Anichebe came close as Everton won an early corner. But it was feisty stuff from Stoke, who responded spiritedly, backed by a loud and enthusiastic local crowd. Jagielka was the one playing down the right, with Neville in midfield, Hibbert possibly sacrificed so that Yobo's defensive height... Failed ex-B;ue Steve Simonsen onm the bench for Stoke CIty.
Nice free-kick opportunity on the left but Arteta's curling ball was collected by Begovic. Ricardo Fuller was beginning to torment the Everton defence, winning a corner that Everton scrambled away. It was nearly 20 mins before the first Delap long throw that Shawcross headed wide.
Anichebe had another pop-shot at Begovic, while Fuller had his own chance at the other end. Stoke were getting their teeth into the game and attacking with vigour, needing a mix of diligence and desperation from the Everton defence. Sidebe trying an acrobatic overhead kick that come to him over Distin as Everton struggled to exert any control.
In a somewhat rare Everton attack, Anichebe had another effort from the edge of the area, but it went wide. At the other end, another long Delap throw was defended away. His third throw caused total havoc, Everton rescued when Howard went down in the melee an Webb blew for a free-kick.
A much better turn form Everton led to a sequence of corners, one taken short, that Baines really hit sweetly from the corner of the area, heading for the corner of the goal but it Anichebe and was blocked away. Another Anichebe shot was deflected for a corner.
It had been a tough half for Everton to get a grip on, while Stoke had given everything and gotten nothing. But an easy break for Stoke surely looked to be a certain goal, Etherington setting up Delap but he somehow managed to screw it wide with the goal gapping. Shocking how easily Everton's defence was sliced open.
Everton were still struggling to get their passing game together, Stoke closing them down persistently and Everton lacking Pienaar's liveliness, resilience, and determination. Fuller meanwhile cunningly won a free-kick that was blocked away for another long Delap throw but the trajectory this time was too low.
It was in possession, though, that Everton needed to produce... and this was exactly where they were failing, some shockingly lax passing letting them down badly. Anichebe made a good run forward through the middle but showed too much of it to the covering defender at a crucial moment.
Anichebe seemed the only one with any real intent, and showed some promise but just could not pull it off all by himself. Osman and Saha were replaced by Rodwell and Yakubu with just 20 mins. Rodwell won a corner with his second touch, and Jagielka powered it into the net and Everton celebrated wildly but the flag was up; either the ball had curled over the byline from the corner, or Anichebe, clearly offside in front of the keeper, was deemed to be interfering with play, although he never touched the ball.
At the other end, a fearsome shot from Fuller flew just over the Everton bar after some good build-up play by the home side. In last 10 mins and Fuller again got the ball well behind the Everton defence, and from the corner, Everton were at sixes and sevens, thankful to at last get the ball away to the other end but Fuller was soon bearing down on Distin again, winning another corner that Howard clutched desperately.
Tempo really high with 5 mins left, Arteta looked to conjure something but Cahill could not hold the final ball, and back the other way again, end-to-end stuff. Into 91 mins and Moyes wastes it, bringing Victor off for Bily!!! No last-minute winner this week then... Everton screwed around with a throw-in and once again squandered possession as Webb added 30 seconds for the substitution. A poor, poor 0-0 draw; in consequence — Bye-Bye Europe.
European qualification may have been an unlikely long shot for Everton coming into today but it was still mathematically possible. On this evidence, though, David Moyes's players didn't believe that Liverpool would lose their last two matches as they served up an anaemic, disjointed and, at times, shambolic performance that ended in a frustratingly goalless conclusion.
Moyes, of course, left the pitch remonstrating with referee Howard Webb over the denial of what he felt was a legitimate goal 17 minutes from time that would have kept his side's slim European hopes alive, for another 24 hours at least. Phil Jagielka had the ball in the net from a corner but a linesman's flag ruled it out for offside, presumably against Victor Anichebe.
Had the goal stood, it would been reward for the Blues finally stepping up a gear after well over an hour of unimaginative and uninspring fare but, in truth, they should have been a goal down by that point and would have been had Rory Delap not inexplicably side-footed wide with the goal at his mercy earlier in the second half.
At the heart of Everton's problems was the absence of Steven Pienaar and an uncharacteristically below-par display by Mikel Arteta who, for once, appeared overwhelmed by the responsibility of being the sole source of creativity and invention in midfield.
That he couldn't provide it raises serious questions about the assertion by some, among them Phil Neville and some Everton fans, that the Club doesn't need to add any players this summer because there was precious little evidence on show today that the team can perform when one of its two main playmakers are missing.
That lack of depth manifested itself in a return at times to a reliance on hopeful balls being pumped forward from the back, a slew of misplaced passes and only sporadic application of the slick and tidy passing game that has been a hallmark of the Blues' recent run of excellent form.
Leon Osman, Pienaar's replacement in midfield was, unfortunately, hugely conspicuous by the South African's absence, his frankly awful performance demonstrating simultaneously the gulf in talent that exists between the two players and how Moyes will risk the challenge for the top four next year if he doesn't add more quality name to his engine room and one of Arteta and Pienaar — assuming he stays — succumb to long-term injury next season. On today's evidence, the depth of talent in attacking midfield still isn't there.
With Pienaar apparently picking up an injury in training yesterday, Moyes was forced to make changes to the side that beat Fulham last weekend. Osman came into midfield, Victor Anichebe started wide left and, curiously, Phil Jagielka was moved to right back at Tony Hibbert's expense with Joseph Yobo making a rare start in central defence.
Initially, the Blues seemed to have continued in stride with a strong start that yielded a corner after just 30 seconds and two more set-piece opportunities but Arteta struggled to find his range and none of them came to anything. The Blues' chief threat throughout the first half was Anichebe who created three openings for himself with some smart turns but one shot was saved, one was lashed a yard wide and the last was charged down at close range.
At the other end, Stoke were threatening more often themselves and Tony Pulis's side had a great chance to take the lead after 22 minutes when Sedibe beat Yobo in the air and Ricardo Fuller latched onto the flick-on, only to send a tame attempt to loop the ball over Tim Howard with the outside of his boot into the arms of the grateful 'keeper.
The final chance of the first period fell to Everton when Arteta linked up with Leighton Baines on a short-corner routine and the defender hammered a right-footed shot from the edge of the penalty area that was destined for the far corner until it cannoned off Anichebe and behind for a goal kick.
The second half was just three minutes old when Stoke missed the best chance of the game. Matthew Etherington was released into acres of space down the left and with just Yobo in attendance, he was able to square the ball invitingly into the path of Delap who just had to place it past Howard to give his side the lead. Whether it was because the American did well to cover the left side of the goal or just a lack of concentration, Delap put his first-time shot into the crowd behind the goal.
That let-off should have been the jolt that Everton needed to shake them out of their torpor but, if anything, they became more ragged with their passing and profligate with possession. Not one long ball from either Howard or any of the defenders ended up with a Blue shirt all game; Louis Saha was a disinterested bystander for the most part; and with so little being created in the final third, Tim Cahill was often dropping deep to collect the ball.
Moyes, though, didn't make any changes to his team until the 72nd minute when the utterly ineffective duo of Osman and Saha were hauled off and Yakubu and Jack Rodwell were thrown on. It came at a time when the Blues were already starting to exert a bit more pressure and Anichebe had curled a brilliant right-footed effort inches wide of the far post, but both substitutes were improvements on the players they'd replaced.
Indeed, it was Rodwell's deflected shot a minute after he'd come on that earned the corner from which Jagielka would score his disallowed "goal". Baines swung in the corner from the Everton right, Jagielka's downward header bounced into the roof of the net and the Everton players celebrated behind the goal, oblivious to the raised flag on the right touchline until the jeers of the home fans began to drown out the cheers of the visting Evertonians. Anichebe had been in offside position when Jags made contact and was deemed to be interfering with play by blocking Begovic's sight of the ball.
The final quarter of an hour was end-to-end at times, the game finally becoming something worth watching, but apart from a Fuller shot that flew narrowly over the bar, there were no other geniune chances for either side the the match, like the Blues' challenge for Europe, petered out to its disappointing conclusion.
Howard 6, Jagielka 6, Yobo 6, Distin 7, Baines 6, Neville 5, Arteta 6, Osman 4 (Rodwell 7), Anichebe 7*, Cahill 6, Saha 5 (Yakubu 6)
Thanks to two last-minute Everton goals in their last two matches, it's quite possible that the last European quailfying place won't be decided until the final day of the season... though, with Liverpool playing soon-to-be-relegated Hull City next Sunday, the chance of the Blues stealing a Europa Cup place at the Reds' expense will still be remote even if they win at the Britannia Stadium this weekend and Rafael Benitez's outfit lose to Chelsea at Anfield.
Still, Everton can keep the pressure on by winning their last away game of the campaign against Stoke City and, given the form of David Moyes's side and the 7-0 hiding the Potteries suffered at Stamford Bridge last weekend, few would bet against that.
With no new injury concerns, it's possible that Moyes will leave things unchanged from the side that beat Fulham even though Leon Osman and Jack Rodwell are in with a chance of being passed fit after missing out last time with slight muscle strains.
Louis Saha could be switched back in for Yakubu and one of Osman or Rodwell could come in for Diniyar Bilyaletdinov but with John Heitinga out injured, Phil Neville is the likely candidate to continue in defensive midfield, with Tony Hibbert at right back.
Stoke will be forced into a goalkeeping change after Thomas Sorensen dislocated an elbow against Chelsea and team captain Abdoulaye Faye is in the squad despite picking up a knock that forced his substitution last week.
So, while it's still mathematically possible to finish in a European place, it's another win-at-all-costs game for the Blues as they look to repeat last season's win on Stoke's turf.
|Premier League Scores|
|Premier League Table|
|2009-10 Reports Index|
|When Skies Are Grey||Report|
|Everton fans' reports|
|Other media reports|
|4 the Game||Report|
|STOKE CITY (4-4-2)|
|Delap (88' Pugh)|
|Etherington (87' Lawrence)|
|Sidibe (88' Sanl)i|
|Subs not used|
|Osman (72' Rodwell)|
|Saha (72' Yakubu)|
|Anichebe (90+1' Bilyaletdinov)|
|Subs not used|
|Premier League Scores|
|Man City||3-1||Aston Villa|
|17||West Ham United||31|