After an indifferent pre-season on the pitch but an excellent one off, Everton began their second season under the guidance of Roberto Martinez at the King Power Stadium, home of Premier League new boys Leicester City.
Liam Knight reports from the Kings Power Stadium
Toffees Fall Foul Of Foxes In Opening Day Draw
The Blues started with John Stones at right back, with the influential Seamus Coleman on the bench in light of an injury blighted re season. Meanwhile, Steven Naismith operated off record signing Romelu Lukaku, who made his first permanent Everton appearance, like Gareth Barry, after successful loan spells last season.
The hosts meanwhile afforded a debut to their own record signing Leonardo Ulloua, but missed the services of key midfielder Matty James just as the Blues missed Ross Barkley.
The visitor edged the opening exchanges with the possession based play, which was often lauded last season, being deployed. Indeed, an early highlight was Leighton Baines’ breath-taking cross field ball to Aiden McGeady , which made a mockery of the home fans rather tedious taunts of “You let your country down.”
Despite this, chances were few and far between in the early exchanges, with the home side backed by a loud sell-out crowd. Ulloa nearly capitalised on an undercooked back header by Phil Jagielka to Tim Howard, whist Kasper Schmeichel dealt easily with a pea-roller from McGeady.
That said, the Blues were looking ominous down the left, with Steven Pienaar and Baines resuming the almost telepathic link play which has been highlighted over the years.
Indeed, the first goal came down the Everton left, but via Irish wide man McGeady. A cleared corner, which Everton were fortunate to be awarded, fell to Baines who lashed a 35 yard shot into a crowded box. The ball fell to Sylvian Distin, who was denied by the Leicester keeper who made himself big very much in the mould of his legendary father.
He got up quickly and made himself big again as the ball fell to McGeady on the left of the box. However, despite this and the presence of several defenders, the Irishman whipped a sumptuous strike into the top right hand corner off the woodwork, sending the following support into raptures. 1-0.
However, the visitors were pegged back almost immediately by the resilient hosts. A corner from the Leicester left caused chaos in the Everton box. Although shaky throughout, Distin was unlucky see his clearance bounce off Ulloua who thrashed home the bouncing ball to send the Foxes faithful into delirium. 1-1.
The visitors were shorn of key man Danny Drinkwater through injury in the first half, with seasoned campaigner Dean Hammond coming on in his stead. Although once level Everton dominated, particularly down the left, the likes of Anthony Knockaert looked very dangerous on the break without creating much.
On the other hand, the visitors managed to fashion some openings, with Richie De Laet being tormented by Baines and Pienaar down the home side’s right. Despite this, chances were spawned, with McGeady lashing over following a flowing move and seeing another effort block, whilst Steven Naismith had a goal disallowed and saw a shot from outside the area creep wide.
And it would be the aforementioned Naismith who put the visitors in the lead on the stroke of half time. More neat interplay down the left between Baines and Pienaar resulted in the South African schemer smuggling the ball to Naismith as he fell, with the Scottish attacker lashing home a left footed effort via the bar to give the visitors a 2-1 lead at half time.
After a dominant first half, there was quite a dip from the Blues in the second. Although still maintaining the lion’s share of possession, they were harried a bit more after the break by the hosts. Meanwhile, the neat play down the left which dominated the first half was stifled by the energy of the hosts, with Hammond in particular affording De Laet more protection.
Buoyed by obtaining a foothold in the game, Leicester were also encouraged by a fantastic home support. Indeed, Nigel Pearson showed attacking intent by bringing on the pacey Jeffrey Schlupp, who posed sever problems to the Blues when he came on.
However, when clean through on goal he messed up his lines, with an effort so high and wide it may well have ended up in the Foxes old Filbert Street stomping ground.
Despite an improvement from the hosts, Everton looked comfortable without posing much danger. Bereft of service and marshalled brilliantly by Wes Morgan and Liam Moore, Lukaku’s most notable moments included a handball by the impressive Moore stopping the Belgian from getting through on goal, whilst a neat back heel only narrowly failed to create an opening.
On the other hand, Gareth Barry was fortunate still to be on the pitch after a soft booking was followed by a near identical foul late on in the second half. This came after his partner in crime James McCarthy survived an injury scare during yet another energetic display.
With only a slender lead, the home side gambled by brining on Kiwi forward Chris Wood, who had been mooted to leave in recent weeks. Meanwhile, Everton brought on Kevin Mirallas and then Seamus Coleman as they switched to 3 at the back, with John Stones becoming the extra centre half.
Before the Blues could adjust to the system change they were pegged back with 5 minutes to go. An excellent tackle in the box bounced kindly for the unmarked Wood who had acres of space. That said, the forward remained composed and lashed an emphatic finish into Tim Howard’s bottom left.
Pandemonium ensued for the home fans, with Kasabian blurring and a man dressed as a giant fox added in to the mix for good measure for the agitated travelling fans. 2-2.
After this, Everton showed more urgency than their hosts and then they had in the second half. Mirallas tried a heroic shot from distance which was blocked, whilst his cheeky effort direct from a corner found only the side netting.
He also fed Naismith for a glorious opportunity which was sniffed out by the imperious Moore as the Blues were held to a draw come full time.
Although the Blues were frustrating with a Jekyll and Hyde performance, on the balance a draw was probably a fair result. The hosts were delighted with their point and the resilience shown by them, particularly in the second half, will serve them well in the top flight.
However, on the evidence of their first half performance, there are foundations for Everton to build on in order to have another strong campaign.
Full Time: Leicester City 2-2 Everton