Everton took an enormous step towards extending the Club’s unbroken 68-year top-flight residence with a precious and fully merited victory at Leicester City.
Vitalii Mykolenko’s gorgeous sixth-minute strike, the Ukranian’s first goal for the Club, lit the fuse on a tremendous team performance.
The Evertonians who finished the afternoon as they began it, belting out their Spirit of the Blues anthem, greeted Mykolenko’s goal by celebrating with total abandon.
Leicester equalised soon after, Patson Daka escaping to convert from eight yards.
But Everton overcame that disappointment – and the loss of Yerry Mina to injury – to restore their advantage when Mason Holgate headed in on the rebound after half an hour.
Coming 24 hours after Burnley slipped to defeat by Aston Villa, and with Leeds United beaten at Arsenal on Sunday, this victory bumped Everton up two places to 16th in the Premier League standings.
They have a one-point advantage over both Burnley and Leeds and one more game to play than those two teams directly below them.
This counts as a huge victory, then, and the away fans who stayed in this stadium long after the final whistle, evidently sensed they’d witnessed a pivotal 90 minutes in their team’s Premier League survival fight.
There is still a job to do, beginning at Watford on Wednesday.
Play with this level of intensity and aggression and bravery, however, and Frank Lampard’s team will be just fine.
Both teams approached the opening 15 minutes of this match as if chasing stoppage-time equalisers.
The football was fast and open and competitive.
Any hopes Evertonians harboured over their side running into a Leicester City down in the dumps following a European semi-final defeat on Thursday were immediately extinguished.
The home team twice threatened before we reached five minutes – but the only place to begin a recap is the stunning goal from Mykolenko that sparked jubilant scenes in the corner of the ground packing in the noisy Evertonians.
Alex Iwobi gets the assist and deserves a mention for deftly evading Ayoze Perez’s hurried challenge and spearing a delivery across the fringe of the penalty area.
Mykolenko’s eyes were fixed on the ball for the duration of its journey. He met it flush on the instep, the sweet, technically outstanding strike, travelling across Kasper Schmeichel and arriving in the corner of the net.
Everton were grateful to Mina for keeping the game scoreless prior to Mykolenko’s breathtaking contribution.
Only two minutes had gone when Daka’s run was picked out by Kelechi Iheanacho, Daka dodged Jordan Pickford and slid the ball goalwards. Mina, however, had anticipated this sequence of events and was behind Pickford to divert the ball for a corner.
Iheanacho was next to get a run on Everton’s backline but, on this occasion, the reason for the forward’s clear run on goal following Jonny Evans’ pass became clear as the linesman’s flag shot up.
Pickford saved in any case. And the Everton keeper’s handling was assured when he gathered from in front of Daka after Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall turned in a low delivery from the left.
Events were unfolding at such a rate you could have been watching on *6 at home.
The 60 seconds of action from minute 11, when Abdoulaye Doucoure overpowered Youri Tielemans in centre field, were quicker still.
Tielemans gave up on catching Doucoure, who continued a run through the middle to receive a return pass from Demarai Gray, originally given the bird on his return to the club where he spent five years but afforded a very good ovation when he gave way to Salomon Rondon with 16 minutes remaining.
Doucoure forced the ball goalwards but was denied by Schmiechel, who didn’t seem to know a lot about the save but deserved credit for getting in the way of the shot regardless.
From contemplating a two-goal advantage, Everton were hauled back to 1-1 in the blink of an eye.
Iheanacho spun on halfway and lofted forward an innocuous looking ball. Mina and Coleman both went for it, however, leaving Daka a clear dart at goal. The Zambian striker made full capital on his opportunity, confidently finishing beyond Pickford.
Leicester were briefly in the ascendancy, Daniel Amartey epitomising the home team’s rising confidence with a long-range attempt that screamed over.
A wretched five minutes for Everton was capped when Mina made the universal sign indicating he couldn’t continue. When will the South American, exceptional against Chelsea last week, have any luck?
Michael Keane came on and immediately got up to the speed of the game.
And Everton promptly set about allaying any fears over a decisive momentum swing.
Leicester were frustrated by the away team’s solid structure and discipline and unable to generate the head of steam the locals expected.
The next chance of note came after 30 minutes, a wait that felt like an eternity in the context of what had gone before.
What’s more, it came for Everton – and they took it.
Gray swung over a corner from the right. Richarlison, a scorer on his past three visits to this stadium, powered a header that Schmiechel beat away to his right.
The home keeper didn’t receive any help from his teammates, though, Holgate first to react and head the rebound past Schmeichel and Perez on the line.
About 60 yards away, in the opposite half, Everton substitutes Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Allan and Jonjoe Kenny staged a mini-pitch invasion in celebration.
Holgate, meanwhile, was ecstatic, scoring away against Leicester for the second successive season.
Leicester continued to have most of the ball but consistently ran out of space and ideas in Everton’s defensive third.
Lampard’s side, you fancied, reckoned they could inflict further damage on Leicester via the counter-attack.
And after Tielemans’ optimistic attempt flew too high following the restart, Everton manufactured a presentable opening.
Gray left a pack of defensive bodies in his trail, eventually squeezing the ball infield for Richarlison. He fed Anthony Gordon, motoring down the right but shooting into the body of Evans.
Pickford, whose extraordinary saves against Chelsea last week were still being discussed in the Sunday morning papers, hadn’t been extended since that furious opening when we arrived at the 64th minute.
Three minutes later and he’d produced two blinding stops. The first was a leaping, one-handed effort to tip around a curler from Nampalys Mendy, replaced soon after by Jamie Vardy.
The second denied substitute Harvey Barnes, who swept a close-range volley on target following Daka’s header back across goal.
Barnes was out of luck again when he had a go from 25-odd yards but watched Pickford dive low to his left to touch the ball behind.
Richarlison was crowded out following Gordon’s surge and cut back as Everton sought a goal to kill the contest.
Barnes – and a share of the home supporters – thought he’d levelled when meeting Vardy’s delivery from the right.
The midfielder waited for the net to bulge but threw his hands to his head, as thousands of roars caught in throats, when the ball raced past Pickford’s right post.
The next outpouring of noise was prompted by referee Craig Pawson’s final whistle.
It was generated exclusively by this Club’s remarkable supporters, who were in no mood to go home, at odds with their repeated command to ‘Get your coat on and get moving’.
Spirit of the Blues
There is something special brewing at Everton, right now.
At the height of a relegation battle, the culmination of a season that hasn’t unfolded as hoped or anticipated, the bond between this team and it supporters has strengthened immeasurably.
The white-hot atmosphere outside and inside Goodison Park last week attracted plenty of praise and intention.
It led plenty of observers to wonder aloud just how fervent Evertonians would be should their side rejoin the competition for major honours.
That is for another day. On this one in the East Midlands, Everton’s travelling fans were magnificent, picking up where those who gave the team a rousing send-off from Finch Farm left off 24 hours ago.
The backing was vocal and sustained can’t have failed to inject Frank Lampard’s team with additional energy and belief.
Both goals were celebrated like cup final winners – but there was no let-up in the sound and ferocity following the set-back of Leicester’s equaliser.
Even a break for half-time didn’t quell the noise, Spirit of the Blues getting an enthusiastic airing until long after the players had disappeared inside.
Lampard spoke in his press conference on Friday of the onus falling on his team to firm up the connection between his team and the travelling supporters.
The players did their bit with a gutsy and obdurate and courageous away performance.
Indeed, in the circumstances and the context of the campaign, this was Everton’s best display on their travels this term.
The Evertonians, too, delivered an unrivalled effort.
Vitalli’s Magic Moment
We highlighted Vitalii Mykoleno’s increasing comfort and confidence in an Everton shirt following the blood-and-thunder victory over Chelsea seven days ago.
And there are no apologies for shining a light on the Ukranian defender, once more.
Mykolenko has visibly grown into an adhesive and disciplined Premier League defender since his introduction as a regular starter last month. There have been more regular sightings of the player’s attacking capacity over recent appearances, too, notably when shifted into a wing-back position for the Chelsea clash.
As this match entered its sixth minute, and Everton went forward with conviction for the first time, we were treated to a glimpse of Mykolenko’s technical excellence.
The cross from Alex Iwobi invited Mykolenko to take on the volley but the 22-year-old had to get an awful lot right to defeat Kasper Schmiechel.
Mykolenko nailed it, from the age-old demand of getting your knee over the ball, to gaining sufficient power and accuracy to beat Schmeichel’s full-length dive.
It was indicative of Mykolenko’s climbing belief that he took on the shot in the first place. Equally, the way his teammates raced to share the moment with him was illustrative of Mykolenko’s popularity in the dressing room.
Evertonians went big on their favourite tunes all afternoon – Spirit of the Blues and Goodison Gang – but there was room for a lusty rendition of the song informing its listeners of Mykolenko’s magical powers.
It was a fair claim after the former Dynamo Kyiv player left the majority of this stadium spellbound with his display of individual brilliance. The importance of the moment will be fully revealed in time.
But it felt big in Everton’s season and another vital step forwards for Mykolenko’s embryonic Goodison Park career.
It is testament to Mykolenko’s value to this Everton team that Frank Lampard will have everything crossed the issue that forced the player off early is a minor one.
Everton Reverse Unwanted Trends
Everton set about righting a few wrongs with this valuable win at Leicester City.
A barren eight-game run away from home was checked, for starters and, following last week’s success against Chelsea, this was only the second time this term Everton have recorded successive Premier League victories.
More important than any of that, Everton capitalised on their opportunity to escape the bottom three.
Burnley lost on Saturday, missing their chance to re-establish a five-point advantage over Frank Lampard's team. Everton cut that deficit by running Chelsea out of town 24 hours after Burnley staged a come-from-behind win at Watford last week.
The pressure this Sunday came in the form of knowing the prize for victory; a definite leap above Burnley and, it transpired, a chance to add Leeds to the teams below Everton in the table.
Lampard's side delivered a display more in keeping with a team aiming to extend a winning run on the road than one seeking an elusive away formula.
They resisted home pressure, defending with authority and organisation - save for the mix-up that led to Leicester's equaliser - and were again able to rely on Jordan Pickford when the backline was breached.
Everton attacked with zest and intent, never allowing Leicester to go forward without keeping the back door bolted.
In the middle of the pitch, the blend of Abdoulaye Docoure's energy and positive running and the knowhow of Fabian Delph worked every bit as effectively as at Goodison Park last time out, essentially answering Lampard's call to replictae home performances outside L4.
Everton bucked multiple recent trends and the Premier League table makes for a slightly easier read because of that.