Robert Huth scored the only goal of the game as toothless Everton fell to a hard-working Stoke City. The defender redirected Dean Whitehead’s strike from the edge of the penalty area past Tim Howard in the Toffees’ goal.
The afternoon began with a thunderous round of applause in memory of Everton supporter and former captain Gary Speed, with a selection of Speed’s Everton teammates present, as was Roger Speed, Gary’s father, while the teams walked onto the pitch to the Welsh national anthem.
Once the match was underway and Stoke took the lead early in the first-half, they never looked like giving it up. Not only were the Potters as resolute as would be expected from a Tony Pulis side, but Everton were every bit as devoid of creativity. Stoke’s solid two banks of four protected the lead to such an extent that neither Thomas Sorensen, who started in goal but was later stretchered off and replaced by Amir Begovic, had to make a save of any real note.
Stoke harried and harassed when Everton were in possession and Everton lacked a player of enough class to avoid the pressure and see the pass that no one else can see. Without such a creator Everton were doomed to repeat the same futility over and over – either work the ball wide and deliver a cross to be routinely dealt with by the gargantuan Stoke back line, or launch a ball in the general direction of the Stoke goal and hope for the best.
Everton resembled Stoke but without the game plan. Peter Crouch was the obvious target of much of Stoke’s long balls but the England striker’s knock-downs were deft and intelligent. Apostolos Vellios, Everton’s lone striker, lacks the experience to do likewise. Crouch was also aided by the irrepressible Jon Walters, whose energy and determination were a constant thorn in the Everton side. Combined with the trickery of Matthew Etherington on the left wing, Stoke had the three standout players of the match.
The home side did find themselves occasionally in promising positions, but a lack of quality on the final ball, a lack of numbers in the penalty area or ultra-committed Stoke defending snuffed out any real sight of goal. Having taken an early first-half lead the visitors were understandably in no mood to take any unnecessary risks and usually kept six players behind the ball at all times. Stoke did nevertheless possess genuine threat on the break, and Crouch should have at least found the target with a back post header that drifted harmlessly wide.
There could be no complaints about the outcome, however, as Stoke fully deserved the three points. Everton are left wondering if David Moyes will have the funds or the nous to rectify his side’s glaring flaws in the January transfer window, while Pulis’ men are up to eighth in the table and only injuries to Sorensen and Jonathan Woodgate could dampen this strong performance and well-earned victory.
Everton (4-4-1-1): Howard; Hibbert (Gueye 83), Jagielka, Heitinga, Baines; Coleman, Fellaini, Osman, Bilyaletdinov (Rodwell 63); Cahill, Vellios (Stracqualursi 76)
Stoke City (4-4-2): Sorensen (Begovic 73); Woodgate (Wilkinson 53), Shawcross, Huth, Wilson; Shotton, Whelan, Whitehead, Etherington (Upson 90+3); Walters, Crouch
Did you know…Everton have kept only two clean sheets in the Premier League all season.