Football: Penalty king Mahrez keeps Leicester top for Christmas

Riyad Mahrez celebrates after scoring.
Riyad Mahrez celebrates after scoring.PHOTO: AFP

LIVERPOOL (AFP) - Two penalties from Riyad Mahrez and a fine finish from Shinji Okazaki helped Premier League leaders Leicester to a 3-2 win over Everton at Goodison Park on Saturday.

Claudio Ranieri's surprise title contenders again underlined their collective strength with a wonderful team effort that ensures Leicester go into the Christmas period at the top of the table after their 11th win in 17 matches.

A quiet opening was the last thing anyone expected as these two sides are amongst the most attacking in the Premier League.

Leicester went into the contest as the league's leading scorers with 34 goals in 16 league games this season, while the Toffees were joint third on that list with 29.

But rainy conditions did not help matters as both teams failed to settle and take control of the contest.

The game was 10 minutes old before the first real threat was posed as Leicester's Marc Albrighton fired in a low cross that Okazaki reacted to quickest but his flicked effort flew over Tim Howard's crossbar.

At the other end, a last-ditch tackle from Albrighton on Gerard Deulofeu stopped his shot from causing any real damage before Ross Barkley miscued a volley inside the box.

However, it was Leicester who took the lead after 27 minutes when Okazaki was wrestled to the ground by Ramiro Funes Mori to concede a penalty.

It was clumsy rather than anything more malicious but that did not concern Algeria winger Mahrez who stepped up and calmly converted from 12 yards out.

The goal actually sparked Everton into life and they equalised five minutes later courtesy of in-form striker Romelu Lukaku.

Barkley was calm inside the box as he tried to beat Kasper Schmeichel from six yards out and although the Leicester goalkeeper did well to block Barkley's first effort - and Andy King did just as well to clear the rebound - nobody could stop Lukaku smashing home the loose ball from six yards out.

Lukaku's finish was his ninth goal in his last eight matches and he became the first Everton player to score in eight successive matches in all competitions since Dave Hickson achieved the feat in 1954.

After the break, Everton settled faster although the poor conditions again prevented the encounter from developing into a classic.

Leicester striker Jamie Vardy, the Premier League's star man at present, didn't get his first opportunity until the 58th minute when his curled effort beat Howard but also drifted wide of the far post.

However, Vardy was involved shortly afterwards when he won Leicester's second penalty with 64 minutes on the clock.

Vardy sprinted into the box and pushed the ball past Howard who clearly tripped him.

Referee Jonathan Moss had little option but to award the penalty and Mahrez was again successful from the spot.

Leicester's third then arrived almost immediately as Everton fell to pieces at the back.

A weak clearance was pounced upon by Vardy inside the area and after feigning to shoot he calmly slotted the ball for Japanese forward Okazaki to finish emphatically.

Everton did managed to pull one back in the 89th minute when Kevin Mirallas rifled a low effort past Schmeichel, but although the Goodison crowd urged the Toffees to find an equaliser, it would not come.