It felt somewhat fitting that Jordan Pickford reached for a poker analogy after this frenetic, see-sawing and at times ludicrous 101 minutes.
Pickford revealed his first-half penalty save from James Maddison, to prevent Leicester racing into a 3-1 lead against Everton on the verge of half-time, was the fruit of a double bluff with mind games at play from 12 yards. The stakes are only about to get higher.
The good news for these teams is that both showed they are very much alive in what is an agonising fight for Premier League survival. The bad news? These players – and their supporters – face another four weeks of unspeakable torment, twists and turns. This point means Leicester’s fate – just about – remains in their hands. Leicester, Leeds and Nottingham Forest are locked on 30 points. Everton stay 19th, a point behind that trio.
A few minutes before the interval, the Everton captain Séamus Coleman was carried off on a stretcher by ambulance staff with a serious knee injury. If the players were exhausted, the fans had also been put through the wringer.
Daniel Iversen was surely the man of the match, the Leicester goalkeeper making a string of fantastic stops, the best of which he saved until last when he palmed Abdoulaye Doucouré’s stinging drive to safety with his right hand with three minutes of normal time to play. The ball was goal-bound. “I thought the same,” Iversen said, with a wry smile.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s second goal of the season earned Everton an early lead but from there this match descended into chaos and, occasionally, farce. Maddison failed to score from the spot to give Leicester the luxury of a two-goal buffer after goals by Soyuncu and Vardy turned the tables.
Maddison screwed his penalty straight at Pickford’s midriff after Michael Keane handled Harvey Barnes’s cross. “I do my homework,” Pickford said. “I think he expects me to dive so I’ve double bluffed him and got one up on him. That’s what I’m there to do, to help the team out.”
Everton had to regroup after Coleman was injured after an innocuous collision with the Leicester midfielder Boubakary Soumaré and replaced by Nathan Patterson.
That did not stop Coleman from geeing up his teammates as he departed the field. “The medics have had a look at it and it doesn’t look great,” said the Everton manager, Sean Dyche. “We’ll hope for the very best for him.”
Nine minutes after the break Everton were level courtesy of a first-time strike by Iwobi. So amateurish was the defending in parts, it was hard to escape the feeling that neither team deserved to walk off the pitch victorious and in the end, after four fraught minutes of second-half stoppage time, they had to settle for a point that does not exactly do any wonders for either side.
“There were times when I felt it was two points lost and times when I felt it was a point gained,” said the Leicester manager, Dean Smith. “It became a bit of a basketball game.”
If anything typified the desperation of these sides then it was the early goalmouth scramble that culminated in Keane attempting an overhead-kick on the edge of the Leicester six-yard box and Calvert-Lewin juggling the ball in a bid to keep an Everton attack moving.
Everton settled far quicker and further defused Leicester’s pre-match enthusiasm when Calvert-Lewin leathered a penalty down the middle of Iversen’s goal. Michael Oliver, the referee, pointed to the spot after taking a dim view of Timothy Castagne’s clumsy shove on Calvert-Lewin. Dyche glanced at his watch, Calvert-Lewin blasted in and wheeled away beating the Everton badge on his salmon-pink shirt.
Everton’s joy was short-lived. Within seven minutes Soyuncu had sourced an equaliser and Vardy earned Leicester the lead 11 minutes later. Soyuncu turned home after his centre-back partner, Wout Faes, kept a Maddison free-kick alive. That goal galvanised a Leicester crowd armed with clappers. The stadium announcer made a plea for all supporters to remain seated. Thousands of Leicester fans responded by rising to their feet and singing: “Stand up if you love Leicester”.
Both teams looked susceptible to conceding a winner and a Leicester supporter combed his hands through his hair after Barnes let fly on the half-volley, his effort flashing wide with 20 minutes to play. Then Youri Tielemans had a pop from distance.
Keane was being pulled from pillar to post by Vardy and a nervy crescendo ensued. Iversen punched the ball clear from Calvert-Lewin’s feet after a poor Soyuncu clearance plunged Leicester into trouble.
The occasion seemed to get to Pickford as the Everton goalkeeper rashly presented Vardy with a chance to put the ball into an empty net. Pickford rushed out of goal to intercept Soyuncu’s long ball downfield but after taking the ball past Vardy Pickford was faced with Barnes, who blocked his clearance. Vardy tried to curl a shot into an empty net but, fortunately for Pickford, his effort thudded into the side-netting.