Goodison Park welcomed back one James Beattie, five goals in seven Premiership games since joining Stoke in January.
Jô and Fellaini, sporting a smart new braided crop to his fuzzy barnet, started up front, with Cahill playing the deep midfield role alongside Neville, Jagielka still playing right back in Hibbert's place, with Yobo. Everton started yet again playing toward the Gwladys Street, and started brightly. Osman should have done far better off a great layback from Pienaar, blasting it instead well high and wide. Fellaini showed great vision with some superb early balls played in with spirit and danger but each was just too much for Jô.
But Stoke didn't look too shabby themselves going forward, especially those demon Exocet throw-ins from Rory Delap. But another swift move into the Stoke are produced the desired result from the Blues, Fellaini again the spark, delivering this time straight to Jo's feet as he advanced under pressure and really smacked in a grass-cutter down to Sorenson's left. The keeper blocked it... but not sufficiently to prevent the ball from bobbling over the goal-line. 17 mins gone and Goodison was bouncing!
Baines accidentally blooded Lawrence's head with a trailing leg as the ball went out, leading to a long injury delay... who returned sporting a clean blank new shirt, #51. And then he went in rather hard on Baines (retribution?) and into Mariner's book he went.
More Everton pressure, a good cross from Osman, Cahill's fierce header should have scored and Sorenson could not hold the ball... but there was Lescott to sidefoot home after 24 mins. Nothing less than some excellent play from Everton deserved.
A wonderful move deserved the third goal, Jô dancing and jiggling, then slipping the ball in to Osman, who created masses of space and clipped beautifully to the top far corner, well beyond Sorensen... and just a fraction beyond the upright! So close, but Osman ultimately disappoints again.
Worryingly, Tim Cahill did not appear for the second half, Louis Saha coming on to join Jô with Fellaini dropping back after producing some the best link-up play with the Brazilian. Apparently, the move was tactical, which puts an unwelcome context on the succeeding events. Jô soon went down injured after getting his ankle sandwiched, came back on gingerly, and really did nothing for the remainder of the game.
Everton, now without the aerial prowess of Cahill in defence, allowed a free header by Shawcross at a corner and Howard's poor attempt to save as the ball crept in the corner of the goal, undefended by anyone on the post. Very poor. Fuller then came on for Sidibe and they continued to carry the game to a disturbed, disjointed and disorganized Everton team that looked nothing like the impressive performers of the first half.
Higgiinbottom so nearly scored an equalizer off his arm as Stoke continued to challenge Everton's authority, with a serious of dangerous corners making everyone very nervous. Whelan came very close too with a piledriver. At the other end, a great cross in from Baines was just ahead of Saha, and Jô looked to profit from some goalmouth confusion after Saha's shot was blocked but could only stab at it off-balance with his weaker right foot.
Saha had a snapshot off a poor Stoke clearance but it was deflected away, and Pienaar's subsequent corner was far too deep. Everton continued to weather the onslaught and nervously defend their lead. With 5 mins left, Moyes risked taking off Jô, who had shot his bolt, bringing on Rodwell, with Fellaini moving up once again. And this time it worked...
Osman again had a good chance on a long run, but it was too close to Sorensen who spilled the ball to Pienaar but easily saved the South African's follow-up shot. Saha should have done better when he chose to dribble into the area rather than take a shot.
Two minutes left and a looping high ball in from Baines was brought down superbly by Fellaini who scored despite the sting being taken out of his shot by a defender, to settle the nerves and seal the win with a much more comfortable scoreline.
So, a sixth consecutive win at Goodison Park and only one defeat in the last 18 games... a good celebration for seven long years of management by David Moyes. Sixth place consolidated... but can he take Everton higher? Can he get us into the Cup Final?? Can he win us a trophy???
Goodison Park is a fortress once again — were it not for Robin van Persie's last-gasp intervention for Arsenal at the end of January, Everton would be celebrating eight successive home wins since in all competitions. As it is, today's win over Stoke City was their sixth on the trot and one which keeps them on the coat-tails of Arsenal and Aston Villa, though thanks to Eduardo and Andrey Arshavin, it looks unlikely that the Blues can catch Arsene Wenger's men.
Villa may be another story. They host Tottenham tomorrow but in their last two Premier League outings they've lost at Manchester City and seen a 2-0 lead against Stoke evaporate spectacularly in the last five minutes. Everton, having cruised to 2-0 but also blown a lead of the same margin against the Potters back in September, looked good bets to suffer the same fate today but weathered the storm and went on to kill the game in injury time thanks to a moment of class by Marouane Fellaini.
There was no hint in the first half of the torrid time the home side would experience for periods after half time. From the first whistle it was all Everton, and while it was direct and rarely pretty as the ball consistently by-passed central midfield, it paid dividends as they played for the second ball.
Leon Osman had the first chance when a nice move down the left ended with Leighton Baines playing a neat one-two with Steven Pienaar and crossing low but, off-balance, Osman fired a left-footer high and wide.
After 18 minutes, the route-one approach paid off handsomely when Tim Howard's kick was tapped back to Fellaini by Jô and the Belgian dissected the defence with a perfect pass back to meet the Brazilian's run. Jô fired hard and low and Thomas Sorensen couldn't prevent the ball squirming under his body and over the line.
Jô celebrates the opener, his third Everton goal
Photo courtesy Everton FC
Six minutes later, the Blues doubled their advantage. Liam Lawrence fouled Baines wide on the left and was booked for his trouble but while the free kick was initially cleared, Osman collected on the far side and swung on a terrific cross to Cahill. Unmarked, the Australian planted his header too close to the 'keeper who looked set for a routine save but instead he spilled it into the path of Joleon Lescott and the defender swept home the loose ball.
Joleon Lescott wheels away in delight after tucking home the second
Photo courtesy Everton FC
After Baines had fired a direct free kick into the wall, 2-0 was almost 3-0 when Jô showed off a little Samba-style flair with a couple of stepovers as he danced into the box before laying it off to Osman. He jinked to the left to fool Abdoule Faye before curling a shot inches wide of the far post. It was a lovely passage of play that deserved a goal.
Such was Everton's dominance before the break that David Moyes was able to pull Tim Cahill off during the interval and give Louis Saha another 45 minutes' runout but the Frenchman's opportunities to add to his tally since joining from Manchester United were few and far between.
That was because Stoke came out for the second half an entirely different team. Suddenly they were pressing, closing everything down, and winning 50-50 tackles. And six minutes after half time they capitalised on an successive errors by the Blues' defence to pull a goal back and put the willies up the home side.
Jagielka and Yobo were at cross purposes on a routine throw-in and ended up conceding a corner from which Ryan Shawcross rose completely unchallenged to guide a header into the far corner of Howard's goal. You couldn't keep help but feel that Lawrence's corner had dropped into the zone normally occupied by Cahill and then wonder why Moyes abandoned the normally solid tactic of placing a man on at least one of the posts.
Buouyed in the same way they were in the reverse fixture at the Britannia Stadium, Stoke stepped up the pressure and recent substitute Ricardo Fuller headed a cross wide before Danny Higginbotham was inches away from equalising when he got on the end of a corner and the ball bounced off his arm and across the face of goal.
Higginbotham had another opportunity just past the hour mark after Salif Diao's shot deflected behind off Fellaini for a corner but he drove wide. Glenn Whelan had Goodison hearts a little more in mouths with a superb shot 10 minutes later that swerved a whisker past the post as the visitors appeared to be getting closer to wiping out Everton's advantage.
Thankfully, though, by the time the last 20 minutes rolled around, the Blues had weathered the storm and chances started opening up again at the other end. Jagielka's excellent cross in the 72nd minute just eluded Saha and a couple of minutes later Jo found himself with a great chance but slipped as he pulled the trigger and Sorensen parried his shot.
Saha then saw a trademark shot from 20 yards deflected wide and Pienaar arrowed a terrific effort just over from a similar distance before Osman and the South African led a quick break that saw the Blues come as close as they'd come thus far to kill the game. Sorensen spilled the Osman's shot into Pienaar's path but the 'keeper did brilliantly to atone for the error by spreading himself wide and blocking his shot.
Marouane Fellaini is congratulated after he sealed the win late on
Photo courtesy Everton FC
The third goal duly came, though, a minute into injury time. Fellaini, whose game had gone to hell in a handbasket in the second half after being moved back into midfield to accommodate Saha, suddenly produced some Jô-esque skill when he deftly pulled the ball down with his left foot and fired home via a deflection of Shawcross.
In the end it was icing on the cake and a little compensation from Fellaini who was poor after half time but the reality was that the Blues weren't comfortable until that third goal went in. Nevertheless, it was another three points and another home win as Moyes's boys look to finish the season strongly despite their shortage of numbers and strength in midfield.
It's back to Premier League action this weekend as Everton look to keep up the pressure on Arsenal and Aston Villa, perhaps the two teams above them that they can realistically catch if injuries to key personnel like Mikel Arteta haven't already ruined the Blues' hopes of gatecrashing the top four.
Having faltered in their last two away games at Newcastle and Blackburn where they let themselves down with poor performances in the last third of the field, David Moyes's side will probably be glad to be back at Goodison Park where their form has picked up.
Having started the season so badly on their own turf, Everton have recorded five consecutive home wins since conceding a last-gasp equaliser to Arsenal at the end of January, and Moyes, who celebrates seven years in charge this weekend, will be looking for a sixth when Stoke City come to town with ex-Blues Steve Simonsen and James Beattie in tow.
The Potteries club stand two places and one point above the relegation zone going into this weekend's round of fixtures but, while it's been their plucky home form that's been keeping them afloat thus far, they haven't won on their travels at all in the league. Indeed, the only away win they've recorded all season was against Cheltenham in the Carling Cup way back at the end of August.
They won't be pushovers, however, and Everton can expect a test like that posed by West Brom a fortnight ago, though they probably can't bank on being as fortunate as they were against the Baggies to come away with a comfortable margin of victory.
Louis Saha: getting fitter each week but is he ready to start?
Unless Louis Saha is deemed fit enough to start, it'll be a similar type of Everton that faces Tony Pulis's side in a match twice rescheduled thanks to a planned and then canceled BNP rally in Liverpool. Minus Arteta, Everton have struggled for fluidity and inspiration in the middle of the park but Saha has provided both an extra dimension and much-needed sharpness in front of goal.
And Tim Cahill has shown a pleasing maturity when asked to drop back into midfield and ably compensated for Arteta's absence in the second half against Middlesbrough last weekend, setting up the equaliser for Marouane Fellaini and generally bringing some focus and calmness to the centre of the park from Everton's point of view.
It's likely, though, that knowing how important the Frenchman is to the Blues' chances in league and Cup this season Moyes will elect to play Jô up front again with Cahill in support and look to introduce Saha after the break. Two out-and-out strikers at once in the form of Saha and Jô would seem unlikely but would be an interesting experiment.
With Tony Hibbert, Victor Anichebe, Yakubu, James Vaughan and Nuno Valente already all ruled out with medium- to long-term injuries, Andy van der Meyde is the only new injury concern having tweaked a hamstring in training this week On the stroke of half-time, Everton won a third free-kick in dangerous range, Osman having his shirt tugged by Diao, but Baines could only screw it off the wall for a corner.
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|4 the Game||Report|
|Cahill (46' Saha)|
|Jô (85' Rodwell)|
|Subs not used|
|Van der Meyde (injured)|
|STOKE CITY (4-4-2)|
|Lawrence : (81' Camara)|
|Delap (68' Etherington)|
|Sedibie (53' Fuller)|
|Subs not used|
|Premier League Scores|
|Saturday 7 March 2009|
|Wednesday 11 March 2009|
|Saturday 14 March 2009|
|West Ham||West Brom|
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|After 16 Mar 2009