By North-east correspondent Harry Sykes

Sam Allardyce has claimed that his former Newcastle colleague Steve Walsh has been integral to Leicester’s extraordinary rise this season.

Walsh was the head of recruitment at Newcastle when Sunderland manager Allardyce was in charge at St James’ Park from 2007 to 2008.

But the pair were axed by Magpies owner Mike Ashley at the same time and have subsequently followed different paths in the Premier League.

Walsh was appointed to Nigel Pearson’s backroom staff and was a key ally to the former Foxes boss during two spells at Leicester and also at Hull, where he was in charge of recruiting new players.

Walsh and Pearson’s other assistant Craig Shakespeare stayed at the King Power Stadium following the arrival of Claudio Ranieri, and the former has started to gain prominence as a result of spotting talent who have had magnificent seasons for the Premier League leaders, including Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy and N’Golo Kante.

“So much of Leicester’s success is about Steve Walsh,” Allardyce said, in an interview with The Times on Saturday. “He was my head of recruitment at Newcastle United. We were just starting to rebuild a team when we lost our jobs.

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“So off he went with Nigel Pearson. Claudio Ranieri has been brilliant, too, not changed too much, kept them going. He deserves huge credit.”

Leicester are seven points clear at the Premier League summit ahead of their trip to Allardyce’s Sunderland on Sunday.

Ranieri’s side are now strong favourites to win the title in what would widely be regarded as the biggest upset in the history of the English top flight.