Aug 182014

It was an afternoon which proved the assertion ‘pre-season form means nothing’ only half right.

At the King Power Stadium it was the first half.

Those opening 45 minutes suggested that Everton ’s underwhelming series of friendlies, when they went without a win against sides such as Tranmere and SC Paderborn, were a red herring.

While the Blues were sloppy, under-cooked and lacking conviction in recent weeks, they looked like they meant business in the East Midlands.

Even the miserable news that Ross Barkley is facing an extended spell on the sidelines seemed not to have deterred them.

Their plan of containment in the early stages, while the buzzing home fans celebrated life back in the top flight after a decade away, was working.

Everton were in control, and scored an impressive goal to underline that via Aiden McGeady .

Even conceding a preventable equaliser just two minutes later was mitigated when the Toffees edged ahead again just before the break.

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Leicester City 2 Everton 2

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Then the second half happened. Gradually it began to resemble any one of those turgid pre-season affairs all over again.

Energy levels dipped, passes started to go astray, and Everton’s creativity dried up.

More worryingly too they were carved open far too easily by a home side which was not exactly bursting with talent.

Even before the Foxes got their agonizing equaliser with only four minutes of normal time remaining, they could and probably should have scored earlier.

Substitute Jeffrey Schlupp found a too-easily opened gap in the Blues defence and raced through only to shoot wildly over the bar.

That’s why their were sullen faces as Everton’s players trudged to the waiting team coach afterwards; they knew that whatever malaise has clouded them on the pitch in pre-season is yet to pass.

Off the field it has been a most successful summer.

The Blues board have performed admirably; top talents have been signed up to hefty new contracts and the £28m capture of Romelu Lukaku was a sizeable statement of intent.

Leicester 2 Everton 2 – Rate the Blues players

He will undoubtedly have finer afternoons this season than he did on Saturday.

Roberto Martinez admitted afterwards he had felt compelled to start the striker because Barkley’s sudden absence reduced his side’s central attacking threat.

In truth though, Lukaku wasn’t sharp enough – physically and mentally.

He ran gamely enough, and the fact that he lasted 90 minutes bodes well for the coming weeks. But his decision making was off and he struggled to provide any end product to some of the Blues’ impressive build-up play.

Much will rightly be expected of him this season after what Lukaku delivered last term, but he simply cannot be relied upon alone.

Across the park they fret over needing another centre-forward to take the pressure off Daniel Sturridge even with Rickie Lambert waiting in the wings. At Goodison Martinez isn’t ready to give up on Arouna Kone , but deep down he knows he needs another striker before the transfer window closes.

Indeed, the Blues could perhaps do with another couple of new faces on loan to beef up their central midfield creativity, especially with Barkley now out for at least two months.

That’s a matter for the manager and the remaining weeks of August.

Before that he must plot how to ensure his side’s start to the season is better than last year, when six points dropped (after three consecutive draws in games they should have won) proved costly in the end.

He will look at the clash with Leicester and know his team should have travelled back to Merseyside with three points.

Never mind that eight of the last 10 league games between these sides have ended in a draw.

Or Everton’s inability to triumph when away from home on the first day of the season.

This was eminently winnable.

The Toffees looked a class above in that first half, especially when Steven Pienaar and Leighton Baines turned back the clock with a sumptuous display of their telepathic link-up.

McGeady’s opener was thanks to sustained pressure and a classy finish from the winger.

But the Blues’ second was down to that wonderful left-sided partnership which for so long has been the envy of the league.

Pienaar’s powers appeared to be on the decline at times last season. Not at Leicester.

He was back to his old best. Revived, perhaps, after a proper rest in the summer, and foxing opposing markers with his full repertoire of cheeky back-heels and nuanced little tricks which reduced defenders to hacking him down, in turn buying his side time and space further up the field.

Steven Naismith ’s performance too was a positive. An emphatic finish for Everton’s second and a display that suggested he can continue to be more than just a bit-part player.

Frustrating then that the Blues just couldn’t hang on.

Martinez may regret not having withdrawn Gareth Barry who was living dangerously on one yellow card and hence probably declined to challenge Riyad Mahrez as he surged at him.

Nobody got a tackle in on the lively winger and when his shot deflected into the patch of sub Chris Wood, the big Kiwi delivered a sting in the tail.

It was Carrow Road last season all over again. Up, down, and in the end frustrated.

Afterwards, a Buddhist monk in full orange robes – a guest of Leicester’s Thai owners King Power – strolled down the tunnel.

What those travelling Evertonians would have given for his serenity.

Football is back with all its maddening highs and lows, a pattern the Toffees rarely stray from.

Next up is Arsenal at Goodison. It’s time Everton got that paltry pre-season out of their system and began doing themselves justice.

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