THE BODY language said it all. Martin O'Neill bubbled over with enthusiasm in his post-mortem eulogy - "in the first half we were fantastic" - while Walter Smith had the demean-our of a man on whom it has dawned that the chalice might, after all, be poisoned.
The irony is that it could have been the Leicester manager staring into that chalice had he been seduced by Goodison Park's blandishments in the closed season. Whether it was simply the money that kept O'Neill at Filbert Street, he does give off the aura of a man with a mission, armed with the knowledge that on the field he has most of the equipment to fulfil it.
Had the bean-counters who are sidling into an increasingly important influence in the Premiership been required to cast an objective eye over the assets on the Filbert Street stage Everton would have come out a poor second best. Who do they have to compare with the youth and power of Emile Heskey, who gambolled in the freedom afforded him by three central defenders who allowed him time and space to turn and torment them?
Heskey and Mustafa Izzet could have had the undertakers called to the scene after only five minutes, but Everton survived both strikes by a matter of inches.
When Tony Cottee reminded us that he is still a class act with a clinical finish for the first goal in the 11th minute, irony stalked the pitch again. The Londoner has spent several frustrating and fruitless years at Goodison Park before arriving at Leicester for what has all the signs of being an Indian summer.
The only window of opportunity afforded the visitors fell to Nick Barmby when Matt Elliott missed a simple headed clearance in the 26th minute. It was not taken and 12 minutes later Heskey ran at a fragile and panicking defence before releasing Steve Guppy whose cross was tapped in by Izzet.
"Our football was as good as we have played in the Premiership," the Leicester manager enthused and he should know. However, the second half was one of those dreary events that make one think football should have its equivalent of boxing's technical knockout. Everton brought on Danny Cadamarteri after the break and failed to utilise his speed although David Unsworth, replacing Marco Materazzi, did add some backbone to their defence.
Smith can take some satisfaction that in Michael Ball he has a most promising wing-back and that Oliver Dacourt has already shown enough signs that he could be one foreign import Everton will not regret. Unsworth returning to his natural stamping ground will also be useful. What else? That's Smith's problem.
Heskey is already the apple of several bigger clubs' eyes but O'Neill knows that if that mission is to be fulfilled, the Leicesters of the world must hang on to such players. Contract negotiations are on all parties' minds at the moment, but as the Leicester manager joked: "I'll have to get John Holmes [Heskey's agent] into the right frame of mind over a glass of wine." Better make it Grand Cru, Martin.
Goals: Cottee (11) 1-0; Izzet (38) 2-0.
Leicester City (3-5-2): Keller; Savage, Guppy, Sinclair; Elliott, Walsh, Izzet, Lennon, Zagorakis; Cottee, Heskey. Substitutes not used: Arphexad, Parker, Kaamark, Campbell, Taggart.
Everton (3-5-2): Myhre; Cleland, Short, Tiler; Materazzi (Unsworth, 45), Ball, Collins, Dacourt, Barmby (Hutchison, 62); Ferguson, Spencer (Cadamarteri, 45). Substitutes not used: Gerrard, Branch.
Bookings: Leicester: Zagorakis, Sinclair, Savage, Lennon. Everton: Materazzi, Ferguson, Dacourt, Tiler, Collins.
Referee: Stephen Lodge.
Man of the match: Heskey.
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