Craig Shakespeare’s perfect start in management had to come to an end sometime. With Premier League safety more or less secured, perhaps the new man in charge at Leicester could be forgiven for thoughts of Europe.
Certainly, Shakespeare’s selection for the Premier League trip to Everton suggested he was thinking a little about Wednesday’s Champions League quarter-final first leg away to Atletico Madrid.
Their opponents took advantage. Romelu Lukaku scored twice, taking his Premier League total for the season to 23, and Ronald Koeman’s side moved a little closer to securing an overseas adventure of their own in next season’s Europa League. After six successive wins, Shakespeare suffered defeat for the first time.
It seems unlikely that Shakespeare would have put out the side he did at Goodison Park if Leicester had been closer to the bottom three. His decision to change both full-backs, while the rarely-used Yohan Benalouane partnered Robert Huth in the centre, led to all sorts of defensive uncertainty.
Everton, missing three of Koeman’s first-choice back four, were equally wobbly. The result was an opening 45 minutes that bordered on the insane.
Everton scored after 31 seconds, yet trailed by the 10-minute mark, as attackers prospered and it seemed as if every effort at goal had a chance of going in.
Kevin Mirallas’ surging run was halted as he was hauled down by Daniel Amartey, but as referee Bobby Madley played an advantage, teenage midfielder Tom Davies reached the the loose ball to prod past Kasper Schmeichel.
Yet Leicester were quickly level. Demarai Gray broke and, with the Everton defenders standing off, rolled a pass to his right for Islam Slimani to slot under Joel Robles.
Everton’s goalkeeper, exposed for the equaliser, was at fault for the visitors’ second, caught out of position as Marc Albrighton, out on the left, swung a right-footed free-kick over his head and in at the far post.
The keeper looked uncertain after that as he used his feet to block a tame Gray shot, but Everton did recover their composure to draw level midway through the half with a fine goal.
Ross Barkley found space on the right to whip over a cross with plenty of pace, and Lukaku scored for the eighth successive home game as he escaped Leicester’s centre-backs to power a header past Schmeichel.
Still there was time for more drama before the half came to a close, with Mirallas and Huth booked following a tangle that mushroomed into a full-on confrontation that drew in several players from both sides.
After that, Barkley was sent clear when Leighton Baines slid in to win the ball 40 yards out, and went round Leicester’s goalkeeper, who recovered to block as the midfielder set himself to roll the ball into the net.
From the resulting corner, taken by Mirallas, captain Phil Jagielka rose to head in his second goal in two matches.
The entertainment level barely dropped off after the interval, although it took a full 12 minutes of the second half before the game’s sixth goal arrived.
Again it came from a Mirallas corner, with Jagielka rising once more for a header. This time it bounced off the back of Andy King and fell for Lukaku to drill into the far corner.
Shakespeare brought on Mahrez for the final half-an-hour in an attempt to make life uncomfortable for Everton.
There were tricky moments for the home side, but no further goals. Leonardo Ulloa, their final substitute, would have pulled one back but his header from a Mahrez corner struck Idrissa Gueye full in the face.
There was still time for Robles to make a good reaction save in keeping out another Ulloa header, and for Lukaku to lash a chance for his hat-trick high into the Gwladys Street End. It was that kind of afternoon; by the end, it seemed remarkable that only six goals had been scored.