With both sides perilously placed in the Premier League relegation zone, Leicester City hosted Everton in a massive six-pointer at the King Power Stadium. Just one point separated the two teams coming into the match, with a further point the difference between Leeds United and Nottingham Forest as the race for survival seemingly looks like a battle between the four clubs. With huge rewards for the victors to move out of the bottom three and just as many implications for the losers, the game would be a must-win in the battle to preserve top-flight status.
LEI: Iverson, Castagne, Faes, Söyüncü, Thomas, Tielemans, Soumaré, Ndidi, Maddison, Barnes, Vardy
EVE: Pickford, Coleman, Keane, Tarkowski, Mykolenko, Garner, Gueye, Doucoure, Iwobi, McNeil, Calvert-Lewin
Four points from six have been a welcome boost for new Leicester manager Dean Smith, after a spell of nine defeats in ten games saw former manager Brendan Rodgers’ tenure at the club come to an end.
Home form will be critical come the end of the season and Smith would have been looking to back up his side’s 2-1 triumph against Wolverhampton Wanderers just over a week ago with a victory over a beleaguered Everton side suffering from issues at both ends of the pitch.
Having scored late to earn a crucial point against Leeds at Elland Road in the 1-1 draw in midweek, the former Norwich manager opted to bring back veteran forward Jamie Vardy to his eleven. Nigerian midfielder Wilfred Ndidi slotted into a more conservative midfield, whilst Luke Thomas was preferred to Victor Kristiansen at full back.
Visitors Everton showed fight in their midweek 4-1 loss to Newcastle at Goodison Park, but lacked quality in the final third to stamp authority on the match in a close-fought first hour. Newcastle’s clinical edge proved to be the difference in the final quarter of the game as the Toffees became unstuck and were well beaten in the end.
Everton knew they would have to improve their record on the road if they were to gain anything from this fixture. One solitary victory in sixteen matches prior to the trip to the King Power Stadium has a major factor in their decline into the bottom three.
Dyche opted to freshen up his lineup against the Foxes by making two changes. Captain Seamus Coleman would provide welcome experience having returned to fitness to slot in at right back, whilst the additional goal threat of midfielder James Garner meant the former Man Utd player was preferred to Amadou Onana in midfield.
The visitors started as the brighter of the two sides in the opening period of play, enjoying a sustained spell of pressure in the final third. Idrissa Gueye connected with a set piece on the right-hand side of the penalty area, but was only able to lash his effort wildly over the crossbar.
Nigerian midfielder Alex Iwobi was the next player to come close for Dyche’s side, striking a shot from distance that stung the palms of Leicester ‘keeper Daniel Iversen as the Toffees looked to turn possession into goals.
The electric atmosphere helped to get Leicester into gear. James Maddison – often the creative spark in the side this season – forced a smart save from Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford after neat interplay between Jamie Vardy and Harvey Barnes on the edge of the area.
It was the visitors though who would silence the crowd and earn a reward for their early pressure, as they gained an opportunity to open the scoring as the game hit the quarter-hour mark. It was Leicester’s own doing however – Timothy Castagne was penalised for a clumsy coming together with Everton front man Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
The England striker dusted himself off to strike his spot-kick firmly down the middle of the goal, for his first goal since October.
Leicester thought formed a response and struck back minutes later against the run of play. Youri Tielemans earned a corner with a rare foray into the Everton final third. Maddison’s pinpoint delivery from the resulting set piece picked out Wout Faes, who cushioned his header into the path of defensive partner Caglar Söyüncü – and the Turk drilled home past a despairing Pickford.
The goal gave Leicester confidence and saw them start to dominate the midfield proceedings. Ndidi was strong in the challenge before feeding playmaker Maddison, whose shot was palmed away well by Pickford.
Slow in possession, Everton were then punished as Leicester turned the game on its head to take the lead for the first time. Alex Iwobi clumsily gave the ball away to Tielemans, and the Belgian midfielder pounced to pick a well-measured pass. In doing so, he sent the pacy Vardy one-on-one with Pickford – and the forward showed neat composure to round Pickford and slot into an empty net.
Back came Everton though as the game became open and the Toffees come close to levelling the scoreline. Leicester’s Iversen was the hero once more, producing a vital save to deny Dwight McNeil who had struck a fierce shot from the left-hand side of the area.
McNeil then turned provider as Everton should have brought themselves level. The former Burnley midfielder’s excellent delivery from the byline picked out Calvert-Lewin, who was unmarked in the six-yard box. The striker though lacked composure and fluffed his first-time effort straight at Iversen.
Despite their vulnerabilities at the back, Leicester’s pacy offence was dangerous on the counterattack. The Foxes came close to doubling their advantage as Vardy turned Michael Keane inside out before smashing the crossbar with Pickford beaten.
After a long stoppage for a nasty-looking injury to the unfortunate Coleman, things nearly went from bad to worse for the visitors as Leicester were awarded a penalty deep into first half added time. Keane was punished for handball, presenting Maddison with the chance to score from the spot.
Leicester’s top scorer though was unable to beat England’s number one, with the goalkeeper guessing correctly to keep his side in the match in what was the last action of the half.
The visitors started the second half well, and struck back within minutes as the Foxes were punished for poor defending. McNeil’s long ball found Calvert-Lewin, before the ball was half cleared to the edge of the penalty area. Iwobi was the first to react though, and sent a neat volley past Iversen to level the scores.
In possession, the home side always looked dangerous in the Everton half – and they came close to restoring the lead. Maddison again linked up with Vardy, and the forward’s header beat Pickford but was neatly cleared off the line by James Tarkowski.
The game carried on its frantic pace as both sides pushed for a decisive third goal. Söyüncü’s slip was almost punished by Calvert-Lewin who found himself one-on-one, only to be denied by the onrushing Iversen who quick to react and smother the ball.
Iversen came to his side’s rescue yet again as Everton looked the better side in the final few minutes, producing a fine save to deny Iwobi a second of the night by tipping his dipping effort over the crossbar.
The spoils were shared on the night though as both teams settled for a point apiece. Leicester move out of the relegation zone to 16th place, while Everton remain in 19th – though they’ve reduced the gap to safety to one point.