Stoke’s deficiencies away from the Britannia Stadium were clear to see once again this afternoon as high-flying Everton enjoyed a comfortable victory over the Potters, who have now slipped back into the relegation zone, at Goodison Park. The on-loan Jo and teammate Joleon Lescott gave the hosts a two goal advantage in the first half before young centre-back Ryan Shawcross pulled a goal back for Stoke. Any thoughts of a comeback for the Potters of the sort seen away at Newcastle and Aston Villa this season were dispelled by Marouane Fellaini late on though, as he added gloss to the scoreline for the home side with a deflected effort.
Stoke manager Tony Pulis, who remains upbeat after the defeat, chose to name an unchanged side, something of a rarity this season, for the match, with winger Matthew Etherington, on his return from suspension, sitting alongside top scorer Ricardo Fuller on the bench. This meant Everton’s former record signing, James Beattie started against his old employers, in an ultimately fruitless search for his sixth goal in just eight games for Stoke. Jo, on loan from Manchester City returned in attack for the hosts after completing a suspension of his own, supported by the dangerous attacking midfield pairing of Austrailian international Tim Cahill and the Belgian Fellaini, the latter sporting a curious new hairstyle.
Beattie lined up at his old home, against a side that included Fellaini, the less said about whose hair the better
Earlier in the day, Everton’s nearest neighbours and bitter rivals Liverpool had put league leaders Manchester United to the sword, beating them 4-1 at Old Trafford, a result which led to a national day of mourning being announced in Singapore. The Toffees looked to do the same to Stoke here, and set about the game with clear attacking purpose, while Stoke were once again sluggish out of the blocks. The home side fired two warning shots to the Potters in the opening minutes, Leon Osman firing over the crossbar after Fellaini had been denied by an excellent challenge by Stoke right-back Andy Wilkinson.
Wilkinson displays his usual dogged countenance
Though Stoke were beginning to enjoy a little more of the ball, the opening goal wasn’t long in coming for the hosts. Eighteen minutes into the game a flowing passing move carved open the Stoke defence, leaving Jo clear through on Stoke goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen, though his distance from goal and the angle against him on his left foot seemed to make scoring unlikely. Score he did though, striking the ball superbly with his left foot, the shot having just enough power to beat Sorensen, despite the Danish international getting a hand to it. You won’t find it in any bloopers videos, but it probably should go down as a mistake from Sorensen, who will feel that after getting a hand to the ball he should have kept it out.
The Everton players celebrate taking the lead
As has happened so often this season away from home, The Potters conceded two goals in quick succession, England defender Lescott doubling the advantage for the side who look bound for Europe once again six minutes later. After Cahill had powered a trademark header at Sorensen, the ‘keeper was again unable to hold the ball, parrying it only as far as Lescott six yards out, who was left with the simplest task of steering home his fifth goal of the season past Sorensen, for whom the day was quickly turning into tone to forget. After the game Pulis was aggrieved that the goal stood, with Lescott appearing to be standing in an offside position as Cahill headed towards goal, with video replays backing up his claim.
Though the hosts were in the ascendancy, the remainder of the first half was punctuated only by half chances, with Phil Neville and Joseph Yobo failing to test Sorensen, who must have been low on confidence, and Beattie seeing his speculative effort fly over Everton ‘keeper Tim Howard’s crossbar.
Though Pulis chose to make no changes at half time, he had clearly succeeded in motivating his team for the second half and the Stoke players began with renewed purpose, it’s just a shame it was about an hour late. The goal did come for Stoke on 52 minutes, England Under 21 international centre-back Shawcross netting his second in the last three games having not scored in over a year beforehand. Liam Lawrence’s corner looked a poor one, seemingly looping too far from Howard’s goal to pose a threat, but Shawcross did well to guide a header towards goal. In a game full of goalkeeping errors, what followed was probably the worst, Howard losing the flight of the ball and allowing it to sneak past him into the bottom right corner of his goal through a crowd of defenders. Nothing should be taken away from Shawcross though, as he did very well to direct his header on target.
Howard fails to keep Shawcross’s header out and the Stoke players quietly celebrate pulling a goal back
With a foothold in the game, thoughts would surely have been forming in the minds of the Stoke players and coaches of the away trips to Newcatle and Aston Villa, with the Potters fighting back from two goals down to gain a 2-2 draw on both occasions. With this in mind, Pulis made attacking changes, with Fuller and Etherington replacing Mamady Sidibe and Rory Delap respectively shortly after the goal.
For the first time in the game, Stoke looked the most likely team to score, with midfielder Glenn Whelan, who scored the late equaliser at Villa Park coming close with a ferocious drive that flew just wide of Howard’s right-hand post. An even better opportunity to level the scoreline came minutes later, Danny Higginbotham heading just wide from a corner, with Shawcross desperately trying to make contact with the ball at the back post.
Any hopes of a fightback were dashed in the first of four minutes added by referee Andre Mariner. Fellaini controlled long ball forward well, before swivelling and striking at goal from sixteen yards out. His shot took a heavy deflection off Stoke captain Abdoulaye Faye, completely wrongfooting Sorensen to find the net and seal the three points for the hosts.
Fellaini’s strike deflects off Faye and in
The win means Everton cement their sixth place in the Premier League table, putting them nine points clear of West Ham in seventh. Stoke, meanwhile drop back into the relegation zone, sitting eighteenth, behind Newcastle on goal difference on a day on which results involving the other struggling clubs went well for Stoke, with Blackburn losing heaving to Arsenal and Hull and Newcastle, as well as Middlesbrough and Porstmouth sharing draws that keep them all in the relegation mix.
Though Stoke’s performance was greatly improved in the second half, it was once again very poor in the first half, and though we can feel hard done by that the second goal was allowed to stand, Everton were definitely good for their victory. If we are to stay up, we may well need to begin to pick up more points on the road, with a trip to West Brom, who seem doomed at the foot of the table, the perfect way to start in three weeks time. It may be that our excellent home form alone will prove to be enough to keep us up. If that is to be the case we must keep winning at the Britannia Stadium, with five winnable home fixtures remaining and next week’s visit of Middlesbrough, two points and one place below Stoke becoming the biggest game of the seaon to date.
Stoke Side: (4:4:1:1)
Wilkinson Shawcross Abdoulaye Faye Higginbotham
Lawrence Whelan Diao Delap
Substitutions: Fuller for Sidibe (53), Etherington for Delap (68), Camara for Lawrence (80)
Subs Not Used: Simonsen, Pugh, Amdy Faye, Sonko
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