The 2016-17 season will not go down as the year of the Cup for Everton. Having reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup and League Cup last season, the Blues bowed out of both competitions in the third and fourth round respectively this time, elimination by Norwich in September compounded by Leicester’s come-from-behind victory at Goodison in the FA Cup.
Romelu Lukaku, exploiting a fine cameo by substitute Gerard Deulofeu, claimed the lead for Everton in the 63rd minute, but within three minutes last season’s Premier League winners had equalised via Ahmed Musa, and five minutes after that the Leicester substitute forced his way in again to land a hammer blow.
The perfect counterpunch on Boxing Day by Kevin Mirallas and Romelu Lukaku finishing off a powerful one-two had secured victory at the King Power Stadium when the teams encountered one another in the Premier League. Ronald Koeman made three changes to the team that defeated his former side, Southampton, on Monday at Goodison, with Enner Valencia, Gareth Barry and Mason Holgate taking the places of Aaron Lennon, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Idrissa Gana Gueye, who has travelled to Gabon for the Africa Cup of Nations, while the former two are injured.
“We take the FA Cup very seriously,” the manager had declared. “We will go for it. We fight for everything.”
The Blues were going for it early, too, with Lukaku reaching the byline on the right side of the penalty area and driving the ball low across the face of goal, Ross Barkley just failing to connect at the back post with Kasper Schmeichel rooted to the floor. Valencia’s energy and movement became a fulcrum for much of the attacking threat in the opening stages, with Leighton Baines surging forward on the left and combining with the Ecuadorian international to secure a corner kick as Leicester continued to be pegged back and pressurised.
On a swift counter move, Valencia charged through the midfield with Lukaku unmarked and on the march to his left, but the ball he played had too much on it and Schmeichel accelerated out of his goal to meet the danger head on at the edge of the penalty area and clear his lines. Holgate and Seamus Coleman were charging forward, too, on the opposite flank to Baines but one such recce resulted in a dangerous counter by the Foxes with Joel Robles having to come off his line to deny Demarai Gray space on the left at the expense of a corner.
Everton were getting plenty of width but the penetration was not quite as conspicuous and, with Leicester staying resolute at the heart of their defence, the odd opportunity was presented ominously to the vistors, such as when Marc Albrighton gained possession in midfield and suddenly it was two on two before Baines steamed back and stole in, with Ashley Williams having presented a formidable obstacle to the stealthy former Aston Villa winger. Leonardo Ulloa limped off in the 35th minute to be replaced by Nigerian international Ahmed Musa. Welsh international captain Williams tried to set up a coversion at the back post for Ramiro Funes Mori from Barkley’s corner kick but his glancing header again had just too much on it and the Argentine international fired well over with the ball failing to land in his path as he would have liked. It was a microcosm of the first half, threatening to ignite but not quite catching fire.
Lukaku spurned the best opportunity of the half three minutes before the interval. Valencia’s cross forced a scrambling Schmeichel to backpedal and tip the ball clear at the near post and the ball was just too high for the stretching Belgian striker to be able to direct his header on target. A Coleman pass to Lukaku some 10 yards outside the penalty area yielded another chance which he fired over the crossbar. With 62 per cent possession, the Toffees had enjoyed the best of the first half, firing in twice as many shots on goal but it remained goalless.
Gerard Deulofeu came on for Holgate at the start of the second half and the Spanish international’s first intervention, a cross from the right, almost yielded the breakthrough but the assistant referee’s flag went up for offside as Lukaku stole in at the near post. A short free-kick by Albrighton across the edge of the penalty area presented an opening to Danny Drinkwater but his shot cleared the crossbar. Barkley and Valencia combined on the left side of the penalty area and the South American’s shot resulted in pinball and a near escape by the visitors.
At the other end Baines put the block on an effort by Musa before Danny Simpson fired well over. Gray’s corner was met by Foxes skipper Wes Morgan and his header from six yards, directed low, tested the positioning and ball handling skills of Robles, who was up to the task. A cross from the right by Coleman was flicked on by Williams and Valencia, just before being substituted for Mirallas, failed to hit the target with a spectacular overhead kick.
Tom Davies was playing well again and, with Barry alongside him, Everton retained the lion’s share of possession. Then the substitution paid off. Deulofeu sped through on the right, raced in across the byline and centred the ball for an easy tap-in by Lukaku, their old partnership gloriously re-formed. But the glory did not last for long.
Two minutes after Everton had taken the lead Leicester equalised with Musa attacking from the left, sending in a cross for Gray whose initial effort at the near post was parried onto the post by Robles, before Gray and Musa followed up and the ball was bundled over the line despite the Spanish goalkeeper’s despairing attempt to steer the ball clear.
Mirallas forced a save out of Schmeichel at his near post with a shot from distance but Leicester went ahead when Musa powered through, executed a perfect one-two with Drinkwater and made no mistake with his shot fired at pace and low past Robles.
From having the tie in their hands, Everton were suddenly struggling to stay in the Cup.
Barkley came off for Arouna Kone, but there was to be no happy ending for the Blues despite the late effort to force an equaliser.