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Season 2011-12

Jaded-Looking Blues Can't Kill Off Stoke

By Lyndon Lloyd   ::  02/05/2012
 12 Comments (Last)

Everton extended their unbeaten run to seven Premier League games but they'll be disappointed not to have beaten a limited Stoke City side and cemented seventh place after taking a lead, albeit a fortuitously earned one, into half-time.

The Blues were largely in control for the first hour and had certainly played the better, more patient football but, after scoring a hatful of goals in recent games, their inability to find the killer final ball ? an affliction that plagued their performances earlier in the season ? combined with growing fatigue meant that they couldn't kill their hosts off after Peter Crouch's unwitting own goal had handed them the lead just before the break.

Playing Tim Cahill in a withdrawn midfield role and pushing Steven Pienaar into "the hole" after Victor Anichebe had hobbled off injured after just 22 minutes, David Moyes employed a different system as he sought to try and exploit a perceived lack of mobility among the central defenders strung out across Stoke's back line.

The South African just couldn't consistently find his rhythm, though, and he, along with Leon Osman and Anichebe's replacement, Magaye Gueye, struggled to compete physically against the likes of Robert Huth. That left goal machine, Nikica Jelavic, starved of service and largely left to feed off scraps again and it was perhaps typical of his evening that his best effort on goal came unintentionally off his knee and flew narrowly over the crossbar in the 35th minute.

By that stage, Everton might, with a more critical eye from referee Anthony Taylor, been a goal to the good but when Anichebe went down in the area under a clumsy challenge from Shawcross, the official waved play on. A couple of dangerous balls across the home defence just eluded Jelavic and Osman had back-to-back shots that might have been more dangerous had he found more power but Asimir Begovic was able to save both times.

And after Gueye's best moment of his otherwise poor 56 minutes on the pitch ? the French forward would later be substituted himself in favour of Stracqualursi ? had provided Jelavic's close call, Pienaar smashed an effort that Begovic helped over with his fingertips and Gueye drove wide from the resulting corner.

Stoke, for their part, had almost completely failed to trouble Everton from open play. Save for Matthew Etherington scooping over from 18 yards as he tried to loop the ball over Tim Howard, their offensive threat had come almost exclusively from set-pieces and mostly from Rory Delap's missiles from the touchline.

Each one in the first half seemed to cause some level of consternation in the Blues' defence but they survived and took the lead from a set-piece of their own at the end of the half. Jelavic was finally awarded a free kick after being buffeted by Stoke's defence for 44 minutes and when Pienaar slid the ball out wide to Hibbert instead of putting it straight into the box, the veteran full back had time to put in a cross that ended up bouncing off Crouch and past his hapless 'keeper.

Stoke were less inclined to allow the visitors the same time in possession as they had allowed in the first and Tony Pulis' men finally created another chance from open play 10 minutes after the interval. Phil Jagielka did well to acrobatically head behind to deny Walters' attempt to cross after he had skinned Tony Hibbert near the byline.

Back down the other end, a really promising opening arrived for Everton when Osman and Pienaar combined down the right flank but when the former collected the former's centre with Fellaini better placed, Osman skied a first-time shot disappointingly into the stand behind the goal.

Everton spent much of the second half content to put their foot on the ball and wait for openings to appear but they failed to heed the warning given to them in the 59th minute when Stoke countered when Gueye lost the ball following a throw-in deep in enemy territory and Jagielka's challenge on Kenwyne Jones had the home crowd bellowing for a penalty they wouldn't get.

And nine minutes later, after Pulis had made a triple substitution that included the introduction of Ricardo Fuller and Cameron Jerome, one poor final ball too many from Everton was punished by a quick Stoke counter-attack. Jerome was sent away in a one-versus-two race with Jagielka and John Heitinga and with neither defender electing to put a foot in as he made a bee-line for Howard's goal, the ex-Birmingham striker capitalised on a fortunate bounce in his favour and drilled a shot that deflected off Jagielka's leg and over Howard's lunge to level the scores.

Both sides looked as though they were game for taking the three points and, despite looking increasingly jaded, Everton still looked the more like to carve out the winning chance. But another tame effort by Osman was comfortably gathered by Begovic and Jelavic couldn't get enough purchase on another difficult chance from Distin's late cross so steered wide.

All in all, with Liverpool losing at home again (this time to the Fulham side that Everton had blitzed 4-0 just three days ago) this was a decent point in what is always a tricky fixture. With a bit more guile and better end product in the final third the Blues probably would have easily taken the points but things just didn't seem to be clicking in the same way they were at the weekend.

So, two games left and, with a superior goal difference to Liverpool and Fulham, Everton probably need just one win from the trip to Wolves or the home game with Newcastle to secure seventh place.

Player Ratings: Howard 6, Hibbert 7, Jagielka 7, Heitinga 7, Distin 7, Cahill 6, Osman 6 (McFadden -), Fellaini 6, Anichebe 6 (Gueye 5 (Stracqualursi 5)), Pienaar 7*, Jelavic 6

Reader Comments

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Jim Harrison
063   Posted 02/05/2012 at 06:44:10

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Some nice passing play and possession, especially in the first half, but not composed enough in the final 3rd. Osman had 4 chances of note, 3 he put straight at the keeper. Just seemed to run out of energy in the end, with no one on the bench to really change things. I thought Gaye was very poor. What was wrong with gibson?
Kevin Sparke
073   Posted 02/05/2012 at 08:39:47

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Fellaini was very harshly treated by the ref who blew up for a foul if the big fella even tried to scratch his own arse.

We missed Gibson - Everton look much more potent when Fellaini is allowed the freedom to get more involved with attacks.

Andrew Fair
089   Posted 02/05/2012 at 10:05:46

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We played some great passing football, but that final third lacked a creative spark. Jelly was isolated alot of the time. With Gibson out ? took a knock against Fulham, and Neville picked up a knock in training ?Fellaini has to come further back which limits his creative threat.

I would have settled for a point before the game but Stoke were shocking, I can't stand the way they play so we should have won!

However, with the Shite losing, I would imagine one more win will get us 7th place. Only LFC and Fulham can catch us: LFC will drop points again and Fulham have to go to Spurs last game of season so we will get 7th.

Moyes must be thinking what would and could have been if we would have started well... CL was within our grasp this year. Oh well onto next season, and probably one win and a draw until November.
Kevin Gillen
095   Posted 02/05/2012 at 10:47:07

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It's a measure of the progress we have made to come away from that bear pit with a point and leave disappointed. With some stability to the playing staff over the Summer (I pray we can do a reasonable deal for Pienaar but I'm not holding my breath) we should expect a good start to next season and should be challenging for Europe. I can't see Reading, Southampton and Birmingham adding to the quality of the Premiership and most of the teams below us are pub teams now.
Dan McKie
110   Posted 02/05/2012 at 12:40:59

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Wasnt too disappointed with the result last night. Stoke is just one of those games you want out of the way, but it would have been nice to even the scores after their win at Goodison in December. We really need a positive summer and I just pray we get one.

Kevin, Birmingham have a long way to go before they are in next years Premier league yet. I hoping Blackpool come back up.
Kevin Gillen
115   Posted 02/05/2012 at 13:00:21

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Hiya Dan - I was only poking fun at the West Ham fans - on reflection I hope Blackpool progress too. I like Holloway as a thinker and as a manager and last time they managed it they had a brilliant attcking right back called Coleman!
Graham McCann
119   Posted 02/05/2012 at 12:58:24

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Our problem last night was we tried to play too much pretty football, the potters got wise to it in the second half and got stuck into Fellaini , they stopped him playing and so stopped us playing. He is without doubt our best player, everything good goes through him. What the hell was Anichebe doing on the pitch? He was awful. All he did was moan and cry while he was on the pitch, he hasn't got the right attitude to wear the Royal Blue shirt.
Luke O'Farrell
125   Posted 02/05/2012 at 13:29:17

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I have to disagree with some of the ratings. Hibbert had a relatively good game going forward but, defensively, him and Osman were very shaky. Jagielka and Heitinga's roles in the goal and performances thereafter were not all that great. Distin's distribution was terrible, he had the worst passing of any Everton player last night.

Osman was very poor, I thought. He drifted in and out of the game, stole a great chance away from Fellaini and spent the last 30 mins running on sand.

Pienaar and Fellaini were the only two who continued to show for the ball and look to go forward. Jelavic tried hard and kept going but he was feeding on scraps for the most part.

Cahill was neat and tidy in possession but he appears to have lost the ability to go forward or play anything other than a safety-first pass. He has never been a central midfielder and never will be.

Overall, it was a good points as we were poor in the second 45. Gibson was missed as he brings some much needed balance and composure to the midfield.
James Flynn
206   Posted 02/05/2012 at 17:28:11

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This was the 2nd week in a row I watched Stoke. Last week it was Arsenal in there.

I don't know I could stomach that style from my team for an entire season, and just as a fan of the game I sure wouldn't want a steady diet of Stoke on the TV.

But the aggressive way they team defend once a team gets near the final third is impressive. I noticed over both games, the refs seem to accept Stoke's "physicality" in defending and let a lot of stuff go you'd expect a whistle on.

Maybe their different away or over 38 games. But from the 2 games I watched, not surprised hearing other Prem teams don't enjoy playing them at home.
David Hallwood
251   Posted 02/05/2012 at 21:02:44

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Beat me to it James#206, I've never seen any Stoke game that had any decent football in it. They play a certain way and drag everyone down to their level. A horrible ugly, spoiling football side from Delap's quarterback impression to Ryan Shawcross WWF moves, the quicker they get relegated the better.
James Flynn
319   Posted 03/05/2012 at 01:28:03

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David - The disciplined way they play will keep them up. Over 38 games, God bless their fans for their support.

But anyone going in there, it appears from the 2 straight games I watched, for sure has their work cut out.

We applied more pressure than Arsenal did. Just couldn't finish. Credit to Stoke. A nasty bunch.
Alun Jones
393   Posted 03/05/2012 at 13:44:42

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I thought Osman did okay, unfair to single him out on what was an average performance, but that's what happens on this site, he is always the fall guy.

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