Enzo Maresca: Leicester boss predicts Championship promotion race will go to the wire

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Ipswich’s Jeremy Sarmiento squeezed a last-minute goal past goalkeeper Mads Hermansen to salvage a draw at Leicester

Leicester City boss Enzo Maresca predicts his table-topping side will be pushed all the way in their quest for an immediate Premier League return.

The Tractor Boys remain seven points adrift of the Foxes, but they moved back ahead of Southampton into the automatic promotion spots.

“For me, it will be a race until the end,” Maresca told BBC Sport.

Leicester have been a permanent fixture at the top of the Championship standings since late September, ending every round since match-day eight at the summit.

After 28 games, the Foxes have a eight-point cushion to Southampton in third – which is the first of four play-off places for those chasing promotion.

Only the history-making Reading side of 2006, which earned promotion to the Premier League with a record 106 points, have ever collected more points than Maresca’s Foxes at this stage of the season.

And while the Foxes are also three points better off than Leicester’s title-winning promotion side of 2014, who went up with 102 points and sealed their Premier League place with six games to spare, the Italian refuses to take their position of power for granted.

Asked if Leicester can feel the breath of the chasing pack, Maresca said: “Since day one.

“I’ve felt the breath, not just today, I’ve felt it since we started,” he continued.

But it is not just an Ipswich side looking to make it back-to-back promotions, or an in-form Southampton on a club-record 20-match unbeaten league run that Maresca senses as automatic promotion threats.

“I’ve felt Leeds’ breath too, don’t forget about Leeds,” Maresca added of the fourth-placed Yorkshire side, who are 12 points behind Leicester with 18 games remaining.

“For sure, we are going in the right direction because of the performance, but there are still many games to go.”

Ipswich hold own against the ‘abnormally strong’

Likewise, Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna is careful not to get carried away with the Tractor Boys’ lofty place in the table in their first season back in the Championship.

Unlike the other three clubs in the top four with them, Ipswich did not drop back into the second division from the Premier League.

Instead, they have mounted and maintained a once seemingly unlikely automatic promotion push after coming up from League One as runners-up to Plymouth Argyle.

“We know the three teams closest to us are abnormally strong for the division and are on course to get really, really high points totals,” McKenna said.

“There is so long to go, we just need to focus on ourselves.

“We know that we are 28 games in, and are competing with teams – points-tally wise – that we have no right to really.

“And we if we spend any energy worrying or thinking about them, we certainly won’t have enough energy left to be as competitive as we want to be every game.”

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