Leicester City have waited 132 years, or 4,555 matches, for this. For those who struggle to rationalise their remarkable ascension as Premier League champions, Andrea Bocelli serenading the King Power crowd before kick-off would have done little to reassure them they hadn’t slipped into an alternate universe last August.
The home faithful provided a fitting touch of context as Everton were defeated with little afterthought about their plight. Chanting the names of past greats – Gordon Banks, Gary Lineker and Esteban Cambiasso – the delirious Leicester fans went through their repertoire of songs from halcyon days of old.
It fell to today’s heroes to see off a poor Everton team and thus punch another – perhaps the final – nail into Roberto Martinez’s coffin. A Jamie Vardy double, either side of the interval, was garnished with a fitting, emotional strike from local hero Andy King. Kevin Mirallas’s neat curler two minutes from time didn’t dampen the party spirit.
Perhaps surprisingly to some, King is regarded in the same vein as Banks, Lineker and Cambiasso among the Foxes crowd. The Welshman has featured sparingly under Claudio Ranieri, proving an understudy to Danny Drinkwater and N’Golo Kante. But King is the only player in the eclectic Italian’s squad to remain from the side who helped lift the League One title in 2009.
This was Ranieri’s Leicester at their devastating best, luring the opposition in before breaking in an instant. Riyad Mahrez gambolled down the flanks; N’Golo Kante stitched the midfield together; Vardy, fresh from a two match suspension, terrorised the Everton defence at warp-speed.
Hitherto a club of near misses – more frequently with disaster than success – Leicester’s battalion of bargain buys have enchanted the world with a unique blend of throwback defending and bewitching forward play. Denounced as a freak glitch in a nonsensical season, it took until after Christmas for those now infamous 5,000/1 odds to shorten to four figures.
With all four stands rocking on their foundations, it took just five minutes for the Leicester pressure to tell. King floated an exquisite cross from the right flank into Vardy with John Stones and young debutant Matthew Pennington affording him enough time to slot it past Joel Robles. Sparking now familiar scenes of delirium at the King Power, any suspicion that Ranieri’s boys might have partied too hard this week were quashed.
Everton read the title party script and were happy to oblige without complaint. It got better for Leicester just after the half-hour mark. Mahrez, likely to stay this summer despite interest on the continent, then ghosted past Leighton Baines following Kasper Schmeichel’s pin-point clearance. The Algerian’s trademark trickery rendered the England left-back invisible, forcing him to unwittingly poke it into King’s path in the box.
Leicester were as good as their visitors were bad. The East Midlands heavens opened and the floodgates did so, too, for Everton. King turned back the clock to League One and Championship promotion seasons, just eight and two years ago respectively, to curl it beyond Robles in the Everton net.
Martinez stuck with a tactical stratagem which earned him positive appraisals two years ago but now threatens to be his undoing. As a direct consequence, the Toffees threatened occasionally in attack but alarmed often at the back. The Spaniard will hope Bocelli’s pre-match rendition of Time to Say Goodbye doesn’t prove to be an ironic sticking point of his final match in charge. Martinez was static in his technical area alongside the enigmatic Ranieri.
Pennington, meanwhile, was handed his Premier League debut but had an afternoon to forget. The 21-year-old bundled Vardy to the deck inside the penalty area in the 65th minute. The former Halifax Town and Fleetwood Town striker drilled his spot-kick to the Everton stopper’s bottom right corner. After forcing Robles into a low save at his near post just moments later, however, Vardy sampled the unfamiliar taste of 12-yard failure.
Darren Gibson hacked a galloping Jeffrey Schlupp to the turf, thus handing referee Andre Mariner with no option but to award another penalty. With Harry Kane’s 25 goal tally in sight, Vardy would have gone level with his England team-mate had he converted. Perhaps focussing too heavily on a personal battle of wits with Robles, one which had simmered all game, Vardy blazed it over, fluffing his lines in front of the Spion Kop. Everton were mere extras in Leicester’s big day but made a brief cameo two minutes from time.
Marcin Wasilewski was twice dumfounded by a tidy Kevin Mirallas side-step. The Belgium international then cut inside Kante to score a goal befitting a better overall performance from his team-mates. Many expect the established order to regain control of English football next season. This was Leicester’s shooting star moment, to be consigned to history next season.
But nobody can take this away from them now. Their emphatic title triumph is the exception and not the rule. Semper eadem, ‘always the same’, is the city’s motto. Leicester and English football, for all the money which may get thrown at it, will never be the same again.
Leicester City (4-4-1-1): Schmeichel, Simpson, Wasilewski, Morgan, Fuchs, Mahrez (Gray 91′), King, Kanté, Albrighton (Schlupp 67′), Vardy, Okazaki (Ulloa 62′).
Everton (3-5-2): Joel, Oviedo, Baines, Stones, Pennington, Cleverley (Gobson 63′), McCarthy, Lennon, Barkley (Osman 81′), Niasse (MIrallas 63′), Lukaku.
Referee: Andre Marriner
Match rating: 7/10