Sunderland man aiming to put City in wonderland
For the last seven weeks, Leicester City have had to cope without the man they were missing for the majority of their pre-season campaign. Back then, the absence of Matty Fryatt was concerning for City fans as Steve Howard and Dany N`Guessan toiled up front against the likes of Mansfield Town and Chesterfield.
Fryatt had struck thirty-two times during Nigel Pearson`s first year in charge and he was expected to maintain this form into the new season in the division above. In contrast, N`Guessan was an untried and untested gamble who made the short trip down the A46 from Lincoln last summer. Signed as a winger and unconvincing as a striker in the preparatory friendlies, the Frenchman was expected to play a bit part as City assembled their squad for the Championship.
Yet despite Fryatt`s return to the side in readiness for the opening day clash with Swansea City and N`Guessan`s vital winning goal in that game, it was another young striker who made the biggest impression on the sun-bathed home crowd having grabbed the equaliser. Just hours ahead of the big kick-off, City signed up a 19-year-old on loan from Sunderland amid widespread pleas for the arrival of an established centre-forward. Martyn Waghorn has certainly established himself now.
City fans were already comparing their newest capture to the likes of Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez after a bustling second-half display against the Swans, with forty-five minutes of promising play creating huge expectation where previously there was little.
It took Waghorn until the end of October to secure a start for the club despite some fine performances from the bench and a second goal of the season in the M69 derby at Coventry. If that instinctive first-time half volley with the outside of his favoured left foot offered a glimpse of a gifted talent, Waghorn`s winning goal on his full debut at Reading - a deft header into the far corner of Adam Federici`s net - displayed the kind of finishing for which any manager would give their right arm. Four days later, Waghorn was instrumental as City rose to the top of the table, albeit briefly, with a 2-1 success at Queen`s Park Rangers.
The`Sunderland loanee has enjoyed a steep learning curve ever since, initially partnering Fryatt in an effective two-man attack before a slightly harsh sending-off during a 3-1 home defeat to Bristol City saw him sitting out much of December. The turning point in Waghorn`s season came when Fryatt broke his jaw in a challenge with Doncaster`s Brian Stock in the middle of February. City had just adopted a new formation involving a lone central striker with two wide men deployed on each side. Until Fryatt`s injury, Waghorn had been starting on the flanks and drifting infield. Suddenly, he found himself the focal point of City`s attack.
With City fans desperate to know where the goals would come from after that dismal home game with Doncaster, the answer was emphatic. Five goals sailed past Scunthorpe United goalkeeper Joe Murphy the following Saturday, Waghorn accounting for one of them with a well-taken strike and generally proving throughout the ninety minutes that he could step up to the plate and be a reliable deputy for Fryatt.
The variety of his goals since assuming the role has been particularly remarkable. Just weeks after that Doncaster home game which looked set to ruin City`s season, the return fixture ended with a 1-0 away win courtesy of Waghorn`s superbly executed finish over Neil Sullivan after shaking off Rovers full-back Gareth Roberts and running half the length of the pitch. Another solitary Waghorn goal was enough to see off top-six rivals Cardiff City at the Walkers Stadium. This time, space was at a premium but the ball was steered into the corner of the net for a crucial winner.
Since then, times have been tougher both for City and for Waghorn personally. Fatigue is setting in as the long and relentless season reaches its climax. Waghorn`s precise header levelled the scores in a tense home game with in-form Reading but the visitors struck a controversial late penalty to sink City and two further defeats have followed at Derby and Cardiff. On Tuesday night in the Welsh capital, Waghorn was just one of many suffering from tired legs and the introduction of on-loan Everton striker James Vaughan in his place acted as a catalyst with City attempting to claw their way back into a hotly-contested encounter. Whether the lively Vaughan keeps his place at the Hawthorns today is up for debate.
For another substitute that night, experienced target man Steve Howard, the Easter weekend will bring back happy memories. Howard struck twice this time last year in the wins over Hereford and Leeds as City re-established their superiority at the summit of League One. Following his positive performance at Cardiff, rewarded with a goal, perhaps it will be Howard who is the hero at Hawthorns again following a hat-trick on City`s last visit there little over two years ago. We can only wait and see.
Whereas Howard`s player of the year award for last season`s efforts sits proudly on the big Geordie striker`s mantelpiece, it is another forward from the North East who has made the bigger impression this time around. There may not be much left in the engine, but Martyn Waghorn will be desperate to put his own finishing touches to City`s final push.