Distin and Jagielka joined Deulofeu, Kone and Gibson on the injured list but Barry and Howard (as captain) returned from suspension and Stones played alongside Alcaraz in a new central defensive partnership. Up front, Lukaku was looking for better service from Pienaar, Mirallas and Barkley, with Apostolos Vellios making a rare appearance on the Everton bench.
Not much to report in the early exchanges, although Stoke tried to test the Blues with a few long balls, a head on from Crouch headed away confidently by Stones. Everton looked to get some nice movement going around the Stoke area but a heavy touch from Mirallas, then Lukaku lost possession.
Everton won the first corner on 10 mins, swung in a little low by Baines. Lukaku won a second corner off a great ball from Barry, Alcaraz and Stones up for it; Barry heading over but climbing for it.
Barkley won a nice free-kick, tripping over his own feet! — but Baines swung it past the far post. A fast move by Stoke almost paid off but Adam pushed Barry before Howard pulled off a fantastic save as Mariner blew for the foul by Adam.
Stoke got a better cross in to Crouch who would ave done more with the header but for good attention from Stones. Barkley was making some odd decisions. Barry had a poke with a low drive from the edge of the Stoke area before another hopeful spell of probing from the home side.
Alcaraz was showing some supreme confidence and skill in the ball, opening up play with an excellent cross-filed ball to Coleman. Everton were doing everything they could to get forward but Lukaku was playing too deep and wide, and was showing some very poor touch and a disappointing lack of ball control when it was most needed.
Mirallas smashed one into the crossbar out of nothing, a really powerful drive that had Sorensen well beaten. While at the other end, Assaidi in space could have damaged Everton but the shot was deflected behind. A great break on, spoiled again by horrible ball control from the Big Belgian.
As the rain intensified, Everton kept trying to get their slick passing game going but tight marking by a solid Stoke defence made it difficult to get a sight of goal, while the threat of counter-attack from Stoke was perennial. Mirallas drove a good ball in to Barkley whose first-time side-foot flew inches over the angle.
Some patient build-up saw Baines caught by N'Zonzi just before the break, Mirallas whacking a fantastic deadball strike onto Sorenen's right post, a brilliant attempt underlining Everton's determination to get something from this very difficult encounter.
Sorenson was replaced at the break by Butland but the action was more effective at the other end when the ball came out to Assaidi and he hammered his shot through three defenders and past Howard into the Everton net, setting the scene for a real Blues test .
Cameroon got booked for dragging back Pienaar, Baines's probing kick winning a corner that was worked around to no effect. Pienaar then had a wild shot well over the ball. Then Lukaku took a weak shot that was easy for Butland. At the other end, Adam had a good shot but could not beat Howard.
After a great challenge and subsequent run from Barkley Shawcross got a booking for diving in on Barry, and another dangerous free kick that Mirallas tried to fire under the wall this time... but they failed to oblige with a jump. 30 mins left for Everton to turn this around...
Assaidi seemed to get the better of Coleman but then held on to the Everton full back, and anther free-kick, this one wide right was swung in this time by Barkley, and headed away too easily. Whelan, lunged in on Pienaar, yellow card, and this one too far out for a strike at goal played short... and coming to nothing. Mirallas saw yellow for arguing with Mariner... stupid.
Some great setup work seemed to lay it on a plate for Mirallas but Peters blocked the certain goal, and the pendulum swung back Stoke's way for a spell as they felt they ha the measure of anything at them. A sensational dribble in by Barkley and again, Peters blocked the crucial shot behind, and nothing from the corner.
Martinez tried to change things up another notch, Osman and Jelavic entering the fray with Pienaar and McCarthy giving way with less than 20 mins left... Stoke brought Pennant on for Evertonian Jon Walters. Everton tried to get back in the rhythm after the changes but Stoke were not going to lie down, Crouch coming close but for some determined 4-on-1 defending by the All Blues.
Into the final 10 mins and Everton's attacks were becoming more frenetic, while Stoke and the home crowd nerves created a very lively atmosphere inside the Britannia Stadium as was swapped out for Palacios, while Naismith replaced Lukaku... a very surprising move, even if Lukaku had not been playing well.
A goalbound Osman shot was blocked by Shawcross, then some great play and a ball in by Barkley to Jelavic's feet but somehow it was shipped away from him. Naismith though he could dribble his way past three defenders with 5 mins now showing, but no goals...
Another free-kick, this time wide left, as Baines tripped himself, the ball horribly overhit by Mirallas, past the far post. Some frenetic defending as the Blues hounded every loose ball on the edge of the Stoke area,Osman setting up Naismith for a great header, blocked by Peters, then a Mirallas shot, (blocked by Peters.
Yet another massive free-kick, 90th minute, floated in by Baines, fell to Jelavic, his fierce shot again blocked away. Four minutes of added time and Osman looks like he was fouled, but gets up and keeps heading to the byeline, hacked down... Penalty for Everton! Leighton Baines smashed it home and Everton rescue a point... perhaps more!
But the late corner went to Stoke at the other end and was defended away as the final whistle went, A tremendous fightback by Everton that avoided what would have been a hugely depressing defeat for the Blues. But no mistake, this was a very difficult game for the Blues.
Everton kick off 2014 with a trip to Stoke hoping to make it nine points from 12 from their four League games over the busy Festive period.
The Blues start the New Year in 4th place, two places and four points better off than this time last year having played a game less. Sunday's win over Southampton capped a good year for the club, with Everton finishing 2013 with the best defensive record in the Premier League for the calendar year, testament to the continuity under Roberto Martinez.
With things so tight in the top eight, every point is vital but optimism in the camp will be high after Martinez's side shrugged off five changes to the starting XI against Mauricio Pocchetino's Saints and record their 10th win of the season.
Even allowing for Stoke's poor run of form since the end of November, a sequence of four defeats and two 0-0 draws that began with a 4-0 hammering at Goodison Park, the Britannia Stadium is never an easy place to go, though. Everton will be heartened by the fact that the Potters have conceded eight goals in their last two games but they will also be mindful that Chelsea came a cropper on this ground three and a half weeks ago.
The defensive pairing of Sylvain Distin (who is expected to play despite feeling his hamstring on Sunday) and Antolin Alcaraz, a debutant at the weekend in place of the injured Phil Jagielka, will need to be as solid as they were against Southampton and they will be aided by the likely return from suspension of Gareth Barry. He is expected to slot back into his linchpin role against James McCarthy to re-form one of the most formidable central midfield partnerships in the Premier League.
Elsewhere in the side, there is scope for the reinstatement to the starting XI of Steven Pienaar and Kevin Mirallas, both of whom started the last match on the bench but came on in the second half to help lift the Blues to victory. Martinez might bench one or both of Steven Naismith and Bryan Oviedo if he feels he needs to bring both wide players back in. Meanwhile, having started two games in the space of three days, Leon Osman is the obvious candidate to be rested to make way for Barry.
Joel Robles continues in goal for the suspended Tim Howard. Tim Howard is also back from suspension following his red card against Sunderland.
It's fair to say that, though they have ground out impressive victories and were hugely unfortunate not to get anything from the Sunderland game on Boxing Day, the Blues haven't been performing at full throttle since the two away games at Old Trafford and the Emirates.
Barkley's star remains on the rise but Mirallas is still to really get going and Romelu Lukaku, whose size and strength will be crucial attributes against a notoriously physical outfit, has only one goal in his last six. Service to the big Belgian will be key, as will retention of possession and the involvement down the flanks of Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines.
Everton haven't beaten Stoke on their own patch since 2008 and that thrilling winner by Tim Cahill; indeed, they lost this fixture on New Year's Day 2012, so plenty more incentive for Martinez to spur his troops on to another victory to maintain the pressure on those clubs around them in the chase for Champions League qualification.
|Premier League Scores|
|Premier League Table|
|2013-14 Reports Index|
|Everton fans' reports|
|STOKE CITY (4-4-2)|
|Sorensen (45' Butland)|
|Adam (82' Palacios)|
|Walters (72' Pennant)|
|Subs not used|