Everton Under-23s went down to their first Premier League 2 defeat of the season after being undone by Leicester defender Josh Knight’s 36th-minute header at Southport’s Haig Avenue.
The young Blues struggled to impose themselves on the game before half-time but threw everything they had at rescuing something from the contest after the break.
Bassala Sambou came closest with a header that narrowly missed the target – but Leicester clung on, with goalscorer Knight capping a fine personal display with a brave block on substitute Jose Baxter’s penalty-box drive in the game’s final knockings.
Chances were in short supply at either end early in the piece.
Liam Walsh did well to track back and prevent George Thomas from meeting Alex Pascanu’s cutback in the opening minutes.
And Walsh was muscled out of the picture by hulking defender Darnell Jonson in the Foxes’ area after his adventurous run was picked out by Jonjoe Kenny’s perfectly-weighted through ball.
Harry Charsley then ended a slick midfield exchange of passes – also involving Walsh and forward Antony Evans – with a deep cross that would have landed on Sambou’s head but for some smart goalkeeping from Daniel Iverson.
It was Leicester, however, who hit their attacking straps first. Johnson applied his physical presence to make sure it was his head that met Hamza Choudhury’s mammoth throw from the right on the half hour, but the centre-half flicked his effort past the far post.
When the Foxes next had a chance to stick the ball in the box unchallenged, it ended up in the back of the net.
Callum Connolly impeded Josh Gordon on the Blues’ right, enabling Layton Ndukwu to whip in a deep inswinging free-kick. Knight snuck around the back of Everton’s rearguard undetected and stooped to plant his header past the helpless Louis Gray,
Gray saved bravely at Admiral Muskwe’s feet just before the break. Shortly after the restart it was Gray’s opposite number Iverson who was forced into action, the Dane plunging at his near-post to beat behind Anton Donkor’s cross shot.
Iverson had his eye in now, and was soon tipping over a swerving 25-year free-kick from Walsh. Shortly after, boss David Unsworth replaced Donkor and Antony Evans with Baxter and Gethin Jones.
And both substitutes were swiftly involved. Jones met Matty Foulds’ left wing-delivery with a smart knockdown for Baxter, whose acrobatic effort flew narrowly over the top.
That Everton still trailed by only one at this stage was thanks to Connolly’s tremendous recovery tackle on Gordon after the forward had been set free by Ndukwu’s slide-rule pass.
Sambou then thought he had levelled but saw his header land on the roof of the net after the striker beat Iverson to a terrific cross from Jones.
A similarly inviting delivery from Charsley somehow evaded ubiquitous pair Baxter and Jones, before Baxter’s strangled penalty appeals after he tumbled under a challenge from Thomas went unheeded.
Leicester reverted to a five-man defence as the game neared its conclusion and Everton poured forward. Two Jonjoe Kenny deliveries flashed across the box, while Morgan Feeney – on for Walsh – had his header on Foulds’s right-wing free-kick thumped clear from the line.
Thomas struck wide when well-placed at the end of a late Leicester counter – but Knight, fittingly, made the final decisive contribution from a Foxes’ player when he threw his body in the line of Baxter’s thundering last-ditch effort.