30 years have passed since the Potters won at Goodison Park, but that long stint without a win has finally been broken as Stoke City display some superb defending to hold out for the 1-0 victory. Stoke now sit 8th in the table after confirming earlier this week that the knock-out stages of the Europa League will be a part of the fixture list, which will be a massive boost the back-room moral.
Our Tone made nine changes to the mighty red and white side today; only Robert Huth and Ryan Shotton were to keep their places in the starting eleven. Whoever was out on field however, it would be a bitter sweet occasion as the nation morns the loss of the wondrous, world class player, Gary Speed.
Being a former player; Speed had a special place in the hearts of the Everton faithful, and that was certainly evident in the fitting tribute that was witnessed at Goodison today. The Welsh national anthem echoed eerily around the ground, making hairs stand on end, but it was the minute`s applause that brought the real emotion to light. Several former team-mates were gathered round the centre circle, and all found the overwhelming sadness difficult, but the sense of pride was the emotion that ran the highest, which would later prove to be quite a motivator.
During the early stages of the game, Stoke succumbed to a resounding amount of pressure from the boys in blue. Coleman found the space on the right to whip in a dangerous cross, Huth got up for the header to clear, but the ball glanced across his hair and fell to Bilyetdinov at the far post. With oodles of space and no marker in sight he shot an effort from close range, but he didn`t put his laces through it properly and it flashed across the face of goal.
Stoke weren`t allowed much possession as Everton were looking to boss the game, but the Potters are used to having a lesser share of the ball and can create chances as soon as we regain possession. Some promising moments where there for the taking, but none were found just yet.
However, in the 15th minute, a combination of Dean Whitehead and Huth saw Stoke go in front with the first GOAL of the game. Shotton took advantage of an Everton mistake to rally the ball down the wing; his efforts were awarded with a corner for Stoke in which Matty Etherington stepped up to take. His curling cross caused problems as Everton scrambled to clear the initial threat, but the ball fell to Whitehead who then took a shot on the volley. Everton ‘keeper Tim Howard committed to the dive, but Huth was there just in front of him to toe-poke it the other side of Howard and in for the lead. Sorry Dean, but that one was Robert`s.
Everton had the chance to conjure up an immediate response when referee Lee Mason awarded the home side a free-kick just outside of the area, much to the sarcastic celebrations of the home fans. Set-piece expert Baines stepped up, but his effort glanced off the wall and away for a corner, which posed a threat, but Thomas Sorensen gathered at the second time of asking.
Deja Vu could have been the feeling for the Toffees as another dangerous corner from Stoke was half cleared, and the ball fell to Whitehead! On this occasion however, his volley was not hit on the sweet spot and the ball bobbled away.
After some superb play between Peter Crouch and Etherington won the Potters a corner, a real chance of a second goal was there for the taking. Glen Whelan delivered the ball as flat as a Rory Rocket, Huth flicked on but neither Ryan Shawcross or Ryan Shotton could climb high enough as the ball glided past both their heads.
A Stoke set-piece was more or less the last action of the first half, but one that threatened once more. Crouch won the free-kick – which admittedly seemed a little soft – and Etherington was to take it. Shawcross got the height this time to glance an effort towards goal, but ‘keeper Howard got the slightest of touches as he attempted to punch away, thankfully for him however, his defence finished the job and cleared their lines.
The first half drew to a close in what was proving to be a battle of the strongest as the physical side of things was the most dominant. Everton did boss possession, but couldn`t quite find the clinical finishing in the final third, meanwhile Stoke held out before picking the pockets of Everton to bag a goal against the run of play. The questions that posed now however were whether (a) Stoke could keep a clean sheet, and/or (b) score a second.
The second off started very scrappily as the Potters seemed to be tackling with commitment, but not along with accuracy. The Everton opportunities are easily cleared every time however as they still struggle to beat our mighty military defence.
A newly substituted Andy Wilkinson, in place of Jonathan Woodgate who intriguingly started in the right back position, immediately made his presence known eight minutes into the second half as he gave Cahill no space to get a clean head on the free-kick. The ball flashed wide, and Sorensen collected the ball for a goal kick.
The Great Dane suffered a blow to the head moments later when Cahill clattered into him trying to get a foot on the ball from a long overhead pass as a rushing Sorensen just managed to bravely push the ball away. Lengthy treatment followed, along with Asmir Begovic on standby, but Tommy got to his feet a little groggy, but ok to continue. The home fans felt there was an element of time wasting which encouraged the boos, but when you`re slightly concussed on the ground, time doesn`t even register, and neither does the harsh booing.
A real scramble in the area for an Everton corner could have left Stoke with egg on their faces, but the defence cope well again to see out the danger.
Sorensen immediately goes down afterwards as he really struggles to regain himself. The boos got louder and louder, even when a stretcher was called for along with an oxygen mask. The Danish international was carried off, clearly still dazed, as second choice goalkeeper Begovic made his way onto the pitch. Second choice perhaps, but by no stretch of the imagination second best I must add.
Asmir was thrown on in the thick of it as a wrestling match in and around the area coincided with an Everton throw in which lead to a free-kick. The ball was delivered in but youngster Vellios couldn`t get his head on it as he couldn`t match the physical competition that stood in his way.
The Potters were later awarded a free-kick for a foul on Whitehead who seemed to be causing quite a stir in the midfield. Whelan delivered and the ball was heading for Crouch, but Fellaini and his infamous afro cushioned the ball away for a Stoke corner.
The corner was whipped in and what a delicious cross it was, but the Toffees didn`t melt under pressure and averted the danger.
Heading towards the end of the game saw Stoke bravely yet desperately defend, as both Baines and Rodwell unleash efforts on goal within moments of eachother. Both shots were blocked by Stoke bodies and both attacks fizzled out, but Everton weren`t giving up yet.
Pulis wanted to park the bus, so threw on Mathew Upson in pace of Etherington not long after learning that the ref had added on seven minutes of playing time; a bit of news that spurred on the home fans to bellow out vocal support for their losing team.
Stoke were flying here, there and everywhere to put off Toffee attacks, and everyone was back to keep the clean sheet. Desperation started to show for Everton as a sense of regency crept into their play.
Not long before the end and Whitehead threw himself to the ground to slide in on an onrushing Coleman; the ball went out for a corner according to referee Mason and Everton had men in numbers for the attack, apart from Howard between their sticks on the other side of the pitch. The ball raced in but Begovic was there to superbly claim the ball above everyone else to conclude a dramatic moment of anxiety.
Eventually, the final whistle went and 30 years of hurt went down the toilet. Not the best of quality displayed today, but Stoke had their moments of brilliance passing wise and defended as if their lives depended on it.
David Moyes was not at all happy with Lee Mason`s performance as referee as I pretty much can`t blame him for. It seemed that decision making from him wasn`t up to scratch, from an Everton perspective, but from our perspective it`s something that we will take and perhaps even believe we deserve after some poor decisions we`ve suffered from previous games. We never ask for refs to be bias in favour of us, but fairness is key and a lot of the time we seem to draw the short straw with refs. However we seemed to have the benefit of the doubt on this occasion, which was nice to see although still wrong in the sense that Everton had some unlucky calls.
Never mind; a second win away of the season will do us fine.
Howard, Hibbert (Gueye, 83,) Heitinga, Jagielka, Baines, Coleman, Osman,Fellaini, Bilyaletdinov (Rodwell, 63), Cahill, Vellios (Stracqualursi, 76).
Subs: Mucha, Distin, Neville, Barkley.
Sorensen (Begovic, 74), Huth, Woodgate(Wilkinson, 53), Shawcross, Wilson, Shotton, Whitehead, Whelan, Etherington (Upson, 93), Walters, Crouch.
Subs: Jones, Fuller, Jerome, Palacios.