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Venue: Goodison Park, Liverpool
Premier League
 Sunday 22 February 2015; 2:05pm
Everton 
2 2
 Leicester
 Naismith (57')
 Upson (og: 88')
Half Time: 0 - 0
Nugent (63')
Cambiasso (70') 
Attendance: 38,904
Fixture 26
Referee: Phil Dowd

Match Report

And still the struggle goes on... No matter how high the highs in Europe, Everton continue to falter on the home front where a season that many fans now just want to see the back of lurches from one frustration to the next.

Much like the game against QPR the last time the team registered a home in the Premier League the visit of bottom-placed Leicester City offered three points if the Blues could just get their act together in front of the Goodison crowd for long enough to see it through 90 minutes. Instead, Roberto Martinez's side needed an 88th-minute equaliser to salvage a mere point against a team that will in all likelihood be returning to the Championship come May, a result that ensures that the next time Everton kick off a Premier League match at home in mid-March it will be almost three months to the day since their last win in L4.

Though this 2-2 draw bore many of the familiar hallmarks of previous grinds at home this season, it was not the typical 90-minute exercise in Everton employing the same mind-numbing attempts to budge the immovable object of an entrenched defence. In some respects, Leicester's openness to attacking themselves afforded the Blues more opportunities going forward, but there was, at last, ingenuity and guile from Martinez's side at times and the creation of enough chances for Romelu Lukaku to have comfortably beaten the Foxes even with Tim Howard's latest calamaties at the other end.

Much of that owed to a revelatory performance off the bench from Darron Gibson, a player almost written off by Evertonians because of his seemingly endless injury problems, but even among the familiarly pedestrian approach play that characterised the first half there had been glimmers of a bit more dynamism in Everton going forward.

A couple of lovely balls down the channel from Ross Barkley that created crossing opportunities from the right, a deft backheel by Lukaku that just evaded Steven Naismith and some purposeful runs at pace from Aaron Lennon hinted at a potential breakthrough to come but the Blues managed to fashion just two clear chances in the first 45 minutes. Lukaku skied Seamus Coleman's cutback from the byline disappointingly over from about eight yards out and Barkley ballooned a similarly good chance into the Park End at the end of a quick counter-attack led by Lennon down the right.

For Leicester, Andrej Kramaric whipped a shot narrowly over and Jeff Schlupp had two chances to open the scoring but fired one too high and saw the other diverted over the crossbar by a brilliant lunging block from John Stones. Had the Ghanaian showed more composure when presented with his third chance early in the second half, things might have turned ugly inside Goodison earlier than they did but after Howard had pushed the ball straight to him, he fired wide of the target.

If Martinez deserves credit, it's for sensing the need for a change in short order after the break. He withdrew the increasingly nervy and hesitant Barkley again the subject of counter-productive groans from some of the crowd whenever he put a foot wrong and Muhamed Besic in favour of Gibson and Christian Atsu to add more attacking options to help break down Nigel Pearson's five-man defensive unit.

The decision to introduce Gibson appeared mystifying at the time but, by constantly looking for and often finding an early forward pass, the Irishman help transform what was becoming a textbook home Everton performance pedestrian (a word that finally made it into Martinez's post-match vocabulary), predictable and largely impotent into something altogether more dynamic and threatening.

Within three minutes of his arrival, Gibson had helped create the opening goal. Lukaku showed for his pass outside the opposition area and then determinedly held off his marker long enough to play in Naismith who screwed a right-foot shot through a defender's legs and inside the near post. 1-0, deadlock broken, a chance to now express ourselves and pad the scoreline.

The reality was very different. Pearson responded with a double-change of his own, throwing on Jamie Vardy and David Nugent, and within three minutes of their arrival, the Foxes were level. Wes Morgan clattered through Atsu as the winger tried to scamper away on the counter-attack leaving Vardy to advance down the Leicester right and then cross low towards Howard's near post. The American made an explicable mess of a routine situation, pushed it into the legs of Stones, and Nugent was on hand to tuck the loose ball home through Coleman's legs.

Worse was to come seven minutes later when Howard horribly mis-judged a deep cross and flapped the ball to Vardy who had time to lay it back into the path of Esteban Cambiasso to knock it in from fairly close range. From a position of strength and potential dominance, the Blues were left chasing the game thanks to two glaring errors by the goalkeeper and a familiar inability to stop the cross.

In between, had Everton resumed their offensive and put together one the best moves of match when Lukaku played a one-two with the improving Atsu and the Ghana international picked out the Belgian's run into the box via a lovely flick around the last defender by James McCarthy. Unfortunately, Lukaku curled a right-foot shot just over the bar with just Mark Schwarzer to beat.

And it was Lukaku in the right place at the right time a minute after Leicester had gone ahead to latch onto another excellent first-time pass from Naismith to split the visiting defence but the striker made an awful connection and couldn't steer his shot on target.

The Blues' desperate attempts to get back on terms initially failed when Atsu popped up in the box but couldn't get a shot away off a bouncing ball and Leighton Baines' shot-cum-cross skidded through and then narrowly wide off Lukaku's out-stretched foot with just four minutes left.

But they eventually levelled with less than three minutes left on the clock when Atsu, looking more useful when floating over to the left flank than when previously deployed on the right, pinged an excellent cross into the middle, Lukaku lunged to meet it and glanced it into Matthew Upson's head which sent it past Schwarzer. 2-2 and anger in the stadium was now tempered by a measure of relief.

After Kevin Mirallas had been belatedly introduced with only five minutes to make an impact, Everton pushed for a late winner and Lukaku, looking more purposeful with his head lately, powered a header goalwards that was blocked by Roberto Huth off a corner. But a flurry of Leicester set-pieces at the other end would run the clock down leaving the Blues frustrated with a fifth-successive home draw. From the high spirits and optimism generated by last Thursday's win in Bern to the cold reality of another failure to kick on on the domestic front...

If there was a belief one I held, for what it's worth that the success in Switzerland would indeed prove to be some kind of watershed for the team, it proved to be ill-founded, at least in terms of the result and Martinez's stubborn insistence on playing the same formation against the more compact defences of the Premier League.

Once more, he started with Barkley and Naismith in their supposedly interchanging roles behind Lukaku at the expense of genuine balance in a formation that, with two anchoring defensive midfielders, is supposed to afford license to the fullbacks to raid forward but only Coleman has the ability to do so because Baines, who was bafflingly poor, lacks a natural link-man like Leon Osman or Steven Pienaar on the other side. Last season, the Gareth Barry-McCarthy axis was the foundation of a top-five side; now, against the wrong opposition, it appears at times to be a millstone around Everton's neck and before today it didn't look like Martinez was seeing it.

The manager's decision to withdraw Besic, who had been typically competent but couldn't offer a play-making outlet going forward, and introduce the more offensively-minded Gibson proved to be a prescient move and one that reaped immediate dividends. If he can stay fit, Goodison's forgotten man could become a very important figure in the run-in.

It was a substition that might ordinarily have won the game but one of Martinez's other pig-headed decisions came back to haunt him when he was let down badly by Howard. Dropping an in-form Joel Robles who was growing in confidence and had kept three clean sheets was both poor man-management and, simply, a bad decision. Since returning, Howard has conceded four goals in three matches and arguably been at fault for three of them. There is a growing clamour to drop the American now and give the Spaniard a proper run in the side but Martinez's ill-advised defence of Howard after the game suggests that's unlikely.

Even without goalkeeping farce at one end, Everton could have won had Lukaku kept his shooting boots from the win over Young Boys. The knives are out again for the 21 year-old for failing to score even one of three great chances and it's unfortunate that everything fell to his supposedly weaker right foot. What matters more, though, is that he was in the right place at the right time almost every time to be on the end of those chances and it's unlikely he will have many more similarly off-days.

Buried beneath the out-pouring of discontent and the post-mortem of another goalkeeping horror-show by a player in danger of permanently tarnishing his Everton legacy, were some encouraging signs indications, however small, that the manager is prepared to bend from his rigid ethos with earlier substitutions if things aren't going to plan (although leaving arguably our best player this term on the bench for 85 minutes smacks of deeper issues). Problems of morale and confidence in the man between the sticks clearly remain. That has served to prolong the feeling that Fortress Goodison has turned to Cauldron Goodison, with a poisonous atmosphere intensifying the fear and the psychological barrier among the players when things are going against us.

Just one remaining away game against a team legitimiately challenging for the top four the trip to Arsenal next weekend 12 points needed to reach the 40-point threshold, and at least three teams likely to be worse than us in the run-in means that relegation shouldn't be a real issue. But then we shouldn't be anywhere near the drop zone at this stage of the season in the first place.

How Martinez manages those final games and how the team performs will largely dictate how confident supporters feel about his tenure as Everton manager over the long term. We need greater signs of progress, squad harmony whither Mirallas? mental fortitude, man-management and flexibility and imagination from the manager. Until then, the forces lining up against him will continue to grow in number and voice.

Lyndon Lloyd

Match Summary

Roberto Martinez made three changes from the team that started against Young Boys, with Leighton Baines, Aaron Lennon and Muhamed Besic coming in for Bryan Oviedo, Kevin Mirallas and the suspended Gareth Barry.

A nervy start to a helter-skelter early period of maddening turnovers was hearlded by Everton's first touch after Leicester kicked off, Naismith intercepting but immediately giving the ball away, and a string more exchanges leading to a corner for the Foxes after Howard turned a low shot behind. Howard claimed it well.

It didn't get much better until Everton broke with Barkley passing to Lennon who went on a great forward run but his cross was really poor under the circumstances with Barkley and Lukaku waiting for it. Baines then clipped a ball in for Lukaku to head but it had too much curl and pace for the big man to control.

After the poor opening 15 mins, Everton were starting to take more control of the game, with a little more care going into their passes. After better possession, Besic tried a low shot that did not trouble Schwarzer in the Leicester goal.

Barkley picked out Lukaku who was wide right, looking along the back line, with no excuse for being offside, as is his way. Huth then got called for a very soft nudge on Lukaku , Barkley placing the ball with great care only to lash the free-kick well over the bar. Morgan was first in Dowd's book for a coming together with Naismith, but the sideways kick was met with groans from crowd.

Coleman did get to the line and pulled it back on a plate for Lukaku who casually sidefooted a glorious opportunity over the bar... dreadful miss put down to a slight bounce before the str. Kramaric then got a dangerous shot in at the other end that flew inches over Howard's bar.

Another great counter saw Barkley play a superb pass for Lennon to chase, and this time his cross was right to Lukaku's feet but his horrible first touch was effectively a tackle by the defender, the ball setting up for Barkley who skied it shockingly high.

After getting into the Everton area, Schlupp showed good control but fired just over, worsening the mood of an increasingly ugly crowd who were generally unimpressed with what they were seeing against the Premier League's bottom club.

The mood worsened as Leicester pressed forward in the final 5 mins of a poor first half, Stones flinging himself to block a dangerous shot on goal.

The visitors almost went ahead after the break, James forcing Howard to parry the ball out to where Schlupp would surely fire home but somehow he contrived to screw his shot beyond the far post, a tremendous let-off.

Martinez must have been less than impressed with the restart, readying two changes inside 5 mins, but Gibson and Atsu had to wait, freezing on the Goodison touchline as Leicester pressed and won a corner. Barkley and Besic finally gave way.

The changes seemed to do the trick, Naismith obliging as Lukaku battled through to set him up for a weak shot that dribbled in at the near post, and finally gave the Blues fans something to sing about.

But two changes for Leicester minutes later paid massively for Leicester as Nugent got behind Baines and crossed low, Howard unable to hold it and Vardy was there to prod home off Gibson.

At the other end, the ball came through nicely for Lukaku, at his feet, all the time in the world, and he scooped it a foot over the bar with the goal at his mercy. But at least the goals had raised the tempo, if not the quality of play on show.

That was until Howard typically flapped at a cross, Vardy, crossing it back for Cambiasso to smash it home. Unbelievable. Lukaku got another fantastic chance, all by himself, but chose to hit the ball at the top of its bounce... and the result was horrible beyond measure.

Gibson did well to pick out Coleman but he delayed the cross, winning a corner that Schwarzer claimed. Lennon tried to show some pace but his cross was to no-one. Everton started playing forward with more drive and desire into the final 15 minutes, but it was summed up by a horrible cross-shot from Atsu that nearly hit the corner flag.

A great clip from Naismith should have seen Atsu shoot but he could not get his foot around the ball and a handsome chance went for a corner that Baines overhit. Stones put in an excellent tackle as Mirallas replaced Naismith for the last 5 mins.

Make that FOUR incredible chances for Lukaku, who needed to put more effort behind a lovely ball played/shot through right onto his foot. It looked like Lukaku finally scored with a brilliant diving header but he missed that as well, the ball flying in off Upson's head a foot behind him.

Leicester had a couple of chances as they pressed hard for a winner in the last few minutes. Lukaku then had a great header, straight at a defender, while Leicester won a corner later into added time that was thankfully overhit.

It ended amidst another chorus of boos from some of the Goodison crowd, a game that was different task from Europe, with exception of the number of chances set up for Lukaku, who could not even take credit for the equalizer.

Michael Kenrick

 

Match Preview

Buoyed by their handsome win in Switzerland, Everton return to the business of the Premier League hoping to carry their impressive European form to the domestic front when they face Leicester City on Sunday.

The Blues put four past Young Boys in the Stade de Suisse on Thursday evening, with Romelu Lukaku becoming the first Everton player to score a hat-trick way from home since Nick Barmby's three goals at West Ham in April 2000, and will now be hoping their exploits on Continent leave less of a hangover and provide more of a shot in the arm to their League form.

Just two wins in their last 12 games have left Everton rooted in the wrong half of the table but the visit to Goodison Park of the bottom club offers an opportunity to start building the kind of momentum needed to bridge the yawning gap between their current 12th-place berth and the European qualification places.

While he was likely to make changes to the starting XI regardless, injuries and Gareth Barry's will force Roberto Martinez's hand this weekend. Barry picked up a red card in the defeat at Chelsea and will serve a one-match suspension, paving the way for Muhamed Besic to return to the starting XI after watching the win in Bern from the bench.

Despite taking a knock that left him prone in the centre circle as Everton counter-attacked to score their fourth goal, James McCarthy suffered no ill effects from the Young Boys game but Bryan Oviedo felt a tweak in his hamstring and probably won't be risked.

Leighton Baines will be assessed for his fitness after missing the last three games through injury but Luke Garbutt will be a willing and able replacement after coming on as a substitute for the last half an hour on Thursday and almost laying on a fourth goal for Lukaku with his first real involvement.

Elsewhere in the side, Steven Naismith took a couple of knocks that may affect Martinez's thinking when it comes to the forward line while Aaron Lennon is back in contention after being cup-tied on Thursday and Arouna Kone should also return to the squad. Aiden McGeady is almost certain to be ruled out as he recovers from bruising to his knee while Tony Hibbert, Leon Osman and Steven Pienaar are all continuing their recoveries from their respective injuries.

Bottom the pile they may be, but Leicester will come to Merseyside full of fight if their last League outing at the Emirates is any indication. The Foxes ran the Gunners very close in a narrow 2-1 defeat and pushed Arsene Wenger's side offenisively to the last minute, with new signing Andrej Kramaric grabbing his first goal.

They're fighting for their top-flight survival and will be no pushovers but the fact that they have the third-worst goal difference in the division and have only won four times all season (twice on the road) means that there will be plenty of weaknesses for the Blues to exploit.

Nigel Pearson will likely be without Chris Wood, the man who grabbed the late equaliser the last time these two sides met back in August, and Kasper Schmeichel but Roberto Huth is available again after being cup-tied for the FA Cup last weekend.

Much will depend on whether Martinez can coax some of the tempo, urgency and guile that was on display against Young Boys to the Premier League where defences tend to lie deeper and play more in a more compact fashion.

And with six goals in his last games in all competitions, Lukaku is demonstrating that he will score goals if the service is there.

* Unfortunately, we cannot control other sites' content policies and therefore cannot guarantee that links to external reports will remain active.

Match Preview
Match Summary
Match Report
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2014-15 Reports Index
< Y'ng Boys (A) Y'ng Boys (H) >
EVERTON (4-5-1)
  Howard
  Coleman
  Stones
  Jagielka
  Baines
  Besic (Atsu 55')
  McCarthy
  Lennon
  Barkley (Gibson 55')
  Naismith (Mirallas 85')
  Lukaku
  Subs not used
  Robles
  Kone
  Garbutt
  Alcaraz
  Unavailable
  Hibbert (injured)
  McGeady (injured)
  Oviedo (injured)
  Osman (unfit)
  Pienaar (unfit)
  Barry (suspended)
  Long (loan)
  McAleny (loan)
  Pennington (loan)
LEICESTER (4-4-2)
  Schwarzer
  Simpson
  Morgan
  Huth
  Upson
  Konchesky
  Mahrez (Nugent 62')
  James
  Cambiasso (King 87')
  Schlupp (Vardy 62')
  Kramaric
  Subs not used
  Drinkwater
  Hamer
  Ulloa
  Wasilewski

Premier League Scores
Saturday
Aston Villa 1-2 Stoke City
Chelsea 1-1 Burnley
C Palace 1-2 Arsenal
Hull City 2-1 QPR
Man City 5-0 Newcastle
Sunderland 0-0 West Brom
Swansea 2-1 Man United
Sunday
Everton 2-2 Leicester
So'hampton 0-2 Liverpool
Tottenham 2-2 West Ham


Team Pts
1 Chelsea 60
2 Man City 55
3 Arsenal 48
4 Man United 47
5 Southampton 46
6 Liverpool 45
7 Tottenham 44
8 West Ham 39
9 Swansea City 37
10 Stoke City 36
11 Newcastle 32
12 Everton 28
13 Crystal Palace 27
14 West Brom 27
15 Hull City 26
16 Sunderland 25
17 QPR 22
18 Burnley 22
19 Aston Villa 22
20 Leicester City 18

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