Arriving in Stoke on a wet and windy day sort of screams bleak England in the bleak midwinter... but 4th in the Premier League and playing some good stuff, optimism abounded as we assembled. The team came through: no Distin and Stones in as deputy with Heitinga not in the squad... so it seems like, if he can negotiate the contract and wage he wants, then he is an ‘Hammer’... or is it an ‘Iron’?

We kicked off attacking the home end and within minutes Mirallas had got to the by-line with pace but the final ball found only the first man who played for Stoke and the move ended. The next 10 minutes set the tone for the half... and maybe the whole game. Everton had the possession and built well to the edge of the box; then, for a variety of reasons, our moves floundered, which allowed Stoke to get it forward quickly and we had to be aware at the back. An example of this took place around the 10-minute mark when we forced a corner after good build up. Baines took it but we bundled the ball out for a goal kick. The keeper kicked downfield and within seconds Assaidi had a shot on goal – a weak one, yes, and straight at Howard... but a warning nevertheless.

Barry fed a great ball from midfield to Lukaku out wide but the best the big man could do was force a corner which was cleared. Stoke then had a period of attacks which showed the first-time pairing of Stones and Alcaraz in a good light. Both have hardly set foot on the pitch in a Premier League game, yet they played like a partnership in waiting. Stoke had a shot that Howard did wonders to save but the offside flag was up although Howard didn’t know that. Then Crouch was just wide with a header.

At last, around 20 mins, we had a shot on goal when McCarthy surged forward and hit a soft one right to the keeper. The rain got heavier and heavier but the pitch played well and we continued to build up with neat passing but rarely if ever troubling their keeper. On the half-hour Barkley threaded a pass toward the box and someone was felled. Free kick – Mirallas took... keeper motionless as the ball thumped the crossbar with great force and the rebound was cleared.

Before half-time, Stoke had a shot deflected in our box which left Howard wrong footed and stranded; luckily it dribbled wide. Mirallas charged forward, crossed low and Barkley got it over the bar. Then we got another free kick in Baines territory but Mirallas took it and – would you believe it – keeper motionless again as the ball thumps the post this time, and then got cleared. You could forgive Mirallas for believing it was not to be his day.

Half-time: 0-0. Although we'd had most possession, we struggled to find the quality final ball. But Stoke deserve some credit for that with the memory of the 4-0 mauling just a couple of weeks ago, they certainly set up not to lose and the man who is most fans' yard-dog – Shawcross – was having a very effective game.

Second half and Stoke changed their keeper, the original one had nothing to do so he must have been injured. We started where we left off, on the attack, but again the breakup of good moves was in that last third and Lukaku was suffering more than most with his touch with plenty of others not seeming to realise we play in Blue.

We got a bit ragged and Stoke took advantage and had a sustained attack and, within only 5 minutes of the restart, we were one down when a cross was headed out by Stones but straight to Assaidi who thumped past Howard from the edge of the box. You can’t be too hard on an 18-year-old making his debut but I am sure he will learn from his error, just a pity it cost a goal.

We retaliated but our end-product was a Mirallas effort high over the bar... then Shawcross gave away a free kick which again Mirallas took but this time hit the wall. Then Coleman was wrestled to the ground by Assaidi but the ref waved 'play on' – much to the annoyance of the faithful – but it did rouse them and some good 12th-man stuff took place.

With 65 minutes gone, we still couldn’t get that decisive move that at least gets people on their feet, let alone a shot on target. Also, a few of our players were now looking a bit either mentally or physically tired... in fact, we were just not at it – yet on top – until it came to their box, where a ‘one-two’ with third man running could well have worked wonders for all assembled on and off the pitch.

Around the 70-minute mark, the manager had seen enough and took off the two who looked to be running through treacle: Pienaar and McCarthy; both had run themselves out. Jelavic and Osman came on. It was ‘go for it’ time as a 4-2-4 system looked to be employed but, such was our need, it was a free for all at times.

Osman made an immediate impact and at last we had a player showing craft and guile; attacks became more structured which set off the faithful to start to roar the players on. Barkley and Barry were the two in midfield; both seemed to pick up on the calmness of Osman and looked the better for it as we ploughed forward more menacingly now. Of course, this left us a little exposed to Stoke breaks and a couple of times they looked dangerous. With Assaidi giving Coleman a hard time all match and Baines often caught up field, Stones and Alcaraz were sound and Barry and Barkley got back as quick as they could.

Just 10 mins to go, Naismith replaced the misfiring Lukaku and we stepped up another gear. The faithful roared louder, Jelavic had a shot blocked near the goal line, Coleman raced forward but ran into traffic on the edge, Osman cleverly played Naismith in but the ball ran away from him as he seemed flat-footed.

Soon it was 5 mins left and Mirallas hits a free kick high and long so no attempt on goal; then Osman twists and turns with purpose in the box, leaves three Stoke players stranded and crosses for Naismith to head on goal but alas a man on the line again saves Stoke.

We were in injury time, Baines takes a free kick, Jelavic connects but his shot is blocked. The din was now reaching Health and Safety limits as we roared for one last Hurrah....

Almost over... then, "Hey Up, La — Ossie’s in the box!" He goes past one but is tripped, he doesn’t go down but heads and stumbles toward goal and then Pennant ensures he hits the deck: Ref’s whistle, "Penalty!!!" Baines takes — keeper goes wrong way — net bulges — and we have a point. It may be the case that we dropped two points but, at that moment, one felt great and from the celebrations you thought it could have been the winner.

Final whistle and in keeping with a draw there was no wild talk either way.

MotM – Very hard call today but I am going with Osman. He may have only been on for half an hour but I fear without him we would never have scored.

When we scored, a smoke bomb or flare was set off yet again at an away match. It’s not my place to tell anyone how to behave but I have to say, letting those things off in very crowded areas is bloody dangerous. Plus the fact it’s your own Blue Brothers you are likely to harm!

Up for the Cup, Saturday! I love the FA Cup and winning it would be just great... yet I bet it will be quite a different atmosphere and low key with team changes as batteries are recharged to continue our title quest. Times change from banners, scarfs, rosettes, rattles... and dancing in Trafalgar square fountains. Could they come back this season?

See you Saturday.

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Mike Gaynes
119 Posted 01/01/2014 at 23:45:40
Thanks as always, Ken, for your fine work. Good note on Assaidi... I thought his pressure really kept Coleman back on his heels, and less offensively involved than in previous games. Also a good shout on the "misfiring" Lukaku -- right after Mirallas hit the post, Rom had a wide-open header from eight yards off a perfect cross from Coleman, and missed badly. Not his best day.

Osman was the game-saver, but here's one vote for Alcaraz as MOTM. Only his second Everton start, and with a teenager next to him... but the "Rock" was flawless defensively and hit an excellent crossfield pass to Osman that enabled him to get into the box for the PK.

Tim Jones
149 Posted 02/01/2014 at 02:23:41
Considering the teams we have played and the number of team changes we have undergone in the last two games then a points tally of four from six is a very good return.
Julian Wait
151 Posted 02/01/2014 at 03:18:49
Thanks again Ken. Agree on MOTM although Alcaraz played very well. But Osman was the difference in the end between a draw and getting nothing for all that pretty football.

A big sigh of relief to see two "backup" (or should I say next generation/s) center halves put on a decent display. And look like proper players. At this point I feel comfortable with any combination of the four of them, including perhaps the much vaunted 3 center half approach at some point (perhaps when we're missing Barry or McCarthy).

I must say that Stoke's play was better than expected. I'd have taken a point before the game based on the team we had, but in the end was disappointed with one. And we can certainly play some nice footy. We need more end product however against these teams.

Onwards and upwards ...

Patrick Murphy
152 Posted 02/01/2014 at 03:29:08
The last 9 league games have produced 18 points which is about as good as we could have expected, since and including the derby match the positions in the league haven't really changed although we have fallen a point behind the Dark Side, Arsenal were and remain 7 points ahead of us and Chelsea and Man City have picked up a few more points. Sometimes when I read the posts on the various threads it seems that we are on the crest of a slump but in reality we are holding our own and if we can add to the numbers in the squad and improve our goalscoring threat we still have a chance of top 4.

Brent Stephens
153 Posted 02/01/2014 at 03:28:35
Nice report, Ken.

The glass gets that bit more above half-way full by the week. This week has Alcaraz and Stones giving individual and joint performances that add that bit more to our stock of riches.

"Times change from banners, scarfs, rosettes, rattles... and dancing in Trafalgar square fountains. Could they come back this season?"

Well, I've asked my tailor on Savile Row to find my measurements so he can knock up a new swimming cozzy (slightly more generous dimensions than last time).

Tim Jones
159 Posted 02/01/2014 at 04:41:15
I am still of the opinion that Oviedo , based on his contributions in the games he played, is very unfortunate being dropped.
Mike Gaynes
163 Posted 02/01/2014 at 05:54:43
Pretty sure we'll see him this weekend, Tim. Roberto will send out the strongest team he's got against QPR. Remember, this is still his Cup... and I'm sure he wants to keep it.
Derek Thomas
191 Posted 02/01/2014 at 09:32:52
Stoke only rode their luck a little, they worked for it and got it, classic KITAP1.

Without Delboy or somebody else brought in during this window, Everton still lack a genuine game changer.

If I were Hughes I would kick Pennant from arsehole to breakfast time for being stupid, yet again we weren't going to score if we played till midnight.

As Patrick said we're on the crest of slump averaging 2 pts per game, plenty below us would like to be in a slump like this.

Worrying that the top 3 are starting to pull away

Sam Morrison
202 Posted 02/01/2014 at 10:42:53
@Tim (159) I think Oviedo was 'rotated' rather than dropped. We'll see him again pretty soon.
Peter Laing
207 Posted 02/01/2014 at 11:01:08
Thanks for the report Ken, as ever a great read and very much in keeping in what I seen of the game yesterday from the comfort of my local! I'm also looking forward to what will hopefully be a good FA Cup run, a much needed distraction from the intensity of the Premier League. Curious to know, has a Manager ever won the FA Cup back to back with two different teams?
Harold Matthews
240 Posted 02/01/2014 at 14:19:29
Peter. Don't know the answer mate. Try this one. Can a manager named Roberto M win 4 FA Cups on the bounce? It's asking a lot in my opinion.
Peter Laing
243 Posted 02/01/2014 at 14:33:41
Checked it out through Wikipedia, Harold, and it's never been done back to back. Two managers have won the trophy with two different teams: Billy Walker with Sheffield Wednesday in 1935 and Nottingham Forest in 1959 and Herbert Chapman with Huddersfield Town in 1922 and Arsenal 1930. Everton are 12/1 with the bookies to win the Cup.

Linda Morrison
271 Posted 02/01/2014 at 15:51:05
Good report Ken, always fair to the opposing team as well.

Given the changes in the last 3 games I think we have done very well. It just though goes to highlight how small our squad is.I wouldn't be surprised to see Johnny at some point over the next few weeks if he doesn't move elsewhere.

We need a striker and more defensive reinforcements. Disitin is only out for 10 days so should be back for the Norwich game.
a good cup run would be good.
I would have paid £100 to be in the MU dressing room after their match yesterday. Spurs were not that good, MU were terrible

Just be glad we are not in Bolton's financial position, over £163 million in debt and likely to be heading for administration

Bill Gall
299 Posted 02/01/2014 at 17:21:10
Another good report; the choice of Osman as MotM after coming on as a substitute shows what myself and a lot of other supporters have been saying for a long time — we need a younger quality midfielder to put defences off-balance.
Rahman Talib
426 Posted 03/01/2014 at 05:30:51
There is no excuse for us not to win the Stoke game.

I put the blame on Coleman for the Stoke goal. He should've been on Assaidi's ass throughout the game.

As for us not scoring, I can say we ran out of luck.

Too many blocks from the Stoke's defenders, getting more and more agitated by their defences, hitting the post twice, Pienaar and Baines not up to their usual standards, Osman not coming on at half time, etc...

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