Football: Claridge confirms cult status

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The Independent Online
Leicester City 2 Walsh 40, Claridge 62 Huddersfield Town 1 Bullock 47 Attendance: 17,619 It took Steve Claridge seven weeks to give Leicester supporters positive proof that Barry Fry had not pulled a fast one when he allowed the striker to leave Birmingham for pounds 1m in February. Now, having scored his first goal at Filbert Street only last Wednesday, the 30-year-old itinerant forward has elevated himself to cult status.

His winning goal yesterday, following two against Oldham last week, puts Leicester into strong contention for a play-off place, their hand strengthened by Ipswich's defeat at Southend.

To succeed in that would be a significant achievement for their manager, Martin O'Neill. O'Neill has borne the brunt of supporters' discontent, fuelled by his team's inconsistent form at home. But Leicester's approach to a game O'Neill insisted they had to win was anything but tentative, with Huddersfield, seeking a passport back to the Premiership, under siege for long periods.

Much of the threat to Huddersfield stemmed from an assured performance on the left of midfield by 18-year-old Emile Heskey. The teenager looked quite comfortable in yesterday's role, from which he was able to create opportunities for others while using the shield of Claridge and Mark Robins to launch his own attacks on goal.

His rasping drive against a post after nine minutes deserved to open the scoring and he went close again before Steve Walsh, towering above everyone at a corner, sent a 28th-minute header wide when he ought to have scored.

The Yorkshire side seemed happy with a patient approach, which they probably felt was working until Walsh atoned for his earlier miss five minutes before half-time, side-footing calmly home after Heskey's cross, diverted by Robins, found him unmarked at the far post.

Huddersfield responded two minutes into the second half with a spectacular strike by Darren Bullock from 18 yards, prefacing their most positive spell, during which they felt they had a case for a penalty when Simon Grayson appeared to trip Andy Booth.

They had scarcely stopped complaining about that perceived injustice when Leicester regained their lead. Again Heskey was involved, released by Scott Taylor to provide a low cross tucked away by Claridge inside the six-yard box.