Everton 2 Foxes 1
Match report by Graham Tracey
Hopes of a morale boosting victory for everyone connected with Leicester were dashed by 6.15 on Merseyside as we slipped to a frustrating defeat in our post-resumption slump. While Chelsea’s later surprise loss at West Ham (which I didn’t watch due to being thoroughly fed up of footy by then) kept us in third place, the odds of us finishing in the top two places of the remaining 6 game mini-league with Chelsea, Man Utd and Wolves seem slim unless there is a dramatic change in momentum.
The FA Cup defeat had, as every year, hit me hard. I would much rather win the famous trophy for once than qualify for the Champions League – for me football is about winning things, and the thought of European matches behind closed doors at the KP, or glamorous away trips our fans can’t participate in, leaves me oddly cold.
However, I do not want this season to fizzle out into the biggest anti-climax since 1982 (one of my first so scarred on my memory), with the FA Cup semi-final defeat and then blowing promotion. Living outside the Midlands, I am unaffected by the lockdown, but understood from friends the gloom this has brought with it. I hoped we could raise spirits by returning to our autumn form.
There was only one change to Sunday’s line-up as we emerged from the Goodison portacabin – Albrighton replacing Perez. I would much rather have the purposeful ‘old school’ product of Albrighton rather than the flattering to deceive touches of the more technical Perez (based on his time with us to date). I can’t believe that the Mercury ratings described Albrighton as ‘as bad as he has ever been’ in the first half when he put cross after cross into the box.
The only problem was of course our lack of aerial prowess in open play and shortage of numbers to support Vardy. I’ve lost track of where Slimani is, but if his loan ended on 30th June could we not have got him back in the squad? Or even at some point resorted to playing a centre half up front like Walshy or Matt Eliot did so well when asked? Managers do seem to be wedded to current trends too rigidly.
Vardy’s heavy touch denied him a great chance early on when put through by Tielemans (who seems to play better when Maddison isn’t there – presumably a space / position thing). However, we were then dissected down our right and the youngster Gordon cut the ball back to Richarlison to bury it to open the scoring as he had at the KP in December. It was the sort of dynamic goal we were scoring before Christmas.
Conceding first post-resumption does not bode well, and the match decisively turned minutes later when Ndidi was penalised for handball when jumping for a free kick. The ref didn’t give it, but VAR did after literally 20+ replays taking 3 minutes. Even then, I couldn’t tell whether Ndidi’s elbow made the first contact, or whether Keane headed it onto the elbow. It was like watching an lbw shout with a possible faint inside edge. Way too many penalties are given for handball for me, matches shouldn’t be settled by their often random nature.
Moreover, VAR’s involvement summarises why fans rightly have complete contempt for the operators of it – it was clearly not a ‘clear and obvious case’. Ironically, Schmeichel could have extended his penalty saving heroics by just sitting down, as Sigurdsson gently rolled it down the middle.
2-0 in the first ever July league game in history was a mountain, and it was good to see Rodgers visibly angry and animated for once at the annoying drinks break (the time added on was less than the drinks time and VAR delay – what hope have we got when off-field officials can’t even start and stop watches accurately).
This did prompt a response and we dominated the rest of the half. I feel we benefit from a range of dead ball takers, rather than a Madders monopoly. The closest we came was when Pickford blocked Evans at close range, although it would probably have been overturned for offside.
We dominated the second half thanks to the impetus of the introduction of Iheanacho and Maddison. Both are able to receive and turn in one motion, and were willing to take on defenders. We were rewarded within minutes, with a scruffy goal rebounding in off the Nigerian.
Everton made tactical changes and were prepared to sit deep and try to counter-attack, which they didn’t really do and Schmeichel could have been furloughed for the rest of the game. Our hopes rose as Pickford began to wobble, letting a tame ball through his legs which had to be literally cleared from half-over the line, and then missing a cross which Iheanacho, off balance, couldn’t keep under the bar. For all his creativity, Maddison’s finishing was poor again, and another chance fell to Chilwell, who blazed over on the volley in contrast to his Watford screamer.
Unfortunately we seemed to become a bit unbalanced. Barnes had gone off at half time as he again struggled post-lockdown, but while Chilwell saw loads of the ball on the left, he didn’t have anyone to work with. We could have done with Gray coming on sooner on that flank as he could deliver the ball in on his right foot without having to beat anyone or reach the goal line.
This was the best we have played in the 4 games over the past 12 days, but we will have to wait to see if it acts as a catalyst now that the heat is fully on. Many players remain out of sorts so I am not overly confident. Vardy was involved more than in previous games but still sparingly and more as a provider. Iheanacho will have to start the next game I imagine. Praet will surely improve, and while Justin has done well for his first run of top flight action, his best game has remained when he was at left back against Villa. Probably like many, I have concluded that being second or third was in all honesty a false position for us, but this is no reason to throw in the towel.
LEICESTER: Schmeichel 5, Justin 5, Chilwell 6, Evans 7, Soyuncu 5, Albrigton 7, Ndidi 6, Praet 5, Tielemans 6, Barnes 4, Vardy 5. Subs: Iheanacho 8, Maddison 7, Gray 6, Perez 5
The views expressed in this report are the opinions of the Trust member nominated to file the report only and do not represent the views of the Foxes Trust organisation