Leicester City top of the league at Christmas after win at Everton

Riyad Mahrez scores twices from the spot as Claudio Ranieri’s Foxes move clear at top

Riyad Mahrez scored twice from the spot as Leicester City ensured they will be top at Christmas with a 3-2 win at Everton. Photograph: Reuters

Riyad Mahrez scored twice from the spot as Leicester City ensured they will be top at Christmas with a 3-2 win at Everton. Photograph: Reuters

 

Everton 2 Leicester City 3

Leicester’s unlikely Premier League title challenge is more of a reality than ever as a 3-2 victory at Everton ensured they will be the Christmas number one.

History is on the Foxes side as five of the last six teams to top the table on December 25 went on to become champions — Liverpool the only exception in 2013-14.

Riyad Mahrez, whose goal on Monday proved decisive in the 2-1 win over Chelsea, capped a brilliant week with a penalty in each half with Shinji Okazaki ensuring substitute Kevin Mirallas’ 89th-minute strike was academic.

Striker Romelu Lukaku won the individual battle of the top flight hot-shots against Jamie Vardy when he scored for the eighth consecutive match — a feat not achieved by an Everton player since Dave Hickson in 1954 — to equalise and move to 13 league goals and within two of his Leicester counterpart.

The Belgium international also has Vardy’s Premier League record of scoring in 11 consecutive Premier League matches in his sights, having made it seven in a row in the top flight at Goodison Park, but it was the visitors’ proficiency in front of goal which was more impressive.

England boss Roy Hodgson sat next to Amanda Holden in the directors’ box but he would not have needed any help in identifying which British (English) talent are in contention for Euro 2016.

While Vardy rarely threatened Tim Howard’s goal he won the crucial second penalty and then laid on the assist for Okazaki.

Everton, too, have national team stars in Ross Barkley and John Stones but after a bright start the former was not effective enough in the final third while Stones, alongside Ramiro Funes Mori who was at fault for the first penalty, was exposed by Leicester’s clinical approach.

That was typified by the first goal in the 28th minute when Christian Fuchs’ throw-in was flicked on by Vardy to Okazaki who did not appear to be offering a serious threat to Everton’s goal when Funes Mori brought him down.

Mahrez tucked the spot-kick just inside Howard’s right-hand post but within four minutes Lukaku struck his 52nd goal in 102 Everton appearances when Barkley was denied by goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel and had his follow up blocked on line by Andy King which allowed the Belgian to hammer home the rebound.

In the second half Vardy bent an effort past the far post, the closest he would come to scoring, but had a more direct influence in winning the penalty when he was tripped in the penalty area by Howard as he ran onto Mahrez’s through-ball.

Mahrez went to Howard’s left this time to register his 10th goal in nine away league matches this season.

Substitute Kevin Mirallas set up a tense finish when he fired home at Schmeichel’s near post but Leicester held on, with Leonardo Ulloa forcing Howard to save with his legs in added time.

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