go on and try and get as many points as possible now.”
Leicester largely dominated the contest against a Bolton side with little to play for after a run of recent good results moved them into mid-table safety.
However, Wanderers were a threat on the counter and Lukas Jutkiewicz steered a brilliant chance wide just 36 seconds before Dyer struck.
“I’m building a team that is committed and is going to put their bodies on the line for the cause,” manager Dougie Freedman said.
“You can start to see that in the second half of the season with our points tally. Leicester have done it in a way that I would like to copy with young, hungry players.
“They went and bought their players for a significant amount of money; we are going to have to find them a little bit rougher and polish them up.”