Everton inflicted Leicester's first defeat for the year and registered a first win in 2018 of their own thanks to a brace by Theo Walcott.
The Blues' new £20m signing scored twice in the first half as Everton sparked into life following another lacklustre opening but profligacy by Oumar Niasse in front of goal at one end and a rash lapse by Wayne Rooney at the other combined to leave Sam Allardyce's side hanging on in the closing stages.
Niasse missed a sitter and then squandered a gilt-edged chance to make it 3-0 either side of Walcott's second but it was the penalty that Rooney conceded with 20 minutes to go that condemned the hitherto bouyant Goodison crowd to a nail-biting finale in which the Foxes twice struck the woodwork and had a shot cleared off the line.
Though Walcott grabbed the limelight with the all-important goals, the evening belonged to Seamus Coleman who made a triumphant return from a shattered broken leg 10 months ago to put in a stellar 90-minute performance.
Allardyce made six alterations to the starting XI that started against West Bromwich Albion 10 days ago, dropping his other new signing, Cenk Tosun, to the bench in favour of Niasse, going against his stated opinion that Wayne Rooney and Gylfi Sigurdsson can't play in the same team by selecting them both in midfield, reinstating Tom Davies and Michael Keane, and handing Coleman a place despite the Irishman having only played 58 minutes for the Under-23s.
The changes appeared to have little effect on the performance in the early stages, however, with Everton lacking in both cohesion and direction and overly reliant on high and direct balls aimed at Niasse up front. They managed a rare shot on target early on when Walcott forced Kasper Schmeichel to push a bouncing shot wide but the tale of the first quarter of the contest was one of the home side's weakness defending set-pieces.
Harry Maguire lost Cuco Martina as a corner from the Leicester left was swung in but the Foxes' defender put a free header over the bar while Wilfred Ndidi came within inches of converting from a short corner routine but saw his header come back off the crossbar.
Everton began to settle, however, and when Martina pressured Ben Chilwell and the ball broke to Sigurdsson wide on the right, the Icelandic international cut it back to meet the run of Walcott who tucked a first-time shot inside the post to make it 1-0 with 24 minutes gone.
Niasse should have doubled the lead 12 minutes later, though. Sigurdsson popped up near the byline on the right-hand flank again after good work by Walcott and when his low centre was cleared by Daniel Amartey straight to Niasse, the striker had most of the goal to aim at but he shanked embarrassingly wide.
Walcott led the way again just two minutes later. Keane contested for Rooney's flighted ball into the box and his looping header fell invitingly for the former Arsenal forward who volleyed it back across Schmeichel and into the far corner.
2-0, the Blues were flying and when Leicester botched the subsequent restart, Niasse pounced on the loose ball but was let down by a heavy touch that carried it through to the goalkeeper when a one-on-one showdown would otherwise have been on with the Senegalese player in the clear.
Unfortunately, Everton's momentum did not carry through to the second half which became a much more even affair, even if the Blues, with Coleman, Davies and Walcott dangerous on the counter-attack, were still carrying the greater attacking threat.
Indeed, while his early touches betrayed a bit of rust, Coleman quickly settled back in like he had never been out and seemed to exhibit more intelligence and creativity than before his injury. He teased a number of crafty balls over the head of the fullback in front of him to open up chances, one of which Walcott dragged across goal on the hour mark in search of his hat-trick.
10 minutes later, the Irish skipper raced down the right on the overlap with another fitness-defying raid to collect Walcott's pass but his cross was too close to Schmeichel.
Though definitely in what was often a physical game played in soaking wet conditions, Leicester had largely struggled to make inroads into Everton's defence, with Keane and Jagielka forming a solid partnership at the back. No doubt hampered by the absence of Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy had been non-existent as a threat for 70 minutes but he was gifted the chance to affect the game by Rooney.
The veteran was seen by referee Chris Kavanagh to have pulled Ndidi back in the box and Vardy sent Jordan Pickford the wrong way from the resulting spot kick to cut Everton's lead in half.
That triggered the inevitably nervy conclusion as the home side threatened to fall to pieces under renewed pressure from the visitors. They were saved by the woodwork in the 77th minute, however, as substitute Kalechi Iheanacho watched a deflected effort bounce off the bar before he rapped the rebound off the post.
Two minutes after that, Everton's back line threatened to buckle again when Chilwell's cross skidded through to Matty James but his shot was hacked out of the goalmouth to safety by Martina. And Pickford then flapped badly at successive crosses towards his six-yard box but escaped when Vardy curled well wide of his goal.
Allardyce turned belatedly to his bench with 10 minutes left to withdraw the increasingly ragged Rooney in favour of Morgan Schneiderlin and Sigurdsson for Dominic Calvert-Lewin. And it was the young striker's presence that prompted Schmeichel into miscuing a punch of his own straight to Walcott but his shot from 25 yards was blocked on the line.
The resulting corner was swung right under Schmeichel's bar and his first clear again lacked distance but Keane spurned the chance to put the game to bed with a disappointing header. And Coleman missed a chance to cap a brilliant personal display with a goal in stoppage time but he opted to shoot with his right foot instead of his left and drove well wide after he had cut in from the flank.
Everton were able to see the game out, however, to collect three vital points that move them eight points clear of the relegation zone and just three wins shy of the 40-point mark that usually guarantees safety.
Refreshed from a 10-day hiatus enforced by their early exit from the FA Cup, Everton were back in action under the lights to face resurgent Leicester City at Goodison Park.
Seamus Coleman made his return to first-team action as he was handed a start against The Foxes. Having played an hour for the Under-23s in their Premier League Cup tie against Portsmouth last week, Sam Allardyce has seen enough to put him straight into his starting line-up.
Coleman has missed the past 10 months after breaking his leg against Wales playing for Republic of Ireland back in March 2017. He replaced Jonjoe Kenny, who dropped to the bench, one of six changes made by Blues boss Allardyce.
Tom Davies returned to the starting line-up which featured supersub Niasse up-front with Rooney and Sigurdsson on the field together again. Schneiderlin, Williams, Bolasie, and new signing Cenk Tosun, all joined Kenny on the bench as Allardyce continued to search for a winning formation. Holgate not involved.
No Riyad Mahrez for the visitors, with massive transfer attention from Man City supposedly 'unsettling' the Foxes star.
After a massive roar for Seamus, the game kicked off with the requisite hoof, turnover, Leicester attack, defensive scramble, poor clearance, corner, headed over.
Walcott tested Schmeichel with a nice ground shot forcing a corner that was cleared. Leicester forced another corner and Ndidi managed to hit the bar! An incredible let-off for the Blues, showing their all-too accustomed-incompetence in defence.
It was horrible scrappy sloppy formless nonsense football from Everton, which should be no surprise as that also is what we have sadly become accustomed to as the new 'normal'. Walcott caught himself trying to tackle.
Everton won a corner with some attacking play, Walcott and Coleman combining well, but nothing from the corner. Coleman was showing some real vitality in winning another corner.
But from a Foxes corner, Everton broke with speed and Walcott converted off a fine ball from Sigurdsson, with Martina playing a critical part in the build-up to dispossess a defender.
The goal completely changed the complexion of the game, with Rooney starting to control the midfield. Niasse got barged off an aerial ball but not really a penalty call. Walcott was in the wars, needing attention after trying in vain to play himself into space.
Kenny was sent to warm up after 35 minutes, Coleman showing signs of strain on his right side. Davies looked to beat Ndidi and was fouled, setting up a deep set-piece for Sigurdsson to deliver. He then set up Niasse in the follow-up and a dreadful miss, his shot skinning the outside of the post from 7 yards and the goal gaping.
A hopeful re-feed by Rooney found Keane who set it up nicely for Walcott running around the defence to fire home from a narrow angle for his second of the night, a splendid determined first-time finish.
Niasse did brilliantly to dispossess Maguire and gallop forward only to overplay a golden chance to make it three. Everton very much in control and probing forward with intent as the half drew to a close. But a Rooney giveaway to Vardy had hearts in mouths.
Another free-kick set-piece for Sigurdsson, this one on the left, where he was fouled. This one curled in dangerously and some good goalmouth scrambling ensued, Rooney unable to reach the bouncing ball.
Leicester City won a late corner that was repelled before the break.
No changes as hostilities resumed, with The Foxes making the early running. A sweeping move from the back, Walcott to Rooney to Niasse showed promise.
Walcott almost created a third, beating two men, but with Sigurdsson and Niasse unable to connect as Schmeichel intervened. Better forward play was spoilt when the ball would come back to Gana and be played backwards until Davies tried to play in Walcott with a lovely chip forward.
Walcott was caught by James, Sigurdsson swinging in another set-piece that Schmeichel batted away, Jagielka's cross back in a little wayward. Coleman had a great run from the back, playing in Niasse, and winning a corner, delivered by Sigurdsson all the way through to Niasse but he fumbled it after Rooney had missed it.
Walcott looked to shoot but almost played in Niasse at the back post as Everton looked for a third goal. The game lost impetus somewhat until Walcott and Coleman surged forward but Niasse could not convert, with Cenk Tosun no doubt watching these chances created rather jealously.
Out of nothing, Rooney was penalized for holding an attacker, penalty converted by Vardy. This gave The Foxes a new lease of life and they attacked with new-found persistence, with a quarter of the game left in the pouring rain.
More nervy play saw Rooney give up a corner that caused absolute chaos in the Everton box, Leicester hitting the woodwork twice more! Pickford doing well to deny Iheanacho space and time to finish.
The next attack came all the way through to James but somehow he could not convert a golden chance, Everton really rocking on their heels giving Goodison a collective heart-attack. Time for some changes: Rooney and Sigurdsson off; Schneiderlin and Calvert-Lewin on with less than 10 mins left.
Maguire fouled Walcott, Davies unable to create anything from the set-piece. Schmeichel came out and was left stranded but Walcott's shot was cleared of the line, Keane coming close from the corner, beaten by Schmeichel.
Coleman got a chance to run in at Schmeichel but screwed his game-winning shot well wide. Williams replaced Niasse in an attempt to hold the lead for the last few minutes.
Albrighton dived in on Davies from behind, earning a yellow card but the Everton free-kick was poor. Another free kick, and a yellow card for Ndidi before the end as the clock wound down to a very precious if ultimately nervy Everton win.
A late corner for Leicester was totally messed up and Coleman scampered forward but could not shoot or find Calvert-Lewin. Everton held on to win a vital 3 points.
Scorers: Walcott (25', 39'); Vardy (pen:76')
Everton: Pickford, Coleman, Keane, Jagielka, Martina, Gueye, Davies, Walcott, Rooney (81' Schneiderlin), Sigurdsson (81' Calvert-Lewin), Niasse (88' Williams).
Subs not Used: Robles, Bolasie, Tosun, Kenny.
Leicester City: Schmeichel, Amartey (75' Fuchs), Dragovic, Maguire, Chilwell,
Ndidi [Y:92], James, Gray (75' Iheanacho), Okazaki (58' Diabate), Albrighton [Y:90'], Vardy.
Subs not Used: Hamer, Adrien Silva, Iborra, Benalouane.
Referee: Chris Kavanagh.
In the middle of a sluggish week, I couldn’t get out of work quick enough come 5.30pm and was grateful for the lift to the game from Gaz. We picked up Dan and Ste on the way, congregating in the pub on what promised to be a chilly old night at Goodison Park. It was good fun in the pub, as we put the world to rights on all things wrong with deadline day and modern football.
The team news surprised us all with Seamus Coleman beginning at right back following 10 months out with his horrific injury. Though we all felt it was too soon a return, we were all delighted to see the Irishman back in the team. Elsewhere Oumar Niasse, also surprisingly, began alone up front, with Wayne Rooney playing in midfield alongside Idrissa Gueye and Tom Davies seemingly the link between midfield and attack. With three right banks in the squad, I was disappointed not to see Luke Garbutt not included in the XI.
As we headed on towards Goodison Park in the cold, Dan broke the news that Ademola Lookman had been loaned out to Red Bull Leipzig for the remainder of the season. Safe to say nobody saw that one coming. Also safe to say that nobody was impressed with this.
Attentions were soon drawn towards the pitch and we were soon wondering how long a night this might be as we started sluggishly as ever and the alarm bells were really ringing when Wilfred Ndidi hit the crossbar with his header from a corner kick. We really needed to get going and other than a speculative Theo Walcott effort that was well saved by Kasper Schmeichel.
Off the pitch, at this stage, I was disappointed in the Everton stewards who removed one or two supporters for standing. Where we are situated in the Lower Gwladys we are just on the cusp of a section where people tend to stand. Stand or sit, I take it or leave it. If people ahead of me stand, I’ll get up on my feet, sit down ahead of me, and I’ll also sit. It’s been like that for some time where we are placed, so I was surprised to see the stewards take this action now, especially as the end result was everyone standing up anyway in some sort of protest.
After a poor start we began to get into our stride, get up the pitch and get into the opposition a little bit more. As happens, and its a wonder Big Sam hasn’t enforced this intensity so far, if the team get into the opposition, the crowd react and get behind the team. It’s a two way thing and now, for sudden, the crowd and team seemed as one, and until the 71st minute at least, it felt there was no looking back. From defending a corner kick Cuco Martina broke forward down his favoured right side. I forget how, but the ball was won back off Ben Chilwell by Cuco, and he fed the supporting Gylfi Sigurdsson who looked up and fed Theo Walcott who had made a good run at the back post and finished well. Everton ahead and huge relief all round.
We really took the game to Leicester City from here and Oumar Niasse will have been the most relieved man in the stadium when Theo Walcott volleyed in his second goal, given he had just missed a golden opportunity to double our money when he thrashed wide from six yards out. Thankfully we didn’t stay at just 1-0 for long, but had Oumar not have touched the ball so far ahead of himself when he robbed Harry Maguire from the restart, 2-0 could easily well have become 3-0. Still, come the break, we had to be pleased. We had a two goal lead and had grown into the game.
Up until Jamie Vardy’s penalty at least, the second half was as well as we have played this season and when Leicester City got their penalty they were barely in the game. It’s a shame we couldn’t convert our dominance into another goal, but when Wayne Rooney apparently fouled Wilfred Ndidi in the penalty area, and Vardy converted, you just knew this was going to be a nailbitter from here on in. Even the weather then changed to even fiercer winds and hail.
Though very entertaining, it was as nervy as it gets, none more so than when substitute Kelechi Iheanacho twice hit the woodwork in quick succession following a needlessly conceded corner from Rooney. Sam Allardyce’s substitutions bought us some time but the heart attack threat continued. Cuco Martina cleared one away inside his six yard box which looked goalbound from the Gwladys Street at least, and Jordan Pickford dealt with the incoming crosses. At the other end Seamus Coleman, almost as if he hadn’t been out injured for so long, kept getting himself forward, and Theo Walcott had one cleared not far from the goal by Aleksandar Dragovic.
Eventually we were able to see the game out and claim a vital, and ultimately deserved three points. Though we were up against it in the final 20 minutes, for the best part of an hour of this game we were the better team. It’s a relief to win again, particularly with Saturday’s trip to the Emirates.
I may just have dried off by then. At full time, for some reason as we normally hang around for a little while at least, we shot off quickly, only to wait on the island for Dan to make his way down from the Top Balcony. We all got soaked right through.
You laugh these things off when you win.
Pickford: Helpless with the goal but dealt with the rest competently. 6
Martina: Did very well and will keep on giving his all as long as he has to play there. He had a big hand in our first goal and seemed to grow in confidence with that, and also made some important defensive contributions throughout. Did well. 7
Jagielka: He and Michael Keane at the back at least offer two calm heads and he helped lead us through the game, particularly when under intense pressure in the closing stages. A good effort. 7
Keane: I thought he was impressive, and feel there is a lot more to come from Michael Keane. 7
Coleman: What a contribution from Seamus. Over the years I’ve seen several players come back from a long-term injury and none have come back as impressively as Seamus. It was as if he’d never been away. Mikel Artera, Phil Jagielka, Yakubu and more recently Yannick Bolasie to name a few off the top of my head, have returned and needed plenty of games to get rid of that rustiness, but you have to be very impressed with Seamus, and he really showed what we’ve been missing. We could be on to a great partnership there between he and Theo Walcott as well. Well done Seamus. You’ve got to be proud of the lad. 8
Gueye: Quietly effective. Chipped in with a lot of tackles and kept things ticking over nicely. Had a good game. 7Rooney: Very Jekyll & Hyde. On the one hand he’s the brightest player out there, and sees things that others don’t. On the other, he does plenty of misplaced passes, somehow gave away a penalty and gave away an insane corner kick which so nearly lead to a Leicester City equaliser. Still we’re better with him in the team than without. 6
Sigurdsson: A good contribution for our first goal but like last week, he started well then faded badly in the second half. 5
Walcott: He’s made a much quicker impact than I expected and offers excellent discipline with his tracking of players and does a good honest job for the team. That aside, his contribution in the final third so far has been terrific. Two goals and an assist in two games. If he can keep up this form, and build a partnerhsip with Seamus, we will all be happy. Well done Theo. A great start. My man of the match. 8
Davies: Worked hard. I’m still mystified on how a young player completing his first full season can get so much grief from some of the guys near me but what can you do? The lad tries hard and is learning all the time. A good effort. 6
Niasse: Should have scored at least one of his two opportunities but he spurned them both. Regardless, he put in quite the shift and gave them something to worry about throughout. If I was to rate him on effort alone, he’d be 10 out of 10. 6
Schneiderlin (for Rooney): Got stuck in. 6
Calvert-Lewin (for Sigurdsson): We were all a bit surprised as we thought this would be a straight swap for Niasse, but he made enough of a nuisance of himself on the wing. 6
Williams (for Niasse): Not on long, can’t judge.
Hopefully refreshed from a 10-day hiatus enforced by their early exit from the FA Cup, Everton are back in action under the lights to face resurgent Leicester City at Goodison Park.
The Blues will kick off in 9th place, five points above the relegation zone and just a point above West Ham United, the team that were second from bottom of the Premier League back in November when Sam Allardyce left his seat in the Goodison Park Directors' Box having witnessed his new team trounce the Hammers 4-0.
Since then, while Allardyce initially built on that victory with three wins out of his first four games in charge, Everton haven't won a game in any competition and the cushion they had established between themselves and the teams fighting it out at the bottom below them has eroded away.
It means that this meeting with Leicester has taken on added importance, particularly in view of what was another limp display last time out against West Bromwich Albion. That fortunate 1-1 draw extended the team's winless run since 18th December to seven matches, a sequence in which Everton scored just three times.
The Foxes will pose stern opposition, though. In a significant measure of trouble themselves around the time Ronald Koeman was sacked at Everton, Leicester have undergone a more enduring turnaround in their fortunes since they dismissed Craig Shakespeare for a run of form that had left them sitting in the bottom three.
Shakespeare will be in the stands at Goodison for this one, of course, with an ear-piece and microphone acting as Allardyce's eyes from a higher elevation but since his departure, Claud Puel has inspired a remarkable recovery in Leicester's fortunes. They have risen to seventh place in the table, six points better off than Everton, thanks to an unbeaten start to 2018.
They will be missing their biggest creative force, however, in the form of Riyad Mahrez who rocked the Midlands club yesterday by handing in a transfer request, presumably to force a deadline-day move to Manchester City.
The Algerian star has been withdrawn from the matchday squad that will travel to Goodison and that will at least alleviate fears among Evertonians for Cuco Martina, the Blues' makeshift left-back who is likely to start again despite Luke Garbutt's anticipated inclusion in the squad.
They still have the in-form Jamie Vardy, though, and players like Shinji Okazaki who provide pace and running that could be employed to unsettle an Everton defence that has looked very vulnerable in recent weeks.
Allardyce's rearguard could be bolstered, however, by the long-awaited return of Seamus Coleman. The Irishman will be on the team sheet for the first time since last March following his recovery from a broken leg but it remains to be seen whether he is deemed fit enough to start after just an hour's worth of action for the Under-23s under his belt.
As far as the rest of the defence is concerned, things could be very much in the air. None of Mason Holgate, Phil Jagielka or Ashley Williams have looked particularly strong recently and Allardyce might feel compelled to throw Michael Keane back into the line-up now that he has recovered from his latest foot injury, even if that will do nothing for continuity in a key area of the pitch.
James McCarthy's own leg fracture will enforce a change in midfield where Idrissa Gueye is likely to start with Beni Baningime and Tom Davies (the 19-year-old was apparently for the last two games) providing cover on the bench and then there's the question of who starts out of Wayne Rooney and Gylfi Sigurdsson. Rooney came off the bench against West Brom to good effect and that could get him the nod this time.
Leicester came to Goodison on a five-game winning streak last season and were put to the sword in an entertaining game that ended 4-2 to the Blues. A similar scoring spree is unlikely given Everton's shot-shy and toothless demeanour these days but it would provide a huge sense of relief of they could grind out another victory and bring the 40-point target that bit closer.
Kick-off: 7:45pm, Wednesday 31st January, 2018
Referee: Chris Kavanagh
Last Time: Everton 4 - 2 Leicester City
Predicted Line-up: Pickford, Coleman, Keane, Jagielka, Martina, Gueye, Schneiderlin, Rooney, Bolasie, Walcott, Tosun