Everton moved out of the Premier League relegation zone with a hard-fought win over Leicester City at King Power Stadium.
Vitaliy Mykolenko’s stunning volley and Mason Holgate’s header gave Frank Lampard’s side their third win in five games and ensured they remain in control of their destiny with four games remaining.
After six minutes, Mykolenko finished superbly from Alex Iwobi’s cross, but five minutes later, Patson Daka capitalized on Yerry Mina’s attempted header back to Jordan Pickford to draw Leicester level.
After Kasper Schmeichel saved Richarlison’s initial header from a corner, the unmarked Holgate was the first to react, restoring the Toffees’ lead after 30 minutes.
Leicester dominated for long stretches of the second half as they sought an equalizer, but England number one Pickford was once again in inspired form.
After making one of the season’s best saves against Chelsea last Sunday, the Toffees goalkeeper produced stunning saves to deny Nampalys Mendy and Harvey Barnes, preserving his side’s narrow lead.
Everton moved up to 16th place with the win, one point ahead of Burnley and Leeds United, who fell to 18th after losing 2-1 at Arsenal. The Toffees have played one fewer game than their relegation opponents.
“We had a plan and the players stuck to it, no matter what happened, no matter if they scored. It’s far from done, but the players can be really happy with what they’ve done on the pitch today. We should enjoy the result – but we’re by no means safe,” Lampard told newsmen.
Leicester’s winless Premier League run now stands at five games, and Brendan Rodgers’ side is 14th in the table.
Everton began last Sunday a worrying five points behind Leeds and Burnley, but with the Goodison Park crowd behind them, they recorded a crucial victory over Chelsea to stay within striking distance of the teams above them.
Now, for the first time since September, Lampard’s side will have the opportunity to go four points clear of them at already-relegated Watford on Wednesday, despite defeats for Leeds at Arsenal and Burnley at Aston Villa.
Mina, who was injured midway through the first half, was at fault when his header back towards goal was pounced on by Daka – just 15 seconds after Abdoulaye Doucoure’s shot was pushed onto the post at the opposite end.
Despite Schmeichel’s best efforts, the visitors responded positively to the defeat as Holgate exploited the Foxes’ well-known weakness from set-pieces.
With driving runs in the second half, Everton midfielder Anthony Gordon typified the fight and determination that has underpinned the club’s recent upturn in form.
Leicester, who were denied a place in the Europa Conference League final by Roma on Thursday, are now aiming for a top-half finish to cap off a disappointing league season.
However, their winless streak in all competitions was extended to seven as Pickford saved Mendy’s strike and Barnes’ low attempt among seven crucial saves.
“We have shot ourselves in the foot so many times this season. That is my responsibility. The confidence in the team in dealing with set-piece situations isn’t there. I think back to where we were – and three years on we’re disappointed not to win a trophy this season. But you need the hunger and desire and we haven’t seen that,” Rodgers said.