Everton went down to a single-goal defeat in their opening game of 2019, with Jamie Vardy’s 58th-minute goal banking all three points for Leicester City.
Vardy latched onto Ricardo Pereira’s pass to shoot low into the net and hand his side an unlikely advantage after Everton had fashioned the game’s better openings.
Jonjoe Kenny rattled the woodwork in the first half. And there were chances after Vardy’s goal for Richarlison and Cenk Tosun as the Blues enjoyed large passages of possession without being able to force the equaliser.
Everton came closest to forging a first-half lead through the unlikely source of Kenny.
The right-back – playing his first Premier League football for three months – advanced upfield as play developed down the left, Richarlison feeding the overlapping Lucas Digne.
Digne’s delivery evaded any number of bodies in Leicester’s penalty area, progressing to the far post where Kenny met it with a rising shot which slammed against the frame of goal where post joins crossbar.
Kenny’s cross from the right soon after was headed past the near post by Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
Clear openings, however, were at a premium during 45 minutes in which neither side was especially fluent in possession. Indeed, the first time Everton had stitched together a sequence of passes it ended with the game’s opening effort on goal.
Andre Gomes robbed Rachid Ghezzal on 11 minutes and fed Richarlison, who quickly shifted play on to Gylfi Sigurdsson. He fed Digne, scuttling forwards but saw his attempt thunder into defender Harry Maguire.
Richarlison’s strike 60 seconds later met with a similar fate. Maguire’s slack pass from defence went directly to Sigurdsson. The midfielder, back in the starting XI after being rested at Brighton three days ago, swept the ball to Richarlison on the left of the penalty area. His right-footed strike was planted into the frame of Maguire’s fellow Foxes centre-half Jonny Evans.
For Leicester, Vardy hit wildly over from distance, while the forward was only denied a clear run at goal when last man Idrissa Gana Gueye was perfectly positioned to intercept a through ball from Ghezzal.
Kurt Zouma tried his luck from 30 yards on 34 minutes but the defender’s effort was too high to bother Kasper Schmeichel.
Pereira, playing on Leicester’s left flank, represented arguably his side’s most reliable outlet during the opening half.
The Portuguese got no change from Michael Keane, however, when the Everton man blocked Pereira’s route into the penalty box following a run from deep in his own half.
Centre-back Keane had proved a similarly impenetrable barrier for the onrushing Vardy early in the piece.
When Vardy did manage to escape 13 minutes after the interval, his finish was unerring.
Keane’s lapse allowed Pereira to pounce and turn forward a first-time pass for the England striker.
He used his first touch to nudge the ball out of Zouma’s reach. With his second, he swiped it across Jordan Pickford and inside the goalkeeper’s left post.
Everton’s first attempt at a reply saw Sigurdsson strike over after Theo Walcott had knocked down Gomes’ lofted ball into the box.
Leicester’s defensive wall repelled a Digne free-kick after Richarlison was impeded by Hamza Choudhury.
Bernard, by now, was on for Gomes. He was joined by Turkish centre-forward Tosun with 20 minutes remaining, Walcott the player replaced.
A neat move down the right ended with the sliding Richarlison’s shot being deflected behind following Bernard’s cut back.
And Richarlison was frustrated again seconds later. Sigurdsson’s right-wing corner dropped in the box, with the Brazilian first to react but unable to force his low drive through a crowd of bodies.
Everton were starting to generate some momentum. Tosun was first to Evans’ loose header and stung the palms of Leicester goalkeeper Schmeichel from 18 yards, Evans then compounding his error by upending Richarlison, who had fastened onto the rebound. Sigurdsson’s free-kick, though, crashed against a head in the Leicester wall.
Everton were progressively committing more bodies to attack, with the inevitable consequence of being vulnerable on the counter.
Zouma stretched out a leg to prevent Vardy streaking onto Ben Chilwell’s pass from deep. And Chilwell progressed 40 yards to hit a low effort comfortably gathered by Pickford.
Back came Everton. Bernard jinked past Chilwell and sent in a teasing low cross which was hacked away by Maguire. And with the match entering stoppage time, Schmeichel spread himself to repel a close-range header from Tosun.
Gutsy Kenny On The Pulse
There was a return to Everton’s team for Jonjoe Kenny following a three-month absence.
Kenny’s previous outing was in the game at Leicester City back in October – his fourth successive appearance – when he was typically tenacious in a 2-1 win.
“A typical Scouse full-back”, is Jamie Carragher’s take on Kenny. Carragher’s verdict is intended as a compliment in every respect, alluding to the 21-year-old’s bite in the tackle and indefatigable commitment to the team’s cause.
There is an implied reference to Kenny’s character in there, too, and the manner in which the player got straight back about his business without missing a beat here was testament to how he applied himself during his time out of the team.
Kenny generated the first Goodson Park roar of the afternoon when he thundered into a challenge on Ricardo Pereira, the sound of impact of man on ball echoing pleasingly around the stadium.
He had already forcefully and fairly relieved Rachid Ghezzal of possession by this stage.
There is much more to Kenny than fizz and aggression, though. A graduate of Everton’s Academy, the defender meets the criteria required to feature in a Marco Silva team.
Kenny is polished on the ball and adventurous down his right flank. He was high up the pitch to connect with a delivery from fellow full-back Lucas Digne and slam a strike against the angle of post and bar on 19 minutes.
Not much more than five minutes later, Kenny swung a precise cross onto the head of fellow England Under-21 international Dominic Calvert-Lewin, the striker’s effort flashing past the near post.
Between times, Kenny hared back 40 yards or so to recover possession for his team, leaving the exasperated Ben Chilwell flinging up his hands in despair.
Indeed, it is a measure of Kenny’s quality that he did not suffer in any way by comparison with Chilwell, the Leicester City player who is currently first pick at left-back for England.
The raw appreciation for Kenny’s meaty challenge on Pereira was replaced by gasps of admiration when he cushioned a dropping ball in the shadow of the Main Stand shortly before the break. Kenny’s subsequent one-two with Theo Walcott to extricate himself from a tight spot was just as impressive.
Kenny unquestionably has the confidence of his teammates, too. It was possible to gauge just how much his colleagues trust him when Andre Gomes spun in the centre circle early in the second half and drilled a ball to the right without so much as a glance. He knew Kenny would be stationed in the right place to receive the forward pass.
Kenny’s gutsy display merits mention on a tough afternoon for his team.