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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Leicester usher in Puel era with three points against Everton showing no signs of recovery under Unsworth

Andy Mitten mingles with fans outside the King Power stadium to gauge reaction to an underwhelming season so far for both teams

Jamie Vardy scores Leicester City's opening goal against Everton. Darren Staples / Reuters
Jamie Vardy scores Leicester City's opening goal against Everton. Darren Staples / Reuters

Eighteen minutes had passed when Leicester City’s captain Wes Morgan headed the ball from his own area to Demarai Gray. The winger sprinted three quarters of the length of the pitch, outpacing three Everton players, before selflessly passing to Riyad Mahrez, who squared the ball for Jamie Vardy to put his side ahead. It was a stunning move.

“Jamie Vardy’s having a party,” sang another full house at the King Power Stadium, but Leicester’s season hasn’t been a party.

The dismissal of manager Craig Shakespeare didn’t go down well with the players, most of whom won the Premier League in 2016. Losing Danny Drinkwater on deadline day and losing out on registering Adrien Silva from Sporting Lisbon after missing the transfer deadline by 14 seconds hardly reflected well on the club.

The 2-0 victory over Everton, with a 29th minute Gray shot deflected into the Everton net by defender Jonjoe Kenny, 20, lifted the mood. Everton had not come from 2-0 down in a league game at half time since 2002 and Leicester fans taunted them, playing on a Bob Marley classic by singing: “Don’t worry, about a thing, the Championship is gonna be alright.”

“It has been a disappointing season and it was right to sack the manager,” said Gary Silke as he sold the Leicester fanzine The Fox, which he has edited for over 30 years, outside the ground. Behind him, a band played a cover of The Killers' Mr Brightside. “It’s frustrating that while most of the players who’ve won the title are still here, nobody can rekindle what we had that season. They’d stopped playing for [Claudio] Ranieri, who had to change things because of the Champions League, started again for Shakespeare and then stopped.”

Leicester appointed Claude Puel this week, the Frenchman stating that results came before style.

“There has been an indifferent reaction to him,” explains Silke. “Southampton fans seemed glad to see him go, but if he can take us to eighth and a league cup final, that will do us this season.”

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Leicester’s title win is still fresh.

“I still can’t believe it happened,” Silke said. “I can’t think of a greater sporting achievement ever. The [Thai] owners remain hugely popular because they were in charge when we won the league. Vardy and Wes Morgan are still important for us and it’s a successful football club. Every game is sold out, there’s talk of expanding the stadium by 10,000 to 42,000, but I don’t think we’d need that near the bottom of the table or in the Championship.”

The loss of Drinkwater has been mitigated by the improved form of new signing Vicente Iborra from Sevilla in recent weeks. He again impressed against Everton, rarely misplacing a pass.

“It has been a disappointing season and it was right to sack the manager,” opined Gary Silke as he sold the Leicester fanzine The Fox which he’s edited for over 30 years. Andy Mitten for The National
“It has been a disappointing season and it was right to sack the manager,” opined Gary Silke as he sold the Leicester fanzine The Fox which he’s edited for over 30 years. Andy Mitten for The National

While Leicester moved up to 11th, Everton remain 18th after an awful league start and with a goal difference of minus 13. They still sold all 3,200 tickets in the Premier League’s biggest away end in these uncertain times for the club.

“I’d have liked him to have turned things around, but it was the right decision to sack Ronald Koeman,” said hardcore Evertonian Jamie Shiels from Bootle, Liverpool.

“Defeats are hard enough, but it was the manner of those defeats which was hard to take. People say we’ve had a tough start to the season, but so have Burnley. We’ve had no width and while we’ve known that we have no centre-forward after selling [Romelu] Lukaku, you can still survive. Liverpool have Firminho and he’s not a centre-forward.”

Club stalwart David Unsworth is Everton’s caretaker manager.

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“He understands the club and can give us a lift,” Shiels said. “The optimism from earlier in the year hasn’t vanished, but this is life as an Evertonian. We’re the only club who can sell players for £100 million, then spend it – and become worse.

"We’ve signed [Gylfi] Sigurdsson but he’s playing in his best central position once. Chelsea sign [Alvaro] Morata who hit the floor running, as has [Mohamed] Salah with Liverpool. Sigurdsson should have been more comfortable than any of them as he was already in our league, but we’re playing him in the wrong position and his confidence is shot.

"Another new signing, Michael Keane, hasn’t looked the player he was at Burnley. Our Europa League has gone pear shaped when it shouldn’t have done. Aside from the latter months under Roberto Martinez, we’ve not had that for a long time.”

This is a new reality for Everton. Leicester will be hoping what happened today is theirs under their new manager.

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