Jamie Vardy was in no hurry to leave the pitch. He shuffled slowly to the sidelines after being substituted, shaking hands with his team-mates before turning to applaud Leicester’s exultant fans.
2019 had started in the best possible manner for Vardy, with a goal and a summersault for good measure, so who could blame for wanting to savour the moment? All around Goodison Park, however, Evertonians were in a hurry, darting for the exits after another wretched day.
Vardy’s seventh goal of the season had proved decisive and completed what has been a hugely successful Christmas period for Claude Puel, who has masterminded wins over Chelsea and Manchester City to go with this flattening of Everton.
Jamie Vardy produced a clinical finish in the second half to earn a smash-and-grab victory for Leicester at Goodison Park
The Leicester forward celebrated his goal with an acrobatic kart wheel and flip in front of the travelling supporters
Harry Maguire somehow blazed over the bar from close but it wouldn’t have counted as the offside flag had been raised
Everton came closest to breaking the deadlock in the first half with Jonjoe Kenny rattling the bar with a powerful effort
MATCH FACTS, LIVE LEAGUE TABLE AND MATCH ZONE
Everton (4-2-3-1): Pickford 5: Kenny 6, Keane 5, Zouma 5, Digne 5: Gueye 6, Gomes 6 (Bernard 62mins 6): Walcott 4 (Tosun 70mins 5), Sigurdsson 6, Richarlison 5: Calvert-Lewin 5
Subs not used: Stekelenburg (GK), Baines, Mina, Coleman, Davies
Booked: Gomes, Digne, Tosun
Manager: Marco Silva 5
Leicester (4-3-3): Schmeichel 6: Simpson 6, Maguire 7, Evans 7, Chilwell 7: Mendy 6, Choudhury 6, Ndidi 7: Pereira 7, Vardy 8, Ghezzal 6
Subs not used: Ward (GK), Soyuncu, Gray, Maddison, Albrighton, Okazaki, Fuchs
Scorers: Vardy (58)
Manager: Claude Puel 7
Referee: Martin Atkinson 7
Man-of-the-Match: Jamie Vardy
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Ricardo Pereira pounced on a mistake from Michael Keane to play in Jamie Vardy to slot into the opposite corner to hand Leicester a big win. CLICK HERE to see more from Sportsmail’s brilliant MATCH ZONE feature.
For Marco Silva, though, the picture could not have been more miserable. Everton were abject, lifeless and toothless, and they look a far cry from the team that was threatening to bustle up the top six at the end of November. Vardy had ensured what they deserved – nothing.
‘I’ve had that in the locker for a while and saved it for a special occasion,’ said Vardy, referring to the gymnastics he displayed after scoring. ‘What better occasion – a new year, a new me! It’s been a great Christmas, now we need to push on and get the points to keep us where we are in the table.’
Leicester were everything that Everton were not; determined and resolute, organised but, most of all, confident. If they can find consistency in the less high-profile fixtures, there is no reason to think they cannot qualify for Europe. Puel may get derided but he is certainly a competent manager.
Puel arrived with a game plan and he lured Everton into his trap, a low defensive block frustrating the life out of the home side. It contributed to a woeful game in the opening 45 minutes, as bad as anything you will see, but the onus was on Silva and his players to make something happen.
Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford gets his wires crossed and spills a cross but manages to get away with it
Jonny Evans gets onto a loose ball inside the penalty area but can’t get enough purchase on the ball to trouble Pickford
Leicester midfielder Pereira tries to acrobatically tries to hook the ball back into the danger area amid pressure from Kenny
Kasper Schmeichel makes a good decision to come sprinting off his line and relieve the pressure with a solid punch clear
There were only two notable moments before referee Martin Atkinson mercifully called time, both of which were provided by Jonjoe Kenny, the young right-back who had been recalled at the expense of Seamus Coleman.
He did his best to make an impression; first he cracked a drive from the edge of the area against the bar in the 18th minute, after a cutback from Lucas Digne had evaded everyone, then followed up by whipping a cross into Dominic Calvert-Lewin but the England Under-21 striker headed wide.
That was as good as it got. Leicester had not shown little attacking ambition but the situation was about to change and there was a noticeable improvement in their urgency in the second period, characterised by Puel literally bouncing with impatience.
‘We cannot play fantastic football in this busy period and I am happy to come here with this squad and this fantastic mentality,’ said Puel. ‘If we look at the season, the first half, we finished seventh in the table, it is not bad with all the problems we have had. It is important to find a good consistency.’
Puel remains a manager under pressure but he could not have done more to galvanise Leicester here and in the 58th minute, Leicester got their reward. A long clearance by Kasper Schmeichel was mis-controlled by both Theo Walcott and Michael Keane, with the ball bouncing to Ricardo Pereira.
The Leicester goalkeeper comes rushing off his line to beat Gylfi Sigurdsson to the ball with a little help from Danny Simpson
Everton defender Kurt Zouma jumps the highest to win the aerial battle in Leicester’s penalty area but can’t find the target
Hamza Choudhury roughs up Richarlison and concedes a free-kick for a body check on the Everton forward
Theo Walcott tries to control the ball in a congested penalty area as Nampalys Mendy challenges for the ball with a high foot
Everton defender Kenny tracks back and puts in a crunching tackle on Periera to dispossess the Leicester midfielder
Everton goalkeeper Pickford dishes out instructions to the players in front of him during the first half at Goodison Park
Suddenly, danger loomed and Pereira’s quick pass invited Vardy to take on the labouring Kurt Zouma. The former England striker zipped past Zouma before drilling a left-foot shot that raced beyond Jordan Pickford.
‘Ricky’s seen me straight away and his one touch slid me through,’ said Vardy. ‘I’d tried that a few times in the game but Ricky has been excellent all season and it was a great assist. You can’t have any doubts as a striker. You want to score all the time but I am making the right runs.’
You suspected there and then that the game had been decided. The Goodison crowd was in one of those irascible, tetchy moods that are not conducive to trigger comebacks and the onus was firmly on Silva and his players to come up with the right answer. Not once did they threaten to achieve it.
‘A poor performance,’ said Silva. ‘We have to play better than this. We were anxious and nervous. To be here, you have to show the capacity to deal with this normal pressure. We are playing a lot of games in a row with no times to rest but that is not an excuse when you miss some simple things.’
Other than a couple of crosses that were drilled into Leicester’s penalty area and a hopeful shout for a penalty, Everton puffed and spluttered like a broken down steam train. Leicester, by contrast, grew in confidence and played with intelligence.
At the final whistle, those Evertonians who had bothered to stay booed in frustration. For Vardy, Puel and Company, it must have been music to their ears.
Richarlison cleverly gets his body in front of the ball and goes down to win a free-kick in a decent position for Everton
Dominic Calvert-Lewin (left) and Richarlison (middle) compete with Leicester’s Harry Maguire (right) for the ball in air
Everton’s Idrissa Gueye breaks up the play by stopping Leicester midfielder Pereira from advancing with the ball
The two opposing managers Marco Silva and Claude Puel shake hands and embrace each other before kick-off