Urged on by a sell-out crowd flaunting posters proclaiming "Keep the Faith", Leicester did exactly that on their first home appearance since the dramas of La Manga. It was a close-run thing, though, there hardly being the chance to restart play after Marcus Bent's dramatic equaliser in added time undermined Everton's 10 men.
Leicester were supposed to be the headline merchants after what the club have gone through recently but Everton stole them away, first with the dismissal of their captain, Duncan Ferguson, for a second senseless foul in quick succession, and then with the quality of a goal by Wayne Rooney as the match entered its last quarter-hour. The roar that greeted the header which Bent squeezed between Steve Watson and the post was more relief than delight. It kept the escape hatch open, and never mind that Leicester haven't won at home now for getting on five months.
There were the expected cheers from Leicester's fans and the boos from the Everton section of the stadium for Paul Dickov, the only one of the three Leicester players who spent time in a Spanish prison recently to have made it into the team. Even he, a regular so far this season, would not have started, according to his manager, Micky Adams, had Billy McKinlay not sustained a groin injury in training on Friday. By his standards, Dickov was subdued. "Paul was not at his sharpest," said Adams. "He is still somewhat traumatised by events. But that 90 minutes will have done him the world of good."
Dickov's fellow Scot, Ferguson, would have been sensible to subdue his own behaviour. In doubt beforehand because of a hamstring problem, Ferguson was passed fit and wore the captain's armband with less than distinction. He was deservedly booked for elbowing Nikos Dabizas in the face, but this was nothing compared to what he inflicted on Steffen Freund four minutes later, a wrestler's arm-lock around the neck. Referee Barry Knight's production of a second yellow, followed by a red, was inevitable but only served to enrage Ferguson further. He stalked over to Freund and seized him by the throat before raising a salutary arm in the direction of the Everton supporters and strolling off.
Rooney's dramatics were decidedly more acceptable. A minute after becoming the fifth Everton player to be cautioned, Rooney unwrapped the genius that never lurks far beneath the surface. A Joseph Yobo free-kick, which should have been cut off, reached the second-half substitute, Tomasz Radzinski, on the left. He cut the ball inside to Rooney, who swerved past Matthew Heath and drove his shot unerringly and low past Ian Walker.
Everton, in search of what would have been a third successive win for the first time this season, were always comfortable in resisting Leicester pressure, mainly generated from corners and long throws. And, by bringing on Radzinski for the second half, manager David Moyes indicated he felt this was a winnable game. How close he came to that belief being fulfilled.
At the height of Leicester's first-half siege, they twice had good fortune. An Alessandro Pistone clearance rebounded in a gentle arc off Les Ferdinand's body and dropped just behind the crossbar with Nigel Martyn stranded. Then Bent's celebrations for bundling in a Muzzy Izzet corner were premature, the goaldisallowed for a combination of barging and hand ball.
Rooney had already indicated his threat just before the interval, surging in from the left and leaving Heath and Ben Thatcher trailing before supplying an inept finish. Once Leicester's energetic second-half assault had been quelled, Rooney steadily emerged as the most talented man on the field and twice his raids induced shrieks of alarm from the home supporters.
The goal itself was a gem and seemed to be enough until Bent's late strike. "Nothing is easy at this club," smiled Adams. "Apart from not being able to get a drink in the players' lounge."
Leicester City 1
Half-time: 0-0 Attendance: 31,650
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