The teams walked out to the sombre tones of the Welsh National Anthem before they gathered around the centre-circle and they were joined by a group of his former teammates from that era, along with Gary Speed's father Roger as a minutes's applause rang around Goodison Park.
And for the game, there is no Louis Saha so David Moyes has given Apostolos Vellios a rare opportunity to lead the line, with Drenthe still out injured.
There was plenty of good midfield possession for Everton in the first 10 mins but it didn't really lead to anything of note. Osman played in Bily nicely on the left and the cross looked good but ran through. A better move saw Coleman cross in well from the right and from a flick Bily had a very good chance at the far post but lashed at it horribly with his first-time volley.
A mistake by Baines was rescued by an excellent defensive header from Heitinga that led to Stoke's first corner. It was defended out to Whitehead, unmarked, whose first-time shot was clipped past Howard at close range by Huth to give the visitors an undeserved lead.
Osman went down very easily (okay, he divided) to win a very dangerous free-kick that that Baines took that deflected off the wall for an Everton corner that saw Sorensen flail at a punch but miss completely; however, there was no Blue shirts near enough to capitalise.
Everton continued to play their calm and patient build-up play in midfield, Osman and Fellaini catching the eye with some great balls, but Bily was letting the effort down sometimes with poor control and poor crossing.
Another Stoke corner out of nothing and so close to another Stoke goal, the flick-on header evading three well-placed Stoke strikers... something of a let-off for the Blues, whose initial confidence was visibly waning as Stoke looked more and more comfortable with their lead.
Osman threw in a pretty mean corner that Sorensen elected to punch away, which led to more laboured build-up and the hopeful cross clipped-in that had so far proved ineffective as the primary mode of Everton attack against a massed and bulky Stoke defence that was keeping its shape well.
A comedy moment with the diminutive Osman taking on the lanky Crouch in the corner and losing out to an unfair foul called by referee Mason that led to a dangerous moment for Howard, the ball flying past the angle. Baines delivered a really poor corner as the break loomed, and Fellaini looked to get on another corner but Shawcross had his arm around him, and was rewarded for his illegal play with a free-kick form Mason, much to the Belgian's very valid annoyance.
The pattern continued into the second half, with no changes to personnel or gameplan from David Moyes. It was increasingly obvious that Everton were going to struggle to make any impression on the big men in the Stoke defence but it took until the hour-mark of course before Moyes finally made a change, Bily off and Rodwell on.
A short corner and good cross found Cahill falling backwards and away from goal. Then another strange event, Cahill alert, trying to steal in on a shielded non-backpass and colliding with Sorensen, who collapsed in a heap while the Gwladys Street screamed for a penalty but all Mason gave was a throw-in. Sorensen required plenty of treatment and was roundly booed by the Blues crowd.
Everton were getting increasingly ragged as the quality of the football degenerated, one scrappy goalmouth incident with a poor touch from Osman came to nothing as Sorensen collapsed again, and finally went off, to a crescendo of boos form the rather mean-spirited Evertonians who had presumably decided it was all an act! On came Begovic with Stoke defenders continuing to foul Fellaini and others with impunity.
Vellios was replaced by Stracqualursi for the last 15 mins, Moyes leaving Cahill on, convinced that a conventional 4-4-2 against the Stoke bullies was not going to work...
Cahill's niggle factor may well be of value for the remaining period of this war of attrition.
Rodwell got the first half-decent shot of the game on target but it was inevitably blocked by the massed defenders as Moyes made the final change: Gueye on for Hibbert for the final 10 mins or so, and an Everton onslaught on the books.
A superb cross from Baines just evaded Heitinga who looked like he also was being impeded as Stoke started their time-wasting antics, compensated somewhat perhaps by 7 minutes of added time. But by this point, Everton had tried everything in the rather limited Moyes Playbook of Attacking Football.
The game again underlined Everton's paucity in the final third, although that was not helped by another dreadful decision from Mason, wrongly giving a corner when Coleman was clearly fouled. But Everton had failed to really test either of the Stoke goalies and their lack of bite up front was cruelly exposed in another horrible game for Blues fans.
Everton's two-game "mini revival" was derailed at Goodison Park on the back of another depressing performance that starkly underlined the lack of creativity, invention and attacking threat in David Moyes's side. Prior to kick-off, Stoke City had just one win away from home all season, one win in their last six League games, one win over Everton in the Premier League and had failed to win a single game following a Europa League fixture. All they needed to do, however, was score a single goal to overcome a Blues team that failed to force a single save from either of two goalkeepers who played for the visitors today.
Everton peppered the Stoke area with aerial balls from set-piece and crossing situations all afternoon but, tellingly, they were prevented from threatening the goal with a single header. Part of that was down to the fact that Tony Pulis' big men were in all the right places at the right times, but they were aided in their task by yet more shockingly poor and inconsistent refereeing by Lee Mason and the apparent disappearance from the game of penalties being awarded for wrestling tactics inside the area.
Marouane Fellaini, Tim Cahill and full home debutant, Apostolos Vellios, spent much of the afternoon being man-handled in the box, the Belgian even motioning to the referee at one point to the grappling arm of defender wrapped around his waist but nothing was given as he headed wide while visibly being held back in full view of the officials.
Later, Vellios would be similarly compromised by Richard Shawcross' arm around his neck as the two battled for a corner from the opposite side, whereas Fellaini and Cahill were pulled up at virtually every opportunity by Mason for the merest of contact in the air.
Yet more sickening refereeing in a fixture at Goodison was a factor but it was not the reason why Everton failed to gain even a point from this game. The blank scoresheet on the Blues's side of the ledger was largely down to sheer attacking ineptitude and that depressing lack of creativity that pervades the midfield and forward line. Moyes's men just never looked like scoring in a match they again dominated almost from start to finish and this fourth home defeat of the campaign probably sucked what optimism had been built up by back-to-back wins right out of the stadium.
And yet — not for the first time this season, of course — things
had started so brightly. After the moving tributes to Gary
Speed, including his father and many of his former teammates
joining the two teams on the field to lead a minute's applause to honour the boyhood Blue, Everton began the game in enterprising mood with some really nice football being played at times.
Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, starting again in place of the injured Royston Drenthe on the left flank, had what, at the time, felt like would be the first chance of many in the 10th minute when Seamus Coleman's cross from the right glanced off Shawcross' head. But the Russian snatched at a left-foot volley and it flew across the six-yard line rather than bother Thomas Sorensen.
Uppermost in Moyes's mind before the game must have been Stoke's physical and aerial threat so he must have been spitting mad just four minutes later when the visitors scored with their first set-piece. A dreadful touch by Leighton Baines near his own area gifted the ball to Ryan Shotton, forcing John Heitinga to head his cross behind. When the resulting corner was headed out only as far as Dean Whitehead just outside the penalty area, he returned the ball with interest towards the Everton goal where Robert Huth turned it past Tim Howard and into the roof of the net.
1-0 down but with time on their side, the Blues didn't seem to panic and they had a chance within a couple of minutes when Leon Osman was hauled down 20 yards from the Stoke goal, but Baines' direct free kick deflected off the wall and behind for a corner.
More pleasing football followed, though, with Osman twice releasing Bilyaletdinov towards the byline with nicely-weighted passes in the space of a couple of minutes but the Russian scuffed his first crossing attempt and when he stood his second up towards the back post, a foul was called against Cahill.
The home side's momentum stalled around the half-hour mark, however, and they just seemed to stop doing what hadn't up to that point worked but appeared to be the best route to breaking Stoke down via the right bounce or a bit of fortune to come the Blues' way. In other words, get the ball down the left for Baines or Bilyaletdinov to keep slinging crosses in.
Though Everton applied some pressure going into the half-time break and forced a handful more corners, Stoke were looking more and more adept at snuffing out the Blues' threat from set-pieces, either legally through smart positional play and sheer height advantage or, in the absence of any refereeing oversight, just plain thuggishly.
If the first half had been bad overall from the Blues' perspective, the second was much worse, with the players showing very few signs that they knew how they might break through a determined opposition defence.
At the heart of it, of course, is the fact that this Everton side is now utterly incapable of opening a defence up by playing through it on the ground. Time after time, the lack of movement up front presents an attacking Blue shirt with a wall of players strung along the 18-yard line and any attempt to thread a passing move through the eye of the needle gets closed out. Or there are so few players moving off the ball into space in midfield that the man with the ball has no choice but to keep charging forward into a cul-de-sac because he lacks the ball skills to beat players on his own.
That left the flanks and the hopeful Jagielka or Heitinga ball forward. The Coleman-Hibbert combination down the right was impotent as an attacking weapon, the service down the left dried up — Bilyaletdinov, of course, disappeared from the game — and anything down the middle was just being soaked up by a defence that could have continued winning headers all day long.
Bily was predictably withdrawn after 63 minutes and Jack Rodwell thrown on to hopefully add a bit more drive to central midfield. Osman moved out to the left and while he didn't do badly in a role in which he often struggles, in truth it should have been Magaye Gueye who came on in a like-for-like swap because the team was crying out for something different.
After a lengthy stoppage for Sorensen, who took a blow to the head when Cahill tried to capitalise on hesitation in the Stoke defence and nip the ball off the gloves of the 'keeper, Denis Stracqualursi replaced Vellios who, just as had the been the case at Fulham in his first starting role, had been largely anonymous trying to lead the line. Save for a nice flick-on with his first touch, the big Argentine offered nothing more than had the Greek because of the chronic lack of service the strikers were receiving.
If the Blues were going to get anything from this game, it would have happened in a brief flurry around the 84th minute. Rodwell saw a goalbound shot — Everton's only effort on target all afternoon — blocked by a defender before it could even reach replacement 'keeper Asimir Begovic and, a minute later, Baines' cross from a short corner flew agonisingly across the face of the Stoke goal with Heitinga inches away from getting the crucial touch.
Seven minutes of stoppage time produced nothing of note and the Everton fans departed the ground in dejected mood having received a reality check for any belief that the corner had been turned with the wins over Wolves and Bolton.
It's the mess that Bill built, really, and the stagnation in approach that Davey just can't seem to resolve —a relatively exciting team that qualified for Europe has been stripped of its best players and the manager's dogged refusal to try anything new means that Everton are a predictable and stale outfit that is easy to strangle into one-dimensional tactics.
Some will point the finger at the likes of Vellios and Cahill and while it's true that the former lacks the experience to lead a 4-5-1 formation and the latter just looks burned out from years and years of grueling commitment to club and country, the truth is that neither got a sniff of goal this afternoon. Neither, indeed, would the departed Yakubu who is on his usual "new club hot streak" and scored four goals for struggling Blackburn yesterday. It's not so much that the strikers are missing opportunities, it's that they're just not getting the chances in the first place; the problems lie deep and may take a real re-think on Moyes's part to resolve.
One thing's for sure, what he's doing now is not working.
Player Ratings: Howard 6, Hibbert 6 (Gueye 6), Jagielka 7, Heitinga 6, Baines 6, Fellaini 7*, Osman 6, Coleman 5, Bilyaletdinov 6 (Rodwell 6), Cahill 6, Vellios 5 (Stracqualursi 5)
What a difference a couple of games make! As Everton prepared for their last home game against Wolverhampton Wanderers, they were one place above the bottom three and under no illusions that, in the wake of five defeats in six league games, a failure to beat Mick McCarthy's side would have set the alarm bells ringing at Goodison Park.
A fortnight and two wins later, the Blues sit in ninth place in the Premier League, seven points off Arsenal, the lowest of the seven teams that it's now assumed will challenge for the European places this season, with a game in hand over Aston Villa in eighth.
Though elements of fortune contributed to the successive victories over Wolves and Bolton — a controversial penalty in the former, a first-half red card for the opposition in the latter — no one can question that David Moyes's side deserved to win those games and morale has, as a result, certainly taken a turn for the better.
So the visit of Stoke City to Liverpool L4 this Sunday presents Everton with the opportunity to win three Premier League games on the bounce, a feat they last achieved a little under two years ago.
Moyes's task looks as though it will be aided somewhat by good news on the injury front, with all three of Sylvain Distin, Phil Neville and Jack Rodwell back in full training this week and expected to be fit enough to be in contention to win back their starting berths.
Distin has been struggling for the past month with a groin strain while Rodwell was sidelined with a rib injury sustained on international duty with England that has kept him out of the Blues's last couple of matches. Neville picked up a hamstring strain at Chelsea in late October.
Typically a strong, physical side, Tony Pulis' team are never an easy proposition but they've only won once on their travels in the League so far this season and they will be coming off a Europa League clash with Dynamo Kiev, albeit one played in the Midlands and not on the other side of Europe. Nevertheless, the Potteries side have played nine games more than Everton this season due to their commitments on the Continent and Moyes will be hoping that they will be sufficiently jaded as to give the Blues the edge.
Of course, this fixture will be the first one Everton have played since the sad news of the death of Gary Speed and both the Club and fans have tributes planned to honour the boyhood Blue's memory. Many of his former teammates from 1996-1998, including the likes of Duncan Ferguson and Graeme Stuart, will be in attendance to lead a minute's applause for Speed who played 67 times for Everton before being sold to Newcastle United.
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