Brief Summary…A display of dogged determination and resolution against the defending champions, topped with two superbly taken second half goals saw Everton return smiles to the faces of the fans and add a timely boost of confidence for the second half of the season.
The usual noisy travelling support were again in evidence in the King Power stadium for a Boxing Day clash with the reigning Premier League champions.
Ronald Koeman made changes from the derby dropping Barkley and moving Coleman into midfield. The starting eleven lined-up thus: Robles, Baines, Funes Mori, Williams, Holgate, Lennon, Coleman, Barry, Gueye, Mirallas and Lukaku. Claudio Ranieri set-up his suspension and injury hit Foxes side: Schmeichel, Simpson, Wasilewski, Morgan, Chilwell, Gray, King, Amartey, Albrighton, Okazaki, and Slimani. Stuart Atwell was the referee.
A steady start by both sides didn’t see any serious troubling of defences until Amartey tested Joel Robles from distance in the 11th minute, the Spanish keeper saving comfortably enough.
A quick counter by the home side following an Everton corner saw Gray fire in a long range shot, but off target and no real threat to Robles. Leicester were growing in confidence and a strong run by Chilwell forced their first corner that came to nothing.
A great tackle by Williams stopped Slimani is his tracks as the home side began to boss proceedings after a fairly even opening quarter hour, and a few minutes later a clearing header by the Welsh captain gave the home aside another corner.
Everton were biting into tackles and both Simpson and Amartey felt the weight of Mirallas and Baines respectively, the latter penalised for a free kick from which nothing resulted.
The game was moderately competitive, but lacking in real excitement and attacking quality from either side. Mirallas was dropping into midfield and this was again seeing Lukaku look isolated in ploughing a lone furrow up front.
Heading towards the break, Everton finally began to enjoy some meaningful possession exert some pressure on the home defence with a series of crosses, but as has become all too familiar, the possession was ponderous, crosses lacked real quality and Leicester were able to cope.
A late move saw Lukaku and Lennon combine to present Baines with a chance to cross or shoot and his effort across the face of goal was neither one nor the other and Mirallas was unable to get on the end.
Nett result of 45 minutes: plenty of possession with not one effort on the home goal to show for it.
Half Time: 0-0.
Leicester brought on Drinkwater for the second half at the expense of Olazaki… a move that baffled this reporter as taking a forward off for a midfielder was hardly a sign of attacking intent from Ranieri.
An early long ball forward by Leicester fell nicely for Slimani, but he badly mistimed his shot and it almost went for a throw-in.
Gray twisted and turned to evade both Barry and Baines before making a hash of his cross from the right flank – the lack of quality in the game was frustrating until… moments later a long ball from Ashley Williams found Kevin Mirallas with a long ball over the top and the Belgian pulled away from his marker to slide a precise, low shot beyond the reach of Schmeichel for the 51st minute opening goal.
The Blues were now looking a bit more confident and Mirallas nearly tip-toed his way through the home defence again as we looked for a second.
The hour mark saw the home crowd becoming frustrated and their favourites resorting to route one tactics and generally trying to increase their tempo but, the Blues defence was standing firm.
Mahrez and Ulloa come on for King and Gray respectively in the 65th minute as Ranieri looked to add size and pace, and Ulloa wasted a glorious chance heading straight into the arms of Robles when it looked easier to score. The scene looked set for a helter-skelter last 25 minutes.
Skipper Gareth Barry made way for Tom Davies on 67 minutes as Ronald Koeman seemed to feel that the greater youth and speed of Davies might be needed, that and resting Barry for the trip to Hull might have been a factor.
Leicester were pumping long balls and crosses into the Everton box with RFM, Williams and Robles finding ways to foil the intended recipients. Kevin Mirallas made way for Ross Barkley in the 75th minute as Ronald Koeman looked to further boost the midfield and deny Leicester space. Davies was making a good impression on the game and on a one-two with Gana tried his luck from distance, the shot going wide.
Leicester re-doubled their efforts as the game moved into its final ten minutes and our boys switched into ball possession mode to frustrate the home side and eat up valuable time. A fine pass set Lukaku free down the right and his telling cross to the back post was met by the arriving Gana Gueye who incredibly blazed over from no more than six yards out.
Drinkwater was booked for a push on Lennon and the free kick saw Everton win a right wing corner that ended with Davies again trying his luck from distance. Lennon made way for Cleverley in the 87th minute.
With time ticking down, all hell let loose amongst the travelling Evertonians as a long clearance found Romelu Lukaku in space on the right and he bludgeoned his way Morgan before sealing a much-needed and valuable three points on the road with a cool, calm and collected low shot past Schmeichel for 0-2 and sending him into double figures for the campaign to date.
Final Score: 0-2.
The first half was largely forgettable, and at times this Boxing Day clash was not particularly pretty to watch, more a Dogs of War performance than School of Science one, but let’s be honest, the points were way more important than the manner of how we earned them.
The starting line-up raised a few eyebrows, but Ronald Koeman got things just about right, including the timings of his substitutions as Tom Davies settled immediately into the game and Ross Barkley looked composed when he got his chance late on.
On reflection, only Everton deserved to win the game as Leicester for all their huff and puff looked just that, a huff and puff team in comparison to the team that romped to the title last May.
Enough of them, let’s celebrate a terrific, battling showing and two superb strikes from our Belgian spearheads… rest our limbs and prepare for what will likely be another battle when we travel to Humberside to take on Hull on Friday.
All together now… Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, jingle all the way; oh what fun it is to see Everton win away…