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Leicester can put champagne on ice, says Neil Lennon

By Stuart McKinley

Neil Lennon has backed his high-flying former club Leicester City to go on and clinch the Premier League title. Claudio Ranieri's men capitalised on Tottenham's 1-1 draw with Liverpool on Saturday evening and moved seven points clear at the top of the table thanks to a 1-0 win over Southampton yesterday.

Exactly 12 months ago the Foxes were seven points away from safety at the bottom and looking like relegation certainties.

Now, however, with six games remaining Leicester - who have only lost three times in 32 matches so far - now need only 12 more points to be crowned champions for the first time in their history.

"I think Leicester will win the league now," said former Celtic boss and Northern Ireland star Lennon (left) who won the League Cup with the Foxes in 1997 and 2000.

"They have won their last four games 1-0 and what they can do is get their noses in front in a game and see it out.

"Other teams have been waiting on a wobble - and there is still a possibility that will come - but even if it does I'm not sure the other teams will be able to take advantage."

Leicester are now 3-10 odds-on favourites to win the title after being massive 5,000-1 rank outsiders at the start of the season.

That alone reflects the stunning turnaround in fortunes at the club, which former Northern Ireland international Lennon — who left his job as manager of Bolton Wanderers last month — believes is a magical tale that nobody could have written.

“It’s one of the greatest sports stories ever,” he said.

“It would out-do Tom Watson nearly winning the Open Championship at the age of 60 — and to think that they were 5,000-1 to win it at the start of the season. It’s just amazing.

“They play with no fear and at times their performances, even against the other top teams, have been clinical.

“When Leicester won 3-1 at Manchester City they were very impressive and they looked like the ones with the multi-million pound players in their team.

“I had a great time at Leicester and we brought success, but this team and what they are doing is better.”

Optimistic merchandise vendors put scarves depicting ‘Leicester City Premier League champions’ on sale outside the King Power Stadium yesterday, even before the Foxes opened up a seven-point gap at the top of the table.

While some fans steered clear of making a purchase, not wanting to tempt fate, there was at least one being held up by a jubilant supporter after the final whistle.

Victories in their next three fixtures, which are away to Sunderland and at home to West Ham United and Swansea City, would see Leicester go to Old Trafford to play Manchester United on Sunday, May 1 knowing that a win would see them crowned champions.

Any four wins from their remaining six games would be sufficient.

Leicester have only been in Europe three times before and having never won the league in their history, they consequently have never played in the European Cup or Champions League.

Times have changed greatly at Leicester since the late 1980s, when former Northern Ireland manager Bryan Hamilton was unable to keep the Foxes in the old First Division.

Like Lennon, he expects their blue and white ribbons to be tied to the Premier League trophy next month.

“I think they will win it now,” said Hamilton.

“They deserve it because they have had a great season.

“They are on an amazing run and they keep putting up the 1-0 wins, which is enough to get them three points.

“The momentum is with them and it will be terrific for football if they do win it. It will also show other teams that anything is possible.”

Hamilton puts Leicester’s success partly down to the fact that they were clear of relegation so early in the season after having to pull off a dramatic late escape last year.

“Once they hit the 40-point mark and knew they were safe from relegation they knew that anything above that was a bonus,” said Hamilton.

“Even finishing fourth, which they aren’t far off guaranteeing, would be a magnificent achievement.

“I was at Ipswich when they finished fifth and the mindset there was the same. Once they reached 40 points they thought ‘we’re not going down now’ and were able to relax and play without pressure and just kept going.”

Even before they cap their remarkable season with the league title, Leicester are being written off as one-season wonders, but Hamilton believes they should be given credit for this year’s work no matter what happens in the future.

“The test comes next season. If they end up outside of the top six and out of Europe then this will have been a fluke season, but they have still done so well,” he said.

Belfast Telegraph


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