By Kevin Affleck
Nigel Pearson was joined at training nice and early this morning by his trusted lieutenant Craig Shakespeare as the work begun to build on what he saw against Crystal Palace on Saturday.
Pearson and Shakespeare, the former Leicester manager and England coach, were at Vicarage Road on Saturday for the goalless draw with the Eagles and teamed up at the training base in London Colney this morning to go over what they saw at Vicarage Road and start preparing for the game with Liverpool.
“I saw plenty of positive things [against Palace],” said Pearson. “I also saw things that didn’t surprise me. I think it’s about trying to give the players the freedom to go out and play. What I saw was players fighting to try and get back into form and there were some encouraging signs. I know we’ve not scored anywhere near enough goals so far, especially with the players we have available. I thought we caused Palace quite a few problems. We know we’ve got to be more clinical in terms of converting opportunities when they come along and the players are aware of that. I saw some good fighting qualities but I’m aware of what our problems are at the moment. It’s important at the moment to try and galvanise the group and we go into games with a very competitive spirit with the intention to do anything to win games.”
Pearson and Shakespeare worked together at West Bromwich Albion and Hull but their main body of work came during two spells at Leicester, particularly in 2014/15 when the Foxes stayed up despite being seven points from safety with only ten games left.
“When people ask me these types of questions [about how we did it] I think it’s too easy to look back at things like that and try to piece together what it might look like for other people,” said Pearson. “The reality is when you’re involved in something like that you sort of build momentum as it goes. It was an incredible feat but let’s not kid ourselves, you can’t expect that kind of thing to be the norm for teams in that position. I remember when I was Bryan Robson’s assistant at West Brom around 2004 and we were bottom at Christmas and we managed to stay up on the last day of the season by beating Portsmouth. The thing that strikes me with both of those of events – and I was at Carlisle, I forgot about that one – is the groups of players would be a collective.
“It doesn’t mean the players have to be best friends and get along with everybody, but when it comes to performing [they need] a clear idea of what they’re trying to do and they trust each other and rely on each other during games. You need a bit of luck, you need as much of it as you can but also you need to isolate everything that’s happening everywhere else. You can’t do a whole deal about what pressure is doing to other people because you need to win your own game to put a bit more on them. I’m loathe to talk in too much detail as to why things happen. You are not ever totally in control of all the circumstances but what you have to do is try to concentrate on the things you can affect yourselves. For us it’s about our own game, it’s our performances, it’s how we behave and the values we work to in and around the workplace every day. We’ve got to go out there and get our performances right for sure.”
Pearson has been part of escape acts at Carlisle, West Brom, Southampton and Leicester and each time it has been fuelled by a fear of what relegation and the ramifications of playing in the tier below would look like.
“My message as a football club that’s spent a long time out of the top flight is the journey a club makes in getting there and the sacrifices that are made to get into the Premier League to start with and the investment that goes with it,” he said. “We don’t want to give it up lightly.”