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Venue: Britannia Stadium, Stoke
Premier League
 Saturday 1 January 2011; 3:00pm
2 0
Jones (23')
Jagielka (o.g. 69')
Half Time: 0-0
Attendance: 24,178
Fixture 20
Referee: Andre Marriner

Match Summary

For the visit to Stoke, David Moyes reverted to a more conventional line-up for Cahill's final game before the talismanic Assuie and his amazing goalscoring expertise departed to Qatar for the Asian Cup. Heitinga was still out injured but Jagielka returned after missing the West Ham game.

Everton looked to play their passing game from the off and Saha got a nice kick as he advanced into the area, a clear foul but no penalty! Delap's first long throw was competently handled by Howard. On 5 mins, Everton broke with something of a counter-attack, Saha scampering forward and feeding Coleman, whose cross won the first corner. Baines picked out Saha with a good delivery but the ball careened off Jones's shoulder for a... goal kick!

Cahill did well to collect the ball on his chest, turn, run and feed Pienaar who shot straight at Begovic. His long clearance was taken well by Fuller who shot wide when he might have caused Everton some serious trouble. The first yellow card went to Collins after only 12 mins for a lunge on Coleman advancing down the right wing.

Cahill was penalized for a shove in the back but a good delivery was looped over and out by Fuller. 15 mins and the battle-lines for a tight midfield struggle were being effectively drawn, wing play resulting in plenty of throw-ins preventing much forward progress. Arteta took Everton's second corner, from the left, straight to the first defender.

Coleman won the third corner, delivered superbly by Baines from the right but it evaded Cahill, however, the looping cross back in from Coleman was met at the far post by Distin and Fellaini looked to clip the ball out of the keeper's hands but it would not go in the net. Stoke were probing to some effect and a good run in by Etherington, beating Coleman and Neville, was crossed in sharply and finished very well by Kenwyne Jones, his strong free header beating Howard hands down with Distin unable to steal his space.

Saha epitomized the striker none-scoring problem, fluffing a lovely Cahill knock-down from the restart, when he desperately must have scored. On the next Everton attack, Baines had space to cross with unerring accuracy to where Cahill was lurking at the far post but the Aussie did not get the angle right and missed what for him was a nailed-on header for the equalizer.

Stoke, heads up, were running at Everton with more confidence after the goal and Neville gave them an unnecessary free-kick, central, that could have been a lot more dangerous. Then an incident with a yellow for Begovic who crunched Saha just outside the area, apparently NOT a clear goalscoring opportunity it really could have been red. It all helped to spice up the game but Arteta's free-kick on the edge of the area smacked predictably into Jones in the Stoke wall.

Distin put Everton under needless pressure with an overhit backpass as Stoke looked to punish their visitors, but Coleman won another excellent chance for Baines at the other corner of the Stoke area but it was just too hard for Fellaini and Distin at the far post.

Baines went in rather hard on Shawcross but escaped a possible yellow card. Saha, running into the Stoke area, tried to beat three men and collapsed in a heap as Everton looked to apply pressure before the break. A free-kick wide left was put into the danger area this time by Arteta. Baines down the inside right channel then got the ball out to Coleman and his brilliant low cross in front of goal was just begging for a finish that never came.

In the added minute before half-time, Saha and Pienaar constructed a good forward move, Pienaar's shot clipping off a defender's foot and looping up just over the bar onto the roof of the net with Begovic stranded. Was it going to be another one of those games where the Blues just can't get the ball into the back of the net?

No changes, of course, after the break, Arteta getting crunched by a clumsy Whitehead challenge that earned him a yellow card. He then fouled Baines in what should also have been yellow, and another guilt-edged free-kick for the Blues that Baines delivered onto Saha's head but Higginbotham got in his way effectively. Pienaar then got a chance off the corner to volley a dropping ball at the goal but skewed it horribly out of play. A poor ref decision lost Everton another clear corner.

Arteta got involved in play down the right but his awful cross was simply shocking as Everton looked to press but showed no guile. Stoke meanwhile seemed to have the measure of Cahill, defenders collapsing dramatically at the slightest touch and too easily winning Marriner's sympathy.

Stoke won a soft free-kick when Fellaini backed into Fuller and Everton were pinned back a little too easily. But Everton did break and Coleman was cut down by Delap, but again only a yellow for Delap. The free-kick taken short was totally wasted as Arteta was blocked easily by the advancing defender.

59 mins gone, and Pulis made his first change, Tuncay on for Pennant. Cahill then got booked as he came off worst in another aerial challenge for doing absolutely nothing, much to the pleasure of the Stoke crowd. 5 more minutes of touchline instructions from Moyes for Osman and Anichebe on the sidelines before a double switch, during which a weird crabwise dribble by Saha that went nowhere summed up the paucity of Everton's challenge. Neville and Arteta came off... would 4-4-2 be the answer? (And why not from the beginning of the game???)

Osman got away with a clumsy challenge and little changed until a soft goal was scored... by Stoke. Jones looped a ball up and Fuller challenged Jagielka, the ball coming off the Everton defender and into the net. Oh dear, now 2-0 down, immediately after Moyes's game-changing subs...

Baines got a chance from yet another dangerous free-kick and made a good fist of it, flying barely over with Begovic rooted. But 2-0 down and Everton struggling to do what the game is supposed to be all about score! Fuller was so nearly gifted a third from a poor Distin back-header, but Howard did enough and Whitehead volleyed over from the corner.

With the game going nowhere and 15 mins to rescue something, decisive action was the order of the day from Manager Moyes: another 5-minute discourse on the lost art of Everton attacking football was delivered on the sidelines to this time Jermaine Beckford while Pulis switched Whelan on for Etherington, and the final masterstroke from the Moyesiah: Beckford on for Saha in the 80th minute.

Some intricate Blues passing through the middle ran into a brick wall of red-&-white stripped shirts, forcing Cahill to lash at it but his shot was predictably blocked and from that Stoke looked to get a third but overran things. Distin did well to contain Jones down the Everton left but in possession, Everton simply did not seem to have any meaningful ideas. With 5 mins left, the final change was made as Fuller came off for Wilkinson, and nearly embarrassed Fellaini as Stoke sensed victory was close.

More huff and puff from the Blues in possession went absolutely nowhere, as the players themselves seemed to admit the game was up. Bereft of ideas, incapable of scoring or even creating meaningful clear-cut chances, this game was yet another sad reflection on the increasingly moribund Moyes era.

New Year Same Old Same Old.

Michael Kenrick

Match Report

With just four wins all season, Everton came into the New Year clinging to the optimism provided by a surprise win at Manchester City 12 days earlier and their best run away from home in 25 years, but they trudged off the Britannia Stadium pitch with that record in shreds following a demoralising 2-0 defeat to start 2011.

It was a result and a performance that left the observer with little but an impression that the Blues are on the road to nowhere right now although "nowhere" would be preferable to another brush with relegation, a possibility that remains unlikely but possible if confidence continues to ebb away or if Tim Cahill's absence this month proves to be the crucial leg to be pulled from the stool.

Despite largely controlling this game against a workmanlike and unspectacular Stoke City side, Everton failed to force Asmir Begovic in the home goal into a single meaningful save in 90-plus minutes of frustration. That the final stats would show 10 shots for David Moyes's side owes much to the fact that, yet again, the Blues came up against a well-drilled defence willing to throw everything in front of the ball to protect their goalkeeper. A couple of great chances in the first half and a blatant first-minute penalty not awarded by the atrocious Andre Marriner aside, the visitors could find few ways through.

This has been a season dominated by debate amongst Evertonians about the team's striking problems, one that was ratcheted to new heights by Moyes's decision to play Tim Cahill up front on his own against West Ham on Tuesday, and though the manager reverted to using a natural striker in the form of Louis Saha and actually ended this game with three of them on the field none of them really had a chance to speak of.

And that is nub of Everton's problem right now; though chances have been missed by all three of Saha, Yakubu and Jermaine Beckford they have been starved of service all season and today was no exception. The Frenchman was robbed of a very early chance when the referee refused to award a penalty, mis-kicked a half-chance from a ball over the top of the Stoke defence, and saw two headers blocked by defenders from set-pieces but that was the extent of opportunities provided for Saha before he was substituted in favour of Beckford with 11 minutes to go.

Victor Anichebe also played 24 minutes but apart from a Leighton Baines cross that he half-heartedly tried to flick home, neither he nor Beckford got a sniff of goal and the limp manner in which Everton approached the closing stages betrayed a deeply troubling air of resignation at the team's collective inability to create scoring chances. By then, Mikel Arteta, who'd put in another indifferent performance, had been replaced by the equally ineffective Leon Osman and Marouane Fellaini had been pushed further forward, but he is more stopper than creator. That left a static line of blue shirts strung out at times across the Stoke 18-yard line bunched with the home side's own defensive line and no spark of creativity to break it down.

The over-reliance on crosses from wide left by Baines was again evident but he rarely got to the byline and Stoke mostly dealt well with his service from near the left touchline. Seamus Coleman caused plenty of problems with his running and direct approach on the opposite wing when his teammates deigned to give him the ball, but his final pass didn't usually find a target... probably because Everton never seem to have enough players in the opposition area until they're desperately chasing the game in the final minutes.

Perhaps because they were resigned to their fate and collective ineffectiveness, there was no desperate effort from the players here today and supporters were left with the feeling that Moyes has exhausted the system and personnel with whom he is currently persisting. With little left to lose, he surely must now try something radically different now that he will be without Cahill for up to six weeks... but his track record of conservatism would suggest otherwise.

As ever, the Blues started well enough, passed the ball well enough though the recent propensity of the central midfielders to give the ball away continued and had a couple of early forays, one that should have yielded that penalty for a foul on Saha and another where Steven Pienaar's tame curler was easily caught by Begovic.

It was the Potters, though, who carved out the first real chance of the game when Kenwyne Jones flicked on Begovic's long punt and Ricardo Fuller found himself with just Tim Howard to beat but he screwed his effort wide from a central position.

Jones himself, though, opened the scoring six minutes later when Matthew Etherington made a monkey of Phil Neville by the touchline and crossed for the striker who rose unchallenged to power a header beyond Howard's despairing reach. 1-0 Stoke but plenty of time for Everton to recover.

They were almost level within three minutes and Cahill will wonder how he didn't notch his tenth goal of the campaign when Baines' deep ball found him free at the back post but he steered his header back across goal and past the post.

Begovic then poleaxed Saha as the pair contested a 50-50 ball on the edge of the Stoke box and was booked for his trouble, but, predictably, Arteta blasted the resulting free kick into the wall. A free kick from the opposite flank by Baines a few minutes later drifted behind before a terrific driving run by the same player ended with Coleman's low cross evading everyone in the box.

Pienaar must have thought he'd put Everton back on level terms in first-half injury time when he finished perhaps the visitors' best move of the match. The South African played a one-two with Saha in the midst of a fast break but Danny Higginbotham got enough on his shot to deflect it agonisingly onto the roof of the net.

Everton's general control of the game continued after half time but they never really got close to scoring, though Coleman was prevented from sprinting away on goal by a cynical foul by Rory Delap and Baines missed by a foot with a trademark free kick with 20 minutes to go.

But the Blues were already 2-0 down by that point, Jones having out-jumped the otherwise excellent Sylvain Distin and Fuller jumping into Phil Jagielka, forcing the defender into shinning the ball off the underside of the bar and into his own net. With the way Everton were playing in the final third, effectively game over.

The result leaves Everton sitting three points above 17th and five above the drop zone but with more questions than answers as to how they're going to recreate the form that made them so impressive in the first half of 2010. With individuals like Fellaini, Arteta and Saha performing so poorly and no money to bring in fresh faces, it's going to take all of Moyes's managerial nous to turn the ship around. It just remains to be seen whether he has the imagination or courage to make big and bold changes.

Player Ratings:
Howard 6, Neville 5 (Osman 6), Jagielka 6, Distin 8, Baines 7, Fellaini 6, Arteta 6 (Anichebe 6), Coleman 7, Pienaar 7, Cahill 7, Saha 7 (Beckford 5)

Lyndon Lloyd

Match Preview

Everton enter the New Year and the second half of what has thus far been a massively disappointing season with a trip to Stoke City. With the postponement of the Boxing Day clash with Birmingham City, this marks the Blues' third away match in succession, but that will probably suit David Moyes's side — their eight match unbeaten run away from home is a club record in the Premier League and their best spell on the road for 25 years.

Furthermore, Everton are unbeaten against the Potters since they gained promotion two seasons ago, winning on their first visit to the Britannia Stadium and then playing out a goalless draw back in May.

The Blues come into this one a place below Stoke in the table and battling through the crisis of attacking confidence that returned at Upton Park after the two goals scored at Manchester City eight days earlier. Of course, the manager's decision to play Tim Cahill as the loan striker against West Ham, thereby reducing further his side's striking threat and robbing the Australian of his legendary ability to ghost into scoring positions from midfield, has been the source of heated debate on these pages this week.

Cahill plays his last game before jetting off to Dubai for the Asia Cup for as long as six weeks and it'll be interesting to see whether, having been forced to field questions about his curiously negative team selection in Tuesday, Moyes reverts to one of Louis Saha or Yakubu up front and moving Tiger Tim back to his favoured position.

Tim Cahill: Plays his last game before leaving for the Asia Cup

As was the case at West Ham, it's central defence that could be a problem for Moyes with both John Heitinga and Phil Jagielka given only an outside chance of making it. While Tony Hibbert was inadvertently responsible for the Hammers' goal, he didn't play especially badly but it was abundantly clear that a fullback was filling in at centre back because the Everton defence looked vulnerable for much of the match.

It did beg the question why a natural centre half like Shane Duffy, who has twice played at European level or the player that Moyes himself sees as an eventual centre back, Jack Rodwell, wasn't played there instead. It's unlikely Moyes will opt for either one this time around and Hibbert may be asked to reprise his unorthodox role.

And if that weren't enough to worry about, there's Mikel Arteta, a player deemed important enough to the side to award him the biggest contract in the club's history but whose form since inking that record deal has been mystifyingly poor. Quite where the player who used to leave mesmerised opponents in his wake with breathtaking footwork has gone is anyone's guess but he needs to return if Everton are to have much hope of qualifying for Europe this season.

Seemingly content to just sit deep and move the ball sideways, he has evaporated as an effective attacking force since scoring earlier on in the season but injury and suspension behind him, it's time for him to start delivering again. No doubt he will partner Marouane Fellaini in central midfield this weekend, with Seamus Coleman and Steven Pienaar again patrolling the flanks.

Victory would see Everton leapfrog Stoke into the top half of the table and put them on the fringes of the chase for Europe once more. More than that, it would provide a shot in the arm for morale as Moyes plots life in January without Cahill, his top scorer with nine goals, and what few transfer deals he may be able to pull off while the window is open.

With the league so open this season, Europe is not out of the question for any side that can put a consistent run of results together but it's going to take a big improvement from players and manager alike at Everton to get there. One step at a time...

Lyndon Lloyd

* Unfortunately, we cannot control other sites' content policies and therefore cannot guarantee that links to external reports will remain active.

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STOKE CITY (4-4-2)
  Begovic booked:31'
  Collins booked:12'
  Delap booked:58'
  Whitehead booked:49'
  Pennant (59' Tuncay)
  Etherington (79' Whelan)
  Fuller (84' Walters)
  Subs not used

EVERTON (4-5-1)
  Neville (66' Anichebe)
  Arteta (66' Osman)
  Cahill booked:62'
  Saha (79' Beckford)
  Subs not used
  Barkley (injured)
  Heitinga (injured)
  Nsiala (loan)
  Wallace (loan)
  Yobo (loan)

Premier League Scores
Birmingham 0-3 Arsenal
Liverpool 2-1 Bolton
Man City 1-0 Blackpool
Stoke 2-0 Everton
Sunderland 3-0 Blackburn
Tottenham 1-0 Fulham
West Brom 1-2 Man United
West Ham 2-0 Wolves
Chelsea 3-3 Aston Villa
Wigan 0-1 Newcastle

Team Pts
1 Manchester United 41
2 Manchester City 41
3 Arsenal 38
4 Tottenham Hotspur 36
5 Chelsea 32
6 Sunderland 30
7 Bolton Wanderers 29
8 Stoke City 27
9 Liverpool 25
10 Newcastle United 25
11 Blackpool 25
12 Blackburn Rovers 25
13 Everton 22
14 West Bromwich Albion 22
15 Aston Villa 21
16 West Ham United 20
17 Fulham 19
18 Birmingham City 19
19 Wigan Athletic 19
20 Wolverhampton Wanderers 15

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