Although Everton could not quite keep up their magnificent goal-scoring form of their last few Premier League games in the 1-1 draw with Stoke City, the point taken from the Potters represents a decent return from the Britannia Stadium, a site that few have come away from this season with anything more.
Stoke have lost four times on their own turf this season, only once more often than Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur have tasted a home defeat, putting into perspective just how impressive a win would have been. For much of the match it appeared Everton would accomplish just that but Stoke are nothing if not resilient. Yet to go to a well-protected fortress and come close to a victory while dominating much of the match – Everton had more than half of the game’s total possession – is a small feather in the cap of David Moyes’ side.
The draw takes Everton’s points tally to 52, only two fewer than the whole of last season and with two games still to play. It may not have felt like it at times, particularly during Everton’s dismal pre-Christmas form, but that represents solid progress on the year before. To finish with 58 points, assuming Everton win their last two games of the season, away at relegated Wolverhampton Wanderers and at home to Newcastle United, would have last season been enough to finish sixth, the position Liverpool held with the same total. As it was Everton were down in seventh, four points adrift of the Reds, marking this campaign as quite the turnaround as Everton now lead their cross-city cousins by three points.
That Everton find themselves in the same position now as they ended last season despite being on course to record more points suggests that while Moyes’ side have improved, the teams around them have improved a little bit more. Everton’s last day opponents, Newcastle, are the prime examples of that. The Magpies have rocketed up the table, from 12th last season to being in contention for fourth place now, and have done so with a transfer strategy that has won wide acclaim. The selling of an important player for a large fee – in their case Andy Carroll to Liverpool for £35m – and the use of that money to strengthen the rest of the squad is one that Everton could perhaps consider, but it is fraught with risks – such as what happens if the replacements are not up to scratch? – and the pain of selling a Marouane Fellaini-type may be too much to bear for some Evertonians.
Regardless, Everton will spend the summer plotting how to bridge the gap to the teams above them, a far cry from last pre-season when most talk was of how to avoid being overtaken by a host of teams below. The arrival of Nikica Jelavic has reduced the need for a centre-forward, although the Croatian could do with a little support, but other areas of the pitch need attention, and bringing Steven Pienaar back to Goodison Park permanently is as vital as ever.
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