In a buoyant mood following their last-gasp Boxing Day victory, Everton will be after their first win in three home matches as they entertain a Stoke City side who are behind them only on goal difference.
Were it not for Tom Cleverley’s first goal for the club with the last meaningful touch of the game, it would have been an immensely frustrating afternoon for Everton at Newcastle United. It was another away match where they asserted their authority from the start and played some swift, incisive passing football, but again they could not make full use of their dominance as a lack of end product let them down as well as a couple of fine saves from opposing goalkeeper Rob Elliot.
As the game wore on it was Newcastle who began to create the better chances and so the Toffees were fortunate not to fall behind, but in the end they were rewarded for their persistence and the momentum they gain from picking up all three points in such dramatic fashion should stand them in good stead for the challanges that lie ahead. Few sides are attacking more fluently than Everton at present, but this will be a demanding game for them especially as it comes less than 48 hours after their success on Tyneside.
There was not a considerable amount of attention afforded Stoke’s way after they overcame a floundering Manchester United on Boxing Day, but the manner in which they dictated the play in the first half was impressive, as was the way they managed things after establishing their two-goal lead, which was never in severe danger of being relinquished. And while goalkeeper Jack Butland – who made one fine save – and the two centre-backs deserve real credit for that, it was a team effort as all over the pitch the Potters pressed their opponents at every opportunity.
In playing with an interchangeable front three – all of whom are potential match-winners, they are showing great potential and will go far if they continue to keep clean sheets. And nobody is thriving more in his current role than Marko Arnautovic, who scored a brilliant goal to put the game beyond Man Utd, while not many players in the Premier League are better than him in making intelligent runs in behind defenses. He will be tough for the home defence to contain here.
James McCarthy and Steven Naismith are hoping to be back in contention for Everton, who may restore Gerard Deulofeu and Arouna Kone to their starting line-up after they were rested at Newcastle.
Stoke should have midfielders Goeff Cameron and Glenn Whelan available despite both suffering slight knocks on Boxing Day. They remain without Stephen Ireland and Marc Muniesa.
Last Meeting: Not much went right for Everton on Boxing Day 2014 as they missed chances, saw two key players succumb to injury and lost at home to Stoke through a disputed penalty on the stroke of half-time. James McCarthy was adjudged to have brought down Bojan Krkic, who coolly dispatched the spot-kick and gave his side a fine win.
Played for both – Steve Simonsen: Second-choice throughout his time at Everton, Simonsen made just 30 Premier League appearances in the space of six years with his only run of games coming under Walter Smith in 2001-02. As a result he moved to Stoke, where he was a regular up until their promotion to the top-flight in 2008. After that, he rarely got a look in and so moved on in 2010.