Wednesday 21 February 2018

Mahrez double strike seals Foxes' festive number one

Everton 2 Leicester City 3

Leicester's Jamie Vardy competes for possession with Everton's Gareth Barry. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters
Leicester's Jamie Vardy competes for possession with Everton's Gareth Barry. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters
Leicester's Shinji Okazaki tries to make the tackle against Everton's Seamus Coleman. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters
Leicester's Christian Fuchs celebrates with Marc Albrighton after the game. Photo: Craig Brough/Action Images via Reuters

Andy Hunter

Willie Thorne sported the biggest smile in the executive seats at Goodison Park as Leicester City sank another blue to secure top spot in the Premier League at Christmas.

Fresh from signalling the end of Jose Mourinho's second coming at Chelsea on Monday, Claudio Ranieri orchestrated a more impressive victory at Everton that showed, however the campaign finishes, the festive league leaders will not be dislodged easily. Leicester opened up a five-point lead at the summit thanks to two penalties from Riyad Mahrez and a clinical finish from Shinji Okazaki.

Everton fought to the end and Thorne's old snooker rival John Parrott was among the home fans decrying the outcome on the final whistle, but this felt a significant day for both managers. Roberto MartInez's designs on Champions League qualification are fading fast while Ranieri has gathering momentum.

Five of the last six Christmas Day leaders have won the Premier League and this was the kind of result that Mourinho craved in his title-winning pomp at Chelsea, a hard-fought away win on a cold, wet day in the north-west that will reverberate throughout England.

MartInez had identified throw-ins from the left as a key part of Leicester's armoury in his pre-match press conference but his players failed to heed their manager's warning. Christian Fuchs' throw was flicked into the penalty area by Jamie Vardy and should have prompted a routine clearance from Ramiro Funes Mori. Instead, the Argentina international attempted to shepherd the header out of play but succeeded only in hauling Shinji Okazaki to the ground as the Leicester forward chased down the loose ball.

The referee Jon Moss correctly pointed to the spot and Mahrez converted a confident penalty under Tim Howard's right hand for his 12th league goal of the season.

The away section was still chanting "We're gonna win the league" when Everton hit back with the equaliser. Arouna KonE and Lukaku turned a Gerrard Deulofeu cross into Tom Cleverley inside the area, the midfielder slipped a fine pass to Ross Barkley whose low shot was saved by the legs of Kasper Schmeichel.

Barkley had a second go from the rebound but Andy King blocked on the line only for the ball to drop to Lukaku, who swept home his 13th league goal of the season from close range.

Mahrez was back on level terms with the Belgium international, and Leicester back in front, 20 minutes into the second half. The game developed into a far more open, end-to-end affair that suited the visitors immediately from the restart. Everton, their midfield exposed and the defence unprotected, failed to react.

Vardy curled inches wide from one break down the Leicester left and Leighton Baines was forced to make a vital tackle on Okasaki inside the area from another. The pressure continued to build on Everton's goal and the visitors retook the lead from their second penalty of the game when Mahrez slipped Vardy in behind the home defence and the striker was sent sprawling by Howard having nicked the ball beyond him. The Algeria international converted into the opposite corner, sending Howard the wrong way, for league goal number 13.

Leicester's third arrived four minutes later from an Everton throw-in. Marc Albrighton charged down SEamus Coleman's attempted clearance, with what appeared his hand, the ball broke to Vardy who squared across the penalty area for Okazaki to finish in style.

The Everton substitute Kevin Mirallas gave the home crowd hope with a clinical finish in the 89th minute but Leicester fought for everything and Leonardo Ulloa should have made the game safe before the finale. Leicester are marching on.


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