STOKE CITY 0
The phrase ‘hard-fought’ barely begins to describe Everton’s 1-0 Premier League win over Stoke City on Saturday, such was the extent the Potters chased, harried and harassed the Toffees all over the field. David Moyes’ side eventually found a way past the visitors’ resistance and held on to the lead Yakubu’s goal delivered, but there was more than a little luck and a great deal of managerial courage involved in clinching this home victory.
The main stroke of fortune came from Stoke’s disallowed goal, referee Lee Probert rescuing a hesitant Leighton Baines and a flat-footed Tim Howard after the pair combined to allow Tuncay Sanli to prod home with the game goalless. Had the Turk’s effort stood it would have been an undeserved lead – not that Stoke were not playing well up to that point, but their good work had been far from Everton’s goal. In packing the midfield, particularly with Tuncay dropping deep from his partnership with Kenwyne Jones, Tony Pulis threatened to choke the life out of the game before it even got going and for their part, Everton, in their usual 4-4-1-1 formation, struggled to break through the red-and-white striped wall in front of them. Indeed, it took a roll of the dice from Moyes in withdrawing Seamus Coleman from the right of midfield in favour of striker Louis Saha and a switch to a lopsided 4-3-3 for Everton to look truly dangerous.
Saha’s introduction saw Steven Pienaar swap from left to right with Yakubu a nominal left-sided forward, but in reality Everton’s players appeared to simply take up whatever position caught their fancy. For a side usually so tactically rigid, one that adheres to the manager’s game plan to the letter, it was an interesting departure, an experiment perhaps from Moyes in letting his men off the leash. An attacking overload never quite materialised but corralling Mikel Arteta, John Heitinga and Tim Cahill in midfield behind Pienaar, Yakubu and Saha, and with Baines given the freedom of the left flank to raid, the Blues were able to step up the pressure on their opponents and keep them pinned back for an extended time. The winning goal did show a slight effect of Moyes’ changes, with Cahill’s shot from the edge of the box striking the post and being turned in by Yakubu – if Saha had not been introduced and the Australian dropped a little deeper, Cahill would not have been there to shoot from distance in the first place.
The same changes that gave Everton an extra dimension threatened to allow Stoke back into the game, as the absence of a legitimate left midfielder left the side exposed on that flank. Stoke tried to take advantage, bringing Jermaine Pennant into the fray but despite repeated forays through the former Liverpool winger, right-back Robert Huth and Tuncay drifting wide, Everton held strong. Stoke’s physical style never really paid dividends, with Heitinga and either Phil Jagielka or Sylvain Distin usually doubling up on the aerial challenge against Jones, and, despite a couple of scares, Everton deservedly stretched their unbeaten run to five games and ended October on a high.
18 Neville – 6 Jagielka – 15 Distin – 3 Baines
23 Coleman – 5 Heitinga – 10 Arteta – 20 Pienaar
62 – 8 Saha on for 23 Coleman
85 – 7 Bilyaletdinov on for 5 Heitinga