JAMIE PLAYS HIS JOKER

Vardy back to his best

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE - By Chris Dunlavy

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.

Shout­ing

“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.”

PIC­TURES: Ac­tion Im­ages

Jamie Vardy fires in a shot against Leeds’ keeper Paddy Kenny HIT MAN: David Nu­gent cel­e­brates with Ritchie De Laet af­ter scor­ing

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