LEICESTER: Leicester City manager Craig Shakespeare admitted even he was surprised after inspiring the champions to the brink of Premier League safety.
Four straight wins for the managerial novice in the league combined with a historic victory in the Champions League have restored smiles and confidence at the King Power Stadium in a remarkable transformation following the sacking of Claudio Ranieri.
Three more points at home to a doomed Sunderland side on Tuesday would take Leicester to 36 and leave them seemingly all but safe, while defeat for the visitors would be another nail in Sunderland’s relegation coffin.
“At the moment it’s gone much better than I could have thought or dreamed of, but I have to make sure we keep focus,” said Shakespeare, who was Ranieri’s assistant before the Italian’s axing in February.
“I’m not looking at the points, other than getting three points out of every game,” added Shakespeare, who became the first Englishman to win his first four games as a Premier League manager when Leicester beat Stoke City 2-0 on Saturday.
“We want to make sure that not only are we safe, but that we climb up the league and the only way to do that is to approach every game as if it’s a cup final, in a way that shows we know the importance of it.
“Sunderland are coming on Tuesday and they’ll be up for it because they need the points and are running out of games.”
Leicester will again be without captain Wes Morgan as he continues to nurse a back injury.
But the emergence of Yohan Benalouane during Morgan’s two games so far on the sidelines has given Shakespeare another reason for confidence.
– Sunderland in deep trouble –
David Moyes insists Sunderland can still pull off their latest escape despite his side looking increasingly likely to drop into the Championship.
A 1-0 defeat at Watford at the weekend was Sunderland’s fourth loss in the last five games and leaves them bottom of the table.
The Black Cats have orchestrated successful end-of-season escapes in each of the past four campaigns, but having failed to score in the last five matches and winning only once in the past 11 games, the chances of a repeat this time appear slim.
“We’re in a position the club has found itself in for several seasons, but we’re capable of winning games and going on a positive run, even at this late stage of the season,” said Moyes, who has indicated that he wants to remain in charge next season even if they are relegated.
Lee Cattermole is in contention for his first appearance following more than six months out through injury, after the midfielder was an unused substitute at Vicarage Road.
Sweden international Seb Larsson and Gabon midfielder Didier Ndong are set to return to the starting line-up.
Sunderland’s most recent win at Leicester arrived more than 10 years ago and Moyes added: “There’s no time to dwell on the Watford game, we need to go again because I said before the weekend that we needed to win one of these two games, and it’s really important to do that.”