Everton 0 Leicester City 1: Vardy strikes in NYD scrap
Jamie Vardy punished a tired Everton performance as Leicester City won 1-0 at Goodison Park on New Year's Day.
The Premier League looked set to make a sleepy start to 2019, with both sides stuttering until Leicester pounced on a Michael Keane error and the previously anonymous Vardy struck.
Everton and Leicester have each struggled with inconsistency in recent weeks - contrasting lofty highs with harrowing lows - and this was another tough day for the Toffees, who scarcely looked like responding to the 58th-minute setback.
Marco Silva and Claude Puel will likely welcome the opportunity to rest key men in the FA Cup this weekend after a gruelling festive period, but Everton have work to do if they are to join seventh-placed Leicester in a challenge for a top-six place.
Both sides laboured early on, with several passes going astray, but Jonjoe Kenny almost netted the opener after 19 minutes as a thunderous drive struck the apex of post and crossbar.
Some rugged Leicester defending continued to prevent Everton from building any real momentum heading into half-time and the two teams were instead limited to speculative efforts from distance.
The breakthrough goal predictably followed a defensive error shortly before the hour mark as Keane's sloppy touch gifted the ball to Ricardo Pereira, who slipped in Vardy for a clinical left-footed finish.
Jordan Pickford, criticised for high-profile mistakes in December, almost gifted Leicester a second with a near-post fumble, before Harry Maguire volleyed over at close range, and the visitors cruised through the closing stages.
What does it mean? Leicester bounce back
For Everton, a big win against Burnley was followed by a dour defeat at Brighton and Hove Albion. Leicester beat Manchester City and then lost at home to Cardiff City. But it was the Foxes who found a way to get back on track as 2019 began, encouraging belief that they can move away from the Toffees and challenge sixth-placed Manchester United in the coming months.
Foxes forward proves his worth
Jamie Vardy has acknowledged in recent weeks that Leicester's style of play under Claude Puel is not necessarily suited to his skillset, but he showed just what he can do on Merseyside. The former England striker touched the ball just eight times in the opening half an hour - less than any other player - yet he made no mistake when his chance eventually arrived.
22 - Jamie Vardy has scored 22 Premier League goals for Leicester City under Claude Puel - double the number of any other Foxes player in that time. Somersaults. pic.twitter.com/ZScIJUMiTd— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 1, 2019
Keane sums up sloppiness
Former Burnley defender Keane was not the first man to make an error in this poor game, but his mistake proved costly. Keane stepped out of defence to meet a long ball, leaving Vardy unmarked, and when he then failed to bring the ball under his control and teed up Pereira's pass, the result was inevitable.
Both clubs face lower-league opposition in the FA Cup third round this weekend, with Everton hosting Lincoln City on Saturday before Leicester travel to Newport County the following day.