Everton find snarling hero and useful nuisance who could save season

Three hours before kick-off Richarlison tweeted his goalscoring record. Taking center stage of the graphic, which depicted how many he had scored for club and country, was the famous crest of Everton.

While he – or whoever was manning his social media accounts at 4.45pm on Wednesday – marked his feats there was one glaring, unachieved landmark within his grasp: His fiftieth strike for the Blues.

This has been far from a vintage season for the 24-year-old. Few will be able to walk away from this campaign without regrets. But in recent weeks, as Everton have needed a hero, he has emerged.

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Against Newcastle United he bit and snarled at the center backs of the resurgent Magpies, causing them no end of trouble until, tired and bruised, they allowed Alex Iwobi to stride through the heart of their defense and send Goodison Park into raptures.

At Burnley, two weeks ago, I have ravaged the home side’s defence. A danger every time he got the ball, he fought for possession, shone him with his skill and showcased his pace as he left defenders-and big striker Wout Weghorst-chasing his shadow.

Everton’s snatching of a devastating defeat from the jaws of victory at Turf Moor undermined a performance so impressive even without his coolness from the spot.

And then at home to Manchester United it was the Brazilian who played a crucial role in Anthony Gordon’s winner.

In truth, Richarlison struggled tonight. He missed two glaring opportunities, one in each half and both from close range.

Yet as he battled for influence he kept on fighting. With Anthony Gordon, another who has enjoyed better nights, he has spent the last 15 minutes showing for the ball and luring defenders into fouls.

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It was Richarlison who hunted down an opponent to win a corner that he should have scored from. It was Gordon who won the late corner that Salomon Rondon flashed agonizingly across goal.

In those dying minutes of a game that seemed lost, Richarlison kept going.

After Seamus Coleman had failed to take advantage of a glorious opportunity when the ball dropped to him, unmarked, at the back post, it looked like that was it.

Yet it wasn’t. Somehow, there was time remaining for Dele Alli to pull the ball to the near post and when Rondon—a useful nuisance after his introduction of him—let it run across his body of him, it fell to that man.

His finish was messy. It was scuffed. It was deflected. But it didn’t matter. Whether Everton deserved anything from this is questionable.

The night started poorly for the hosts with news of Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s latest injury in a season that both he and his teammates have suffered too many.

When the starting eleven emerged onto the pitch the floodlights were outshone by the spring sunshine. This was hardly a post-Easter tale of rebirth for Everton’s season, however.

Leicester City had played three times since Everton’s confidence-boosting win over Manchester United.

They showed no signs of tiredness, immediately finding their groove. Home fans were hoping Brendan Rodgers would rest his stars and save them for their European exploits. Instead Harvey Barnes and James Maddison led a side that had traveled to Merseyside to play football. For the first 25 minutes they danced around an Everton side left flailing in desperation.

Richarlison and Iwobi led an aggressive press and initially had Kasper Schmeichel nervous in front of his own goal. Such was the Foxes’ confidence, however, they kept men forward and, once the press was beaten, the extra men had space to exploit.

Just six minutes in the upbeat Gwladys Street was silenced as Maddison found too much space down Everton’s left and pulled the ball back to Kelechi Iheanacho. He should have scored but fluffed his shot. It fell to Barnes, who made no mistake.

Minutes later it should have been 2-0, Maddison firing straight at Jordan Pickford after Leicester carved through the hosts with ease. After just a dozen minutes the away fans were chanting “ole”.

Everton did not find control but were offered a way back into the fight as the game became more frenetic. Richarlison missed the target from eight yards out when hitting it seemed far easier then, as the first half came to a close, Demarai Gray curled wide after a training ground corner routine. But it was too little too late. It was to the home supporters’ credit the players left the pitch to a smattering of applause and muted cheers rather than a chorus of boos.

Everton showed more fight in the second half. Buoyed by a crowd desperate to cheer anything that represented progress, they improved.

It took 65 minutes for Richarlison to muster their first shot on target yet the Leicester midfield was unable to repeat the dominance enjoyed in the first half.

Everton remained vulnerable, relying on Pickford to claw away a deflected shot and, in truth, lacked penetration themselves while their opponents teased them with the ball.

That was until the frantic final minutes when Richarlison, Rondon and Coleman all had opportunities to snatch that unlikely point.

The huge noise when Richarlison’s milestone goal bobbled across the line to clinch the draw was fueled by relief. It was another big Goodison Park moment in a season too reliant on them.

This was a missed opportunity for Everton to move six points clear of the drop, and to drag Leeds United back into their orbit. But it is, nonetheless, another crucial point. And that, for now, is all that matters.

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