For Claudio Ranieri, read David Wagner; Leicester City, read Huddersfield Town.
“Thrice champions, once the greatest club in the country,” extolled the PA announcer at the John Smith’s Stadium on Saturday, a claim that maybe in the past would have brought a few sniggers from anyone outside of the town.
But the class of 2016 is certainly making a name for itself, their win over QPR on Saturday keeping Wagner’s side top of the Championship.
Yes, it is early days, but the unfancied Foxes were similarly dismissed at this stage 12 months ago as mere pace-setters before going on to be crowned champions.
Saturday was probably Town’s biggest test yet. After losing for the first time in midweek, Wagner had challenged his players to prove their worth.
Goals from the impressive Kasey Palmer – a 19-year-old midfield maestro on loan from Chelsea – and the energetic Elias Kachunga were enough to see off a weary QPR side.
Town did relax a little near the end, allowing substitute Idrissa Sylla to head home, but the hosts had done enough for their sixth win in eight games to go two points clear of second-placed Norwich City.
“The manager put a big emphasis on that before the game,” said right-back Tommy Smith. “Since Tuesday’s result he’s been saying we need to bounce back and show people what we are made of.
“I think we have done that. After getting beat in midweek, we could have been disappointed and just sulked, lost another few points.
“We bounced back, like the manager wanted, and we go on to the next game now.
“We are at the top of the league, and winning games. We are out-battling, out-running other teams and it all points in the right direction.
“In the first half I don’t think they could live with us, we were on the front foot, pressing hard.
“The manager has told us he wants us to start fast in games, and it makes a difference. It’s difficult to play against.
“We want to be quicker, sharper than our opponents, outrun them, and we will keep doing that and see where it takes us.
“We have played eight games, and are not looking too far ahead.
“We just want to keep playing like we have been, keep knocking results off and picking up as many points as we can.”
Town gave the ball away in defence several times in a nervous opening, but soon settled, with Palmer pulling the strings in midfield. The Chelsea youngster picked out the marauding Smith with a superb pass, before breaking clear to take the return ball.
His shot was off target, but Palmer has an eye for a pass and was unlucky to see another through ball to Nahki Wells cut out by the Rangers defence.
It was Palmer who broke the deadlock on 14 minutes. Smith’s cross was kept alive by Rajiv van La Parra, and the latter’s far-post cross saw Palmer sneak in to head beyond former Town goalkeeper Alex Smithies.
Wells saw his header tipped over by Smithies – again Palmer was the architect with a teasing cross – although the offside flag had been raised.
After the break, Town continued to probe and a second goal looked a certainty. Kachunga headed over from van La Parra’s cross, Wells was brought down by Nedum Onuoha and Grant Hall seemed to handle the ball after the Bermudan striker’s flick bounced up.
Palmer had been the stand-out player, and should have netted his second goal when his flick caught out a static Rangers defence.
The teenager raced through, but Kachunga – standing in an offside position – volleyed home, instead of letting Palmer attack the ball.
Thankfully, for Town, they had little time to ponder the cost of that miss, as Kachunga looped a header over Smithies, from Smith’s deep cross, to secure victory, despite Sylla’s late strike.
Smith was happy to chip in with an assist.
“I find myself in a lot of good positions throughout the game, a lot higher than a normal right-back,” the former Manchester City youngster said.
“It’s the way the manager wants us to play and I am more than happy to do that.
“First and foremost though we are defenders, and we need to defend and keep clean sheets.
“As long as we are winning games it doesn’t matter who scores.
“I am more than happy to provide goals, like I did today, I am delighted with the assist.
“It’s a big thing for me getting an assist, like strikers scoring goals, I base my game on assists and clean sheets.
“We were unfortunate not to get a clean sheet, we were nearly there, and the performance was good.
“If you want to have a good season, your home form is really important.
“It’s been good so far, we haven’t dropped any points, and we need to make this place a little bit of a fortress. The crowds have definitely helped.”