Football: Hinchcliffe harvests rich pickings

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The Independent Online
Leicester City 1

Walsh 83

Everton 2

Hinchcliffe 12, Unsworth 52

Attendance: 20,975

Joe Royle has been around for long enough to know that talking about championships in November, as he has, is tantamount to betting on snow falling on Christmas Day. But snow has come early this year and in an awkward and briefly controversial game yesterday, Everton extended their unbeaten run to an impressive eight.

For all of Leicester's perky performances, the most recent of which saw them steal Aston Villa's unbeaten home record, the prospect of taking on this Everton team, who in their previous two games had drawn at Anfield and beaten Southampton 7-1, was a reminder that the Premiership is just one tough challenge after another.

Not that they could have expected the harsh setback they received after only 12 minutes when their goalkeeper, Kevin Poole, deputising for Kasey Keller who was on international duty for the United States, picked up a free-kick given for offside just outside his penalty area. As Garry Parker had tapped the ball, Poole was confused as to whether the kick had been taken in the right place or even if it had been taken properly at all. He asked the referee if he could pick it up, but had already done so as the referee shouted "no". Leicester's manager, Martin O'Neill, said resignedly: "When in doubt, kick the ball away." The referee immediately ordered another free-kick and Nick Barmby was equally quick to slip it sideways to Andy Hinchcliffe who compounded Poole's error by lobbing the ball back over the out-of- position keeper and into the net.

If Leicester felt cheated by such an odd goal, their three-man central defence did struggle - especially when Gary Speed and Graham Stuart exchanged neat and rapid passes which ended with Speed diving to head the ball a whisker wide.

Speed got his head to the ball seven minutes into the second half when he met a corner from Hinchcliffe that Poole almost scrambled away. Instead, the ball broke free and David Unsworth stretched out a foot to take Everton into a lead which their defensive qualities and chance-taking justified.

Unsworth and Dave Watson defended staunchly in a combative second half as Leicester brought on Ian Marshall and Scott Taylor. Their presence greatly helped the previously isolated Emile Heskey.

A flurry of Leicester attacks perhaps revealed as much about Everton's testing week as it was an indication of Leicester's own more positive attitude. Even so, they were unlucky with a spate of fractional offside decisions by a linesman who, to the crowd's cruel delight, was involved in a collision with Unsworth after which he was stretchered off. Their only other consolation came after 83 minutes. Heskey pulled the ball from the by-line across the penalty area to Steve Walsh, who headed inside the far post.