A pulsating game ended in a draw as both side came from behind, both sides had penalties, both sides had keepers making key saves, Iversen in the home goal probably having highlight reel game with stunning saves from Iwobi, DCL and Doucoure to name just three. One major negative for the Blues though was the loss of skipper Seamus Coleman to what looked a nasty injury. The debacle that was the second half against Newcastle left many Evertonians resigning themselves to the club being relegated for the first time since 1954 however by tea-time Sunday, hope had been restored as both Leeds and Forest lost meant a win at Leicester on Monday night would see the Blues move up to the heady heights of 16th. Last seasons visit to the King Power proved to be a memorable and highly pivotal one – could history repeat itself and Everton take a huge step towards Premier League survival?
Leicester, under Brendan Rodgers, surprised a lot of football watchers with their slide down the table and that slide ultimately cost him his job and he was replaced by former Aston Villa and Norwich City manager Dean Smith. The new manager, like his opposite number Sean Dyche, knows that the result of this game will go a huge way to determining their clubs and maybe their own futures and he addressed the game in his pre-match media gathering saying, “It’s the same as we handled the Leeds game. It’s a big game for both teams because of the position we’re both in in the league. The games are running out, obviously. This time we’ll have home advantage, and we want to use that to our advantage. There’s still no points target. It all changes after the number of games that have been played.”
He continued, “Forest won the other night. We can’t get involved in that, we’ve just got to concentrate on the games we’ve got to play. There’s 15 points to play for. We’ve four from our first three. Four points from Wolves and Leeds is not a bad return but, we’ll be going all-out to get a win against Everton and then Fulham after that. That’s all we can control really. We’ll then look at the table after that and see where we’re at.”
And he wasn’t taking anything for granted as he noted, “I expect a real tough, committed performance from Everton. I thought they were really good in the first half up until probably the second goal, which took it away from them. I fully agreed with Sean [Dyche’s] comments after the game. I thought they were full value performance-wise in the first half.”
The Foxes have been boosted by the return to form of striker Jamie Vary and Smith commented, “I think I said, from the first moment, he’s trained really well. He’s got a really good appetite for the game and a great understanding of it.He’s engaged in meetings we’ve had and I was really pleased to see him get his first goal for a while. He won the penalty against Wolves. Although he didn’t get much of a look-in against Man City, after watching City against Arsenal, 3-1 wasn’t such a bad result there was it! He’s done really well and I’m pleased he scored.”
Smith was unable to call on forward Kelechi Iheanacho, out for the rest of the season, and veteran centre back Jonny Evans who is back in training but, was still able to name a starting eleven to be reckoned with: Iversen, Castagne, Faes, Soyunco, Thomas, Soumare, Ndidi, Tielemans (c), Maddison, Barnes and Vardy.
Dean Smith had referred to Sean Dyche’s comments in the aftermath of the loss to Newcastle and the Blues boss did too when he addressed his press conference saying, “It’s going to take playing like we did for the first half and keeping that consistency throughout the whole 95 minutes because that’s what you have to do. You make sure every detail is covered, everything counts in a game of football. That’s what we’re not doing as well as when I first got here.”
He continued, “Until the second goal [against Newcastle] it was a very good performance but after the second goal, that’s the big challenge for me. Where did the mentality go? How quickly did that change? Who re-grips it? Who in our team goes, ‘Right, okay, let’s re-grip what we’re doing here’? Because we weren’t a million miles away. You can’t wait for it to happen.”
Asked if he was worried about his side’s dip in performance after conceding that second goal on Thursday, Dyche continued: “I don’t use the word worry, it’s realities. I’ve seen it with my own eyes and I saw it against Fulham – it’s a reality. There’s no point worrying because worrying isn’t going to solve anything, work solves things. Work on the training pitch, work with the players, work consistently. That’s what takes away any problems. It’s about the work we do [that is important].”
Dyche stressed, “The key point is you making it happen, I can’t emphasise that enough. I say it to the players constantly – you make things happen in football. Now and again you get a lucky one but even that doesn’t really build belief. The ones that build belief are when you take it on, then deliver and get a result.”
In terms of the players available to choose his side from for the crucial game at the King Power, having missed three games with a hamstring strain, skipper Seamus Coleman was hoping to be fit enough to be selected while Mason Holgate was available following his one game suspension. But Everton needed goals as well as solid defence to win the game and all eyes were who got the right back role and whether the manager would be brave in going with more than just one up front. We found out when the starting line-up was confirmed as being: Jordan Pickford, Seamus Coleman (c), Michael Keane, James Tarkowski, Vitalii Mykolenko, Alex Iwobi, James Garner, Idrissa Gana Gueye, Abdoulaye Doucoure, Dwight McNeil and Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
On what promised to be a tense but, pleasant evening weather-wise, our referee was Michael Oliver.
With Leicester at home and wearing their traditional blue strip, Everton changed into the pink away kit so it was COYPs for this crunch game for both teams that saw Everton in the first half attacking the end where once again, a sold out section of travelling fans were encamped.
Barnes with an early ball beyond Coleman and Iwobi saw it just too strong for Vardy as Pickford saw the ball safely behind for a goal kick. The first free kick went the Foxes was as Garner brought down Soumare with nothing coming from it and then a quick Leicester break saw Garner clear an intended cross from Soumare with half-hearted appeals for a penalty waved away.
Both sets of supporters were in good voice and it was the Evertonians who raised the decibel level as a shot from Coleman was deflected behind for the first corner. Leicester only partially cleared and when McNeil crossed again, it was headed behind for a second from the other flank, that was headed out to Gana Gueye who couldn’t keep his shot down and it whistled over the bar.
Both sides weren’t afraid to employ long ball tactics and it took a great save from Iversen to deny Alex Iwobi the opening goal as he got on the end of a ball from Doucoure. Leicester struggling initially to clear the resulting corner. The opening ten minutes had flown by as a free kick taken long by Pickford saw DCL knock it down for Keane to volley, the shot blocked and cleared but, a positive opening from Everton, appreciated by the fans.
A rash challenge on Soumare by Gana Gueye earned him a talking to from referee Oliver, the free kick leading to a ball down the channel for Vardy and his cross was controlled by Maddison before his shot was easily saved by Pickford, low to his right. A cross from Coleman saw DCL flattened in the area by Castagne and on 14 minutes, referee Oliver had no hesitation in pointing to the spot, and it was DCL who took the responsibility, and he duly buried it, straight down the middle and into the roof of the net.
All the noise now was from the Evertonians and they pushed forward immediately from the restart, Coleman heavily involved and leading to a fine through ball from Iwobi for DCL that saw another Everton corner won that McNeil swung deep for Michael Keane, his header going just wide of the back post. Twenty minutes gone and the Blues in pink were good value for their lead as Keane headed a Castagne cross clear.
A free kick against McNeil gave Maddison a chance to cross into the Everton area where it reached Barnes and his ball across the area wasn’t cleared and Soyunco got to a header from Faes to volley an against the run of play equaliser.
Garner forced another Everton corner from the right that McNeil aimed towards the back post only for Iversen in the home goal to claim confidently. Iwobi tried a speculative chipped shot having seen Iversen coming off his line, the ball just too high and landing on top of the net. A cross from Mykolenko was only half cleared and when Garner cushioned a ball through to McNeil, his shot on the turn was high and wide but, still good, positive play from the visitors.
Passing the half hour mark, Everton were still pressing high up the pitch and making it difficult for Leicester to play out from the back. Maddison twisted and turned on the Leicester left before curling a shot that Pickford held easily before Leicester struck with deadly effect to take the lead in the 33rd minute – an Everton attack breaking down in midfield on a poor ball from Iwobi intercepted by Tielemans and Maddison played a perfect ball through for Vardy to use his pace to race onto, round Pickford and fire the Foxes in front.
Everton tried to respond quickly winning another corner on the right that was defended and keeping the pressure on via a succession of throw-ins, before a cross from Iwobi was easily caught by Iversen coming off his goal line. Coleman was baulked to win a free kick wide right that Garner fired in at pace, Iwobi unable to get a proper touch and the ball flying out for a goal kick. Gana Gueye got another talking to for a foul on Vardy and we hit the 40-minute mark with DCL winning a free kick in midfield.
Pickford sent it long and after some head tennis, Iwobi crossed deep and with Leicester struggling to clear, neat passing between Iwobi, DCL and Coleman saw the skipper set up McNeil and Iversen made another tremendous save to deny an equaliser, Doucoure blasting the rebound high over the bar.
An incredible spell saw McNeil cross from the left for DCL two yards out and somehow he managed to hit the keeper not the back of the net and Leicester countered at lightning pace, Vardy twisting and turning before seeing his shot hit the cross bar and go out for a goal kick.
Soumare was booked for a foul on Coleman that left the Everton skipper down and in soke considerable pain, Jordan Pickford immediately calling for a stretcher and Nathan Patterson getting ready to replace Seamus after a long delay while he was attended to and taken off, receiving a warm round of applause from the fans of both teams, and a rendition of the Sixty Grand song.
Three added minutes were announced and Patterson with his first touch prevented a low cross from the right reaching Vardy for a potential tap-in. Barnes on a left wing charge got away from Gana Gueye and his cross clearly hit the arm of Keane and now the home side had a penalty and chance fo a two-goal lead at the break. VAR confirmed the award, Maddison took the ball off Tielemans and Jordan Pickford made what could be a vital save from what it must be said was a poor penalty.
A quite frenetic and at times pulsating half ended with the home side ahead and Everton having lost their skipper to what looked a nasty injury, in need of a massive second half.
Half Time: 2-1
No further changes during the half time interval and an early cross from McNeil was deflected invitingly straight into the waiting arms of Iversen. Castagne and Barnes played a great one-two for Castagne to race forward and send a deep ball just too strong for Vardy. Soyunco was hurt heading the back of Ndidi (VAR allegedly considered awarding the RS a penalty) and after a delay he was okay to carry on despite the beginning of a shiner on his left eye.
Vardy verbally abuse dthe referee after he’d been called for a foul and as Everton got the ball forward, Iwobi fed the ball through for DCL to spin and crash in a shot that Iversen saved with his legs and the Foxes cleared. On 54 minutes, the game was tied up again as a cross from McNeil was just too high for DCL but, Alex Iwobi arriving behind him to hit a sweet side-footed volley that Iversen couldn’t get down to.
Gana Gueye was booked for a foul on Maddison as the travelling fans again raised their voices urging the team to an even greater effort – victory was the absolute minimum requirement tonight. Leicester pressure saw Tarkowski with a goal line clearing header from Vardy and a shot from Thomas was deflected behind for a first Leicester corner on the hour mark. Keane with a clearing header from the Maddison set piece and Leicester made a change, Daka replacing Ndidi, a forward for a midfielder on 61 minutes.
Mykolenko with a good ball over the top found DCL but, Soyunco did enough to deny him a chance. Patterson fed McNeil for a shot from distance that went straight at Iversen. For any neutrals watching on television, this was some game as the play switched end to end, both sides desperate for the three points in a highly charged and noisy atmosphere.
McNeil was caught in midfield and Tarkowski came to the rescue blocking a shot from Maddison and then heading a cross from the right away to safety. Leicester won another corner as Maddison saw a shot deflected and Pickford unable to keep it in play, DCL with a clearing header and Barnes lashing a shot well wide of the target. The home side were now enjoying their best period of sustained possession but, Everton were keeping them at bay but, needed to get back on the offensive themselves.
Into the final twenty minutes and a shot from Tielemand was blocked by Tarkowski. The first signs of some tiredness were beginning to show and Pickford came off his line well to prevent a cross from Vardy reaching Castagne arriving at the back post. Would Sean Dyche make further changes to try and give the attack some extra potency for the time remaining?
Pickford was again alert to collect a cross from Maddison again aimed towards Vardy and Everton countered with Iwobi from the right finding McNeil and his shot being deflected out for another Everton corner, that saw McNeil find Tarkowski but, he couldn’t direct his header down and on target. A quarter of an hour to play and a draw was not what Everton needed, they had to somehow find a winner if they could but, they had some more defending to do as Maddison again tried to find Vardy. Everton countered and Iversen had to be quick off his line to prevent a McNeil ball reaching DCL and Leicester countered with Barnes crashing a wild shot high and wide.
Daka chasing back dispossessed McNeil and Evertonian hearts were in their mouthd as Pickford raced miles out of his goal to try and clear with Vardy sending ashot on the open goal wide – thankfully, the offside flag against Leicester had been raised. A foul by Daka on Mykolenko gave Everton a chance to get the ball in deep but, nothing came of it and into the final ten minutes it was now all or nothing time for both teams to secure the extra two points.
Iwobi on a charge won another Everton corner that saw Keane head over from the cross from McNeil, and we passed 85 minutes still on the knife edge. McNeil raced down the left and Everton pressure led to a shot from Doucoure well saved by Iversen at the expense of another corner to the visitors – the Leicester keeper having a tremendous game. The corner was successfully defended by the home side and a double change by them saw Barnes and Thomas replaced by Praet and Kristiansen.
Maddison was booked for a foul on Gana Gueye as he tried to burst through the middle, taking one for the team in modern day terms. Garner lined up the free kick from thirty yards out but, chipped it to the back post where it ran aimlessly out of play. Four added minutes were announced, could Everton find a winner they so desperately needed and probably deserved on the night?
Patterson was scythed down and Kristiansen was rightly booked, free kick wide left that Iversen punched away. Disappointingly, Everton couldn’t find a winner and had to settle for a point that when Leicester were awarded that penalty, didn’t look likely.
It’s not over till the fat lady sings but, the Toffees needed a win tonight and she might start gargling on this result.