Remind David Nugent that the last time he scored a Premier League goal was 10 March 2010 and the striker breaks out into a smile. “Yes,” he grins. “It’s been a while.”
Little surprise then that even he cannot remember the details of just how he scored the equaliser in a 1-1 home draw for Burnley, where he was on loan, against Stoke. “Was it a lob?” he guesses, racking his memory. “No, I can’t remember... not a clue.”
That goal was a rare moment of celebration for Nugent in a four-year stint with Portsmouth that bore little fruit for the Liverpool-born forward. Harry Redknapp had paid £6m to take the then 22-year-old from Preston North End in the summer of 2007.
Months earlier, Nugent had become the first Preston player since Sir Tom Finney 49 years previously to play for England. It was to be his only international game so far. But he marked it with a goalline tap-in at the end of the second half as Steve McClaren’s side beat Andorra 3-0 in a European Championship qualifier played in Barcelona. One England substitute appearance, one goal – a record shared only with Paul Goddard and Francis Jeffers.
If that was a highlight, Nugent’s career was to quickly nosedive after signing for Portsmouth. “I was out of favour virtually straightaway,” he recalls. “I started the first two games then didn’t start another Premier League game until the New Year.
“I didn’t tackle Harry about it at the time. It was just one of those things... we didn’t get on. I didn’t think I got a fair crack in the Premier League and it was tough to take.
“I lost my confidence, didn’t have anything about me and I didn’t want to play football at the time,” he admits.
In his first Portsmouth season he scored twice in the League Cup and got the only goal in an FA Cup third-round win over Ipswich. That put Pompey on a run that was to end with them lifting the trophy after beating Cardiff 1-0 at Wembley, a game when Nugent was brought on as a 69th-minute substitute after Nwankwo Kanu had scored the first-half winner.
His second season was little better, although he did score three Premier League goals, the first of them in January 2009 at Tottenham. Cash-strapped Portsmouth loaned him out to Burnley in his third season where he responded with six Premier League goals but could not help keep the Clarets up.
For the past four seasons Nugent has featured in the Championship – one with Portsmouth and three with Leicester. The goals began to flow again – 14 for Portsmouth in 2010-11 then 54 in total for Leicester, including 20 as Nigel Pearson’s side breezed to the title last season, Nugent forming a potent striking partnership with Jamie Vardy.
“It didn’t happen for me at Portsmouth, maybe it wasn’t the right club for me,” says Nugent. “But everybody makes mistakes in life and I’m fitter, stronger, older, wiser and I’m ready for the Premier League this season.”
Nugent, signed for Leicester by former England manager Sven Goran Eriksson in 2011, is quick to admit the part that the club has played in his renaissance. “My time at Leicester has been massive for me. When I first signed with Sven we had a lot of expectations to go up straightaway but we signed too many players and we didn’t gel together.
“Since Nigel came in, he’s got his own players and a team that work well for each other.”
Leicester were close to reaching the Premier League a year ago. Nugent scored in both play-off semi-final games against Watford. But they missed out on a Wembley final when Watford’s Troy Deeney scored 20 seconds after Anthony Knockaert had a last-minute penalty saved at Vicarage Road.
“That was one of the worst memories of my football career,” he admits. “They killed our dreams of going into the Premier League but it made us stronger. We proved that last season when we walked away with the league, winning 31 of our games.
“I have unfinished business. I think people still believe I’m not good enough for the Premier League but I’m going to prove them wrong.”
The fixtures computer has handed Nugent and his Leicester team-mates a challenging opening to the club’s first season for 10 years back in the top flight. Their first five games are Everton at home on Saturday, followed by a trip to Chelsea, then Arsenal at home, Stoke away and Manchester United at home.
“It’s probably the toughest start you can have,” says Nugent. “Nobody’s expecting us to win those games so any points out of them will be bonuses. Let’s see where we are after that.
“If we’re struggling we could be in for a long, hard season. But if we get a few points I think we can surprise a few teams in the Premier League.”
That first game against Everton pits Nugent against the club he supported as a lad growing up in Liverpool. “I’m a massive Blue, as are my family,” he says. “I remember going to my first game at Goodison with my dad and him helping me over the turnstiles.
“The match was Everton against Man United [in 1995] and we lost 3-2. Lee Sharpe scored [twice] for United and did a little dance with the corner flag.
“There were no seats on the terraces back then and I used to watch sitting on one of the metal bar rails. I’ve got a lot of fond memories and my big hero was Duncan Ferguson, who’s on the coaching staff there now.”
Nugent, at the age of seven, had a week’s trial with Everton but did not get in. “I went straight to Liverpool and was there until I was 14,” he says. “I was in the academy for my last year but was released.
“That was probably the best thing that happened to me. I got picked up by Bury, made my debut when I was 16 and never looked back since.
“I’ve started at the bottom and worked my way back to the top. Premier League? I’m ready for this.”
Oh, by the way, David. That last Premier League goal against Stoke... you rose above Robert Huth to head in Martin Paterson’s deep cross.
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