With many Blues fans having given the team a noisy send-off from Finch Farm on Saturday, many more stayed tuned into radios and tv coverage of the games that saw Watford relegated and Burnley suffer a resounding home loss to Aston Vanilla – as good a start to the weekend as Evertonians could have wished for.
Leicester City, like Everton, sit in the lower half of the Premier League table after a season that fizzled out on Thursday as their quest for a place in the Europa Conference Final came undone against Jose Mourinho and his Roma side. Just a couple of weeks ago though, the Foxes gave Everton something of a football lesson at Goodison only for their failure to convert possession into goals to bite them in the ass when Richarlison bagged that oh so vital equaliser in added-on time.
But they faced a different Everton today as the groundswell of support that has manifested itself at Goodison in recent weeks went on the road to the King Power Stadium as yet another sold-out visiting fan section sought to re-create the terrific home atmosphere on the road.
Leicester under Brendan Rodgers were looking to bounce back from their Roma reversal and it was the impressive at Goodison Kieran Dewsbury-Hall who outlined the task he and his team mates faced when he said, “We know they’re fighting for their lives at the moment, so these games are always really tough. They will be giving 100 per cent for every ball in the game, and we have to match that. I feel like we did well at their place not long ago. We dictated a lot of the game, so it was really disappointing to concede the late equaliser. For us, we want to finish as high as we can in the Premier League, so winning these games is really important for us. We’re looking forward to it.”
Rodgers was likely to make changes from the side that lost to Roma but, that would not include Ryan Bertrand of Wilfred Ndidi both of whom will not play again this season through injuries. Rodgers ultimately named his starting line-up: Schmeichel (c), Amartey, Fofana, Evans, Castagne, Mendy, Tielemans, Perez, Dewsbury-Hall, Daka and Iheanacho.
Everton, boosted by the terrific victory over Chelsea last weekend and with the full knowledge that both Burnley and Watford had lost on Saturday, arrived at the King Power in good spirits having had a similar send off from Finch Farm to their arrival at Goodison last Sunday.
Speaking on Friday, Blues boss Frank Lampard updated his squad status advising, “We’ve had a good week of training and recovery for the lads. Andre Gomes is back in the squad, but Donny van de Beek isn’t. Richy has got a bit of a sore ankle from where he twisted it against Liverpool but, hopefully he will be fine. Ben Godfrey is not fit but, will hopefully be training with us in the middle of next week and DCL is in contention for Sunday too.”
Lampard took time to reflect upon the victory over Chelsea and the post-game analysis when he noted, “There was a nice bounce and feeling for everybody after beating Chelsea but, reality kicks in a day later. The next games are the most important and they are away games, where we haven’t performed as well as we want all season. We showed fantastic spirit and work ethic and gave a fantastic performance last week. There was a really good collective feeling of players and fans and the stadium all being together. In our position, we need everyone to work in the same direction, it makes you so much stronger, and we felt that. The fans showed their passion and desire and the players have to reflect that on the pitch. We did that – and it is important we sustain it.”
Awaiting announcement of the team, many Blues were adopting an ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ line of thought, and sixty minutes ahead of kick-off, Frank obliged with an unchanged line-up of: Pickford, Coleman (c), Mina, Holgate, Mykolenko, Iwobi, Gordon, Doucoure, Delph, Gray and Richarlison.
Toting watches, whistles, cards and the free kick spray can was referee Craig Pawson.
Everton in their white away strip kicked off looking to avoid an eighth successive away defeat and in so doing, strengthen their chances of Premier League status next season, and with terrific support once again from the travelling fans, it was needed as the ball was lost in midfield and Iheanacho fed Daka who saw his shot beat Pickford but, Mina got back with an excellent block to put the goalbound effort behind for a corner that was defended. The home side appeared to have shrugged off their midweek woes as Iheanacho got away again to test Pickford who raged at his defence despite the offside flag against the Leicester striker.
The Blues first foray forward saw Doucoure pressure Mendy into conceding a throw-in from which Alex Iwobi crossed perfectly for Vitalii Mykolenko to strike a volley of utter perfection to give Schmeichel no chance, his first goal for the club and WHAT A GOAL !!!
Dewsbury-Hall on the Leicester left evaded the attention of Iwobi to cross dangerously to the near post where Pickford was alert and gathered before Iheanacho could pounce. It had been a breathless opening ten minutes and all the noise was coming from the Evertonians as celebratory blue smoke swirled around the stadium.
Doucoure dispossessed Tieleman and set off through the middle to set Gray free on the left and his cross into the area found Doucoure who didn’t get a great connection but, Schmeichel somehow kept it out with the help of the post. Leicester countered immediately with a long ball that saw Mina collide with Coleman and his back header fell sweetly for Daka who calmly beat the onrushing Pickford to tie the score up at 1-1, barely twelve minutes played – breathless stuff. And it continued as Leicester built again from the restart and Amartey fired a 30-yard effort just over the bar.
An unexpected early chance for the Blues saw Mina go off on 17 minutes to be replaced by Michael Keane, the Colombian appearing to have tweaked a calf. Delph to Gray and played on for Richarlison who was denied by Schmeichel racing quickly from his line to gather the ball.
Passing the midway point in the half and the pace of the game finally eased a little, Leicester having more of the ball and the Blues (in white) looking to soak up the pressure and counter attack. Alex Iwobi was playing more as a left back – with Coleman, Holgate and Keane as a back three – and having a good contest with Dewsbury-Hall. Iwobi then got forward with some excellent footwork to find Gray, when Mykolenko in space on the left might have been the better option, Leicester smothering Gray and the threat.
Gordon on the run found by Coleman did enough to win a corner on the right, Gray being booed by his former supporters, took in and after Schmeichel could only parry the initial and powerful header from Richarlison, up popped Mason Holgate to head home from four yards and restore the Blues lead on the half hour. Once again, the blue smoke billowed and strains of the Goodison Gang rang down from the terracing.
Keane with two clearances, one with his head the other into touch kept Leicester out before Iheanacho saw a shot from the left easily gathered by Pickford. Keane blocked a long range shot from Tielemans and Delph showed some nice feet to turn away from the Belgian and get the ball forward. Some uncertainty at the back as a ball into the Everton area from Tielemans saw Keane and Holgate in a bit of a mix up before the ball went out for a goal kick – better communication at the back needed methinks.
Into the final five minutes of a thoroughly entertaining first half and it was Everton with some pressure before Iwobi was penalised for a foul on Dewsbury-Hall after Mendy got away with a clear pull on Gordon. The Leicester player needed attention and eventually got to his feet to limp off somewhat gingerly while the Evertonians continued to herald the side with endless support.
Keane again with a good clearance on a cross from Castagne found by Tielemans, and as Leicester tried to come again, Castagne fouled Delph, and three added minutes were signalled. Tielemans was proving a constant threat with crosses into the area, Pickford reacting quicker than Iheanacho and then coming off his line to clear another ball to halfway, and tremendous noise greeted the whistle for half time.
Half Time: 1-2
The pitch received a heavy watering during the break and Leicester made a change for the second half, Barnes replacing Perez, and Mendy was booked inside a minute of the restart for bringing down Anthony Gordon.
Everton appealed for a penalty for a foul on Richarlison as he was found by a cross from Iwobi, the appeals going unheeded by referee Pawson. Fofana intercepted a ball through the middle from Iwobi aimed for Doucoure and as Leicester countered at speed, Iwobi got back to deny Barnes and earn warm applause from the Evertonians.
Gray led an attacked that saw Richarlison find Gordon and his shot was blocked by Evans and cleared as the second half began in similar fashion to that of the first – both sides looking to attack with purpose. Leicester began to warm up Steptoe lookalike Jamie Vardy as Everton again worked the ball forward, growing in confidence and retaining possession with some slick passing before Gray cut in off the left flank but, fired his shot over the target.
Everton were working hard providing cover for each other as Leicester probed for a way back into the game and somehow didn’t win a free kick as Mendy took a clear ride on the back of Richarlison after Gray had cleared from a Dewsbury-Hall cross. Passing the hour mark and more good possession for Everton, everybody involved before the move broke down with Leicester unable to produce anything of note. Mykolenko signalled he was struggling as Leicester won a corner that Keane cleared as far as Mendy who aimed for the top corner only to see the flying frame of Jordan Pickford turn it round the post for another corner that was defended.
A foul by Castagne on Gray on 66 minutes gave Everton the chance to replace Vitalii Mykolenko with Jonjoe Kenny, and Leicester withdraw Mendy for Vardy.
Pickford with another outstanding reaction save denied Barnes from close range at the expense of a corner that produced another that saw Tielemans find Vardy who mishit his shot wide across the face of goal. Twenty minutes to play and Jordan Pickford was playing an increasingly important part in the game and again, he yelled at his defence after going down low to his left to turn a Barnes shot away for a corner that was defended.
Everton weren’t now committing as much to attack but, a break by Richarlison and Gordon saw the latter pass up the chance of a shot to pull the ball back for Richarlison and his effort was blocked by Amartey. On 73 minutes, Demarai Gray was replaced by Salomon Rondon. Evans brought down Gordon wide on the right and somehow didn’t see yellow for his indiscretion, and the free kick came to nothing.
A deflected Tielemans shot was an easy save for Pickford ahead of a patient build-up by the home side that saw Coleman head clear. Leicester came again but, Everton were defending well with Doucoure and Delph both getting back to help out the back line. Lookman joined the game on 80 minutes replacing Daka and the home side began to lay siege to the Everton goal, Barnes putting a header wide of the back post when he really should have tested Jordan Pickford.
Gordon got forward on the right to cross deep into the Leicester area where it was cleared to halfway where Everton began to build again. Gordon was looking tired as he couldn’t reach a ball from Doucoure as the travelling support again raised their voices to encourage the players for the final stages of this vital game.
Into the final five minutes and the home support was drifting away from their seats, not so for the Evertonians who again hailed the effort of all the players and Richarlison who was again nursing a slight limp. Everton were slowing the game down to eat up time, Rondon and Richarlison taking the ball to the corner and we saw three more minutes announced as Pickford held a deep cross and ate up a few more seconds. His long ball saw Gordon again fouled, this time by Tielemans – nothing ensued and when Leicester strained forward, it was again Pickford claiming a cross and the clock ticked on. Fofana was booked for a late foul on Rondon and the noise levels rose again to greet the final whistle.