Leicester City 2 Everton 2: Toffees see three points become one as late Wood leveler denies opening day win
Football fans are cursed to suffer emotional extremes – none more so it seems than Evertonians. Just as a below par pre-season was counter balanced by a very positive summer transfer window, news of what could be a serious knee injury to Ross Barkley cast a worrying shadow across the growing optimism going into the 2014/15 Premier League campaign.
There was then no great surprise as Leicester City substitute Chris Wood took advantage of the wide open spaces left by an unconvincing Everton defence to slide the ball passed Tim Howard and deny Roberto Martinez’s men a deserved opening day victory.
Ecstasy and agony are no strangers to the supporters of Everton Football Club. It’s the nature of the beast, however, to be denied a first opening day win since 2001 by conceding an 86th minute equalizer does not make this reality any easier to deal with.
Evertonians have become accustomed to the Blues controlling games for long periods of time and this one, played in front of a genuine Sky-generation-home-crowd was no exception.
The Toffees first-half domination, only sporadically undermined by the unnerving lack of ability of Jagielka, Distin and Tim Howard to deal with the 70-yard punts of Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel, was eventually rewarded on 20 minutes.
Aiden McGeady, who looks set to enthrall and frustrate Evertonians in equal measures, broke the deadlock as he fired a pin-point shot past mini-Schmeichel and five Leicester defenders to claim his first goal in an Everton shirt.
The joy however would be short lived. Anyone who had traveled to or had watched Everton’s final pre-season game versus SC Paderborn were, just as the Everton defence, once again about to be hit by one of the oldest footballing cliches.
It seems a team really is never so vulnerable as when they have just scored. Or perhaps the jittery, uncontrolled nature of Everton’s defending is to blame? No matter. Leicester’s first equalizer was a comedy of errors as a corner was allowed to land on the edge of the six-yard box and Sylvain Distin’s wild attempt at a right foot clearance reached no further than the feet of Leondardo Ulloa who fired past a helpless Tim Howard from seven yards.
Thankfully Ulloa’s goal didn’t cause a swing in momentum as Everton continued to dominate although the big Patagonian striker would go on to inexplicably cause both Jagielka and Distin problems all afternoon – seemingly by doing no more than his best impression of Denis Straqualursi.
As the first half wore on and with the Blues asserting their authority, particularly down the left flank with Baines and Pienaar at times linking up superbly, dominance was rewarded on the stroke of half-time with a sublime left-foot finish by Steven Naismith.
After another Baines/Pienaar combo had found the Scot unmarked in the Leicester box, Naismith finished the flowing move first-time via the underside of Schmeichel’s bar.
Despite the second half being a scruffy affair Everton remained largely in control although, with the players looking leggy and unable to test the Leicester defence in any meaningful manner, the longer the half wore on the more nervous Everton’s back line seemingly became.
The first shot-across-the-bows (or almost across the Kings Power Stadium car park) came when the excellently named and rapid German/Ghanaian Leicester substitute Jeff Schlupp exploited the space down Everton’s right and was left one-on-one with Tim Howard.
As the goal gaped Schlupp’s effort was fired wildly into orbit but it was a forewarning of things to come. And one left unheeded by an increasingly suspect looking Everton defence.
With the Toffees just minutes away from claiming their first opening day victory in 13 years, the inevitable happened as confusion on the edge of Everton’s box led to a lunging Jagielka tackle falling to the unmarked Chris Wood to tap in from 10 yards.
Everton huffed and puffed after Martinez brought on Kevin Mirallas but the Blues had been ultimately punished for not putting a game they had largely dominated out of the reach of a hard-working-but-very-ordinary Leicester City.
Martinez, his team and the supporters have to get this topsy-turvey week out of their systems as they prepare for the mouthwatering visits of Arsenal and Chelsea to Goodison Park.
Meanwhile Evertonians everywhere will have everything crossed as they await definitive news of the extent of Ross Barkley’s knee injury – and hope the Everton boss still has the finances at hand to strengthen his team before the end of the summer transfer window.
One certainty remains; there will be no shortage of ups and downs as the Evertonian roller-coaster rattles on regardless.