JAMIE PLAYS HIS JOKER
Vardy back to his best
LEICESTER hitman David Nugent says strike-partner Jamie Vardy is ready to take centre stage after becoming the Foxes’ joker-in-chief.
Vardy, 26, became the most expensive Non-League player in history when he joined from Fleetwood Town for £1m last summer.
But after scoring on debut and bagging four goals in his first nine games, the former Halifax man went badly off the boil, netting just once more all season and regularly missing out on the matchday squad.
The signing of prolific Kiwi Chris Wood for £2m in January seemed to spell the end for Vardy, but a solid summer and goal against Middlesbrough on the opening day has seen him rocket back into Nigel Pearson’s plans.
And ex-England striker Nugent says the happy-golucky striker is now ready to fulfil the potential that saw him net 34 goals in 40 games for Fleetwood in 2011-12.
“Last year was always going to be tough for Vards,” said Nugent, capped once by the Three Lions. “He’d come straight from the Conference, jumped a lot of leagues in one go.
“He started well then faded and that’s what comes with inexperience. But fair play to him – he’s come so, so sharp this season. He’s a great finisher and he’s shown this season that he’s ready to step it up.
“You can see the difference in him this year. Last year he was a bit quieter, maybe a bit shy. This year he’s very loud.
“He’s always shouting in the changing room, always one of the lads involved in the jokes. Now, he’s probably the biggest joker we’ve got.
“You can tell he feels more comfortable around the lads and I think that’s reflected in his performances.”
As for Nugent, he’s also been making some adjustments this season. Though he has scored more than 100 career goals, only two of them have been penalties, with the former Pompey and Preston man happy to pass on the responsibility.
But after seeing 21-yearold rookie Anthony Knockaert miss a crucial late penalty in last year’s dramatic play-off final defeat at Watford, Nugent says the time has come to stop passing the buck.
In fact, his only goal this season came from the spot in the Foxes’ 2-1 victory at Wycombe in the League Cup.
“That was only my second pen,” he admits. “The other was against Ipswich when we won 6-0 last season.
“I’ve always said to people that I’m not a penaltytaker but I made my mind up this season to make a change.
“I’m experienced now. I’m 28, one of the oldest in this team. I have to take responsibility.
“If I’m not on the pitch then Woody can have them. But if I’m on the pitch I’m going to be taking them, every time.”
With Leicester sitting pretty on seven points from three scruffy games going into the weekend, Nugent is hoping for more of the same.
“Results have been brilliant,” he said. “The performances… maybe not. Our first home game was against Leeds on Sky and it finished 0-0. It definitely wasn’t one for the cameras.
“But last year we were playing brilliant at the start of the season and losing games. I’d rather have it this way any day.”
Jamie Vardy fires in a shot against Leeds’ keeper Paddy Kenny HIT MAN: David Nugent celebrates with Ritchie De Laet after scoring