Everton 3 - 4 Stoke City
A bumper crowd descended on L4 and the Room of Nonsense soon filled. Beer flowed as handshakes were exchanged and who-did-what stories exchanged. Those of us that had been to Newcastle relived the game with excitement but bemoaned the horrendous weather conditions. No one got back early. Our mate Leggo had got himself in trouble with his long-haired one as, on Saturday morning, she sent him out for a 4-pint green top milk but he never got back until half nine Sunday morning – his excuse being that he could find nowhere open that sold them until he found himself in Newcastle. I don’t think his apology for the lateness of the milk run has not yet been fully accepted. The teams were beamed through and the talking point was the non-appearance of Mirallas even on the bench. Many wonder what is going on with that lad.
The walk up to the ground was windy but dry and even some singing broke out at one point. The fat van had its longest queue for many a day, more than double that of the Blue Dragon! And with the ‘Fan Zone’ belting out songs the human carpet of bodies in Goodison Road had the excitement levels rising.
Z-Cars and then a minute’s applause for those that had passed on this past year, a true Blue every one.
Stoke kicked off and off we went on a journey that would both lift and deflate spirits right to its very end. It took ten minutes for our first shot on target from Barkley that had bottom corner written all over it until a deflection took it for a corner. Stoke retaliated and a decent pass and shot sped past the far post. With fifteen minutes coming up we were looking to settle when Stoke showed us the simplicity of a move executed quickly that got them into our box and with our defence all over the place Shaqiri was invited to slot home from close in. And hey ho we find ourselves behind at home again.
The rowdy Stoke contingent were in full voice. I thought our lot looked a little sheepish. However with Barkley and Barry prompting we set off looking for the equaliser and just after the twenty minute mark Barkley went on a stop start run that unsettled the Stoke defence. He did another stop and the rolled the ball square to McCarthy who quickly moved it to Lukaku and our hot shot obliged. 1-1 and all to play for. Barkley was now showing some England form and made a powerful pacy run to their box flummoxed more defenders with a back heel pass to Galloway who with a side footer of deliberation only passed it wide of the far post. From my seat that looked a good chance gone. McCarthy on his comeback game was subbed off for Cleverly just after his assist and Lukaku’s goal. That was a shame with a load of games on the near horizon.
Coleman raided at pace into the box and was felled by Pieters. Our ref Clattenburg pointed but only for a goal kick. "Bastard!" said a man behind me. Then just before the break Deulofeu let us down again as well as himself by making a fast determined run on a counter attack but on reaching their box the ball ran away from him so he threw himself to the ground but all he got was a booking. I find that embarrassing.
However we were well on top now and as I mused how well a goal would do us just before half time Stoke went down our end and a superb ball from Bojan, who had impressed throughout the half, left our defence on its heels and Shaqiri lifted a half volley high over Howard and down into goal and for the first time ever in my time watching the Blues the ground remained silent. Not a cheer from the visiting fans or a groan from the home fans.
Second half and we had first shot from Cleverly in the box but it was blocked away but then Cleverly was involved at the other end when Johnson beat Cleverly and came along the byline heading for goal but Howard and Mori between them halted him before further damage could be done.
The crowd were getting restless as we kept possession by going backwards and sideways and then forwards as we tried to find a chink in Stoke's very well-drilled defence. We needed patience to stand a chance but with Stones and Kone passing to the wrong colour shirts too often for the crowds liking patience was becoming a rare commodity.
That patient build-up finally paid off as the hour mark was near when a bit of good joined up stuff got the ball to Cleverley who looked up and hit a great thirty yarder into the box and into Lukaku’s chest where he controlled and hit the back of the net. Delirium from the crowd as a superb assist and top draw finishing had us level again. Now the crowd was up as they roared the lads on to take the game. Ground not quite rocking but the loudest we have heard for some time.
Just as the celebrations subsided Cleverly was subbed and Naismith entered the fray. This seemed most strange as the lad had just put in a superb pass that led to a goal and then sprinted about 40 yards to celebrate. I found out later it was an Achilles injury so that’s him and McCarthy out now. It never rains for what it pours. It seems as soon as someone assists Lukaku in scoring they get injured!
Naismith almost had us in front soon after his entrance when he hit a powerful one but it was deflected for a corner. The crowd were still up and willing on the Blues as they had the upper hand in this phase of the game and on 70 minutes a delightful move picked out Lukaku running the left channel, he found Barkley who without looking squared the ball into the feet of Deulofeu who side-footed home. 3-2 and Goodison was on fire. ‘We only sing when we are winning’ sang the Park End as the Street got on with the Deulofeu magic bit.
Ten to go came along and we are three two up but a worry was that we were rather open. Were we going for another? If so it was dangerous as Stoke had already showed us what they had on the break. I had the impression that we were getting progressively nervous and our concentration and decision making was getting flawed. We seemed a mixture of many styles but master of none and so it was proved when we allowed Arnautovic to get a cross in across our six yard box. Howard sort of half-dived, flapped, then punched but it gained no ground and remained in the six yard box for the freshly on sub to smash the ball home. That was a downer.
We went straight back at them but not in a very structured way which allowed them to get on the ball and go on a quick counter as we were not holding a shape and I said to my mate that we were looking vulnerable. On 90 minutes and the board out ready somehow we let a Stoke player to charge down the line toward the Park End, allow him to cut in and head along the byline where Stones went to ground in a tackle in the box. The Stoke man went down and after what seemed like eternity our ref Clattenburg pointed to the spot. Everton players protested vehemently but as ever to no avail and those of us left had to sit and watch Arnautovic hammer the ball straight and true and another home loss was witnessed. The whistle went, fans not happy and let it show.
Overall quite a disappointing afternoon and made worse when you look back on other losses and remember our present manager telling us they must learn game management, correct defensive positions and not to be bullied after each one. If his milkman is reading this, give him a knock will you and ask him how he thinks it is going because we fans are just not seeing it. On the walk back the number of fans loudly criticising the manager seems to be growing. We have heard it before of cpirse but it does seem to be growing more of late.
Perhaps we will hear a bit more on take overs shortly as our Chairman is well again and he did his two hour Christmas day ‘Rock n Roll’ show on Radio 2 He said he had been poorly but was now OK.
Spurs next and I only hope some of these lessons to be learned our man talks about are on show to the faithful. Still it’s an unpredictable game so let us hope for better. Then we have a whole host of games in quick succession – please let us win a few of them. See you Sunday.
UP THE BLUES