Everton 1 - 0 Stoke City
One of the highlights of Roberto Martinez’s first season in charge may have been the proclamation from Evertonians that the School of Science had been re-opened following 11 years of Moyesian pragmatism, but any scientist would tell you that a body’s molecular make-up is everything when it comes to suitability and survivability in a given environment.
Among the deficiencies of Martinez’s tenure that were eventually exposed was defensive fortitude and while Ronald Koeman probably still harbours hopes of adding some silk to his team before Wednesday’s transfer deadline to add to the mercurial Yannick Bolasie, it’s the addition of some much needed steel that under-pinned this hard-fought win over Stoke City.
Everton could, and probably should, have won what ended up being an unsettlingly tight contest by a wider margin than 1-0.; however, where their execution in the final third failed them or when Shay Given proved immovable, it was their more formidable rearguard that helped them secure three valuable points in a match that might easily have got away from them under the previous regime.
Koeman’s back line may have lost a potential England star in John Stones but in Ashley Williams it has gained a gritty leader and in Mason Holgate a player who is quickly assuming the mantle of future Goodison Great that his former Barnsley club-mate once occupied.
The Welsh skipper almost scored on his Premier League debut for the Toffees when he was denied in the first half by Peter Crouch hooking his downward header off the line but he was a defensive bulwark alongside Phil Jagielka against Stoke’s physical outfit.
Holgate, meanwhile, not only defied his height disadvantage by reducing Peter Crouch’s aerial influence at times but, more importantly, shackled the Potters’ star man , Marco Arnautovic, in impressively precocious fashion. The Austrian wriggled out of the 19-year-old’s pocket on just two occasions all afternoon and nearly provided the equaliser on both occasions.
In front of a four-man back line rounded out by a rejuvenated and more focused Leighton Baines, meanwhile, was Idrissa Gueye, a player who could easily end up being the summer’s best value-for-money signing in the Premier League based on his early outings in a blue jersey. Displaying an energy and verve to hunt the ball down and break up the opposition’s forward momentum, the Senegalese midfielder worked brilliantly in tandem with Gareth Barry.
Koeman is hard to please, though, and you could see why he wasn’t completely satisfied despite gaining what was an important home win over a difficult side to break down. Everton started brightly, faded a bit as Stoke gained a footing in the match but then gained the ascendency in what became a really entertaining encounter despite there being no goals in the first period. They held enough of the initiative to have put the game to bed in the second half but weren't quite clinical enough.
Kevin Mirallas’s neat heel flick to set up left-foot shot that Given comfortably saved was an early indication of the Blues’ attacking threat but the home side’s play became a little untidy and overly reliant on the diagonal ball forward until the midway stage of the first half when things started to click.
A sharper Romelu Lukaku might have done better with his first real opening in the 21st minute when he showed great anticipation to get behind Geoff Cameron and collect a long ball but his touch to take it past the defender forced him too far back inside towards the “D” and his eventual right-foot effort was kicked away from the danger zone by Ryan Shawcross.
Then, shortly after Crouch’s intervention to deny Williams, Barkley’s header back across goal almost forced a catastrophic error by Shawcross but the defender planted a reflexive header into his goalkeeper’s arms. And Mirallas tested Given again following a driving Ross Barkley run with a rasping shot from the edge of the area that the Irishman beat away.
Given their increasing potency, the half-time whistle that blew following a Mirallas over-head kick that bounced just wide wasn’t greeted with all that much enthusiasm by the home side but they carried that momentum into the early part of the second half and had gained the crucial advantage within five minutes of the restart.
Barkley screwed a cross-cum-shot across the face of Given’s goal and inches past the far post in the 48th minute and less than 60 seconds after that, Lukaku and Holgate combined superbly with a one-two interchange inside the Stoke area. The Belgian latched onto the young defender’s knock-on but his shot was blocked behind for a corner at the near post.
At the resulting set-piece, Williams was tripped, unwittingly it would appear from television replays, as he cut towards the near post by Phil Bardsley and referee Michael Oliver pointed to the spot. If the penalty award was somewhat fortuitous, there was also plenty of luck about Baines’s spot kick which Given turned onto the post but couldn’t prevent from ricocheting back into his net off his head.
The goal didn’t precipitate further dominance or goals from the Blues as Stoke upped their intensity going forward in search of an equaliser. That they didn’t get one in the 58th minute was largely down to another crucial intervention by Maarten Stekelenburg. The Dutchman made himself big to shepherd Arnautovic away from goal and then got enough on the Austrian’s shot to carry the ball onto the face of the crossbar whereupon Baines slammed it clear of danger from his own goal line.
Bolasie’s pass inside set Barkley up for a decent shot on target that Given was again equal to in the 64th minute and the Irish ‘keeper had to be at his best again 13 minutes after that when the Blues’ No.8 was slipped in behind the defence but his shot was beaten away again with the angle to the net closed off.
A minute later at the other end, Stoke’s last real opening went begging as Arnautovic popped up free in the Everton area again and just needed to roll it square for Jonathan Walters to hammer home but his pass just eluded the toe of the substitute and the Blues survived.
Having introduced Arouna Kone for Mirallas with 20 minutes to, Koeman was now taking measures to batten down the hatches by withdrawing Barkley in favour of Ramiro Funes Mori and then Bolasie for the more defensively-minded Tom Davies.
Though there were some nail-biting moments in the closing stages when the visitors won a couple of set-pieces, it was a strategy that worked in preventing Stoke from making any real inroads into the Everton defence, even after Bojan Krkic had come off the bench in Hughes’s vain hopes of engineering an equaliser.
There may have been elements of fortune about the win and had it not been for Stekelenburg the points might have got away from Everton but there can’t many fans who wouldn’t take a narrow win over an uncompromising team like Stoke any day of the week.
Yes, the margin of victory could have been greater with more composure up front but Lukaku is clearly still feeling his way back to full fitness and match-readiness because not all his synapses were firing. He seemed to want too much time at the vital moment and his decision-making, particularly when Mirallas was in better positions ahead of him, was a little suspect but his hold-up play was good and he put in a decent shift overall. That sharpness will come over time but he will want to end a goal drought that stretches back to March as quickly as possible.
The international break may prove useful for him in that regard and the extra days will also give Koeman more time to work with the team to fine-tune what is already looking to be better, stronger, more well-rounded outfit than the one that finished last season in such absymal fashion. Add some new faces before the window to complete the summer’s transfer business and things should be looking very bright indeed for Everton in 2016-17.
Reader Comments (19)
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1 Posted 28/08/2016 at 01:37:59
Harsh on Given who's been a great pro and continues to give 100% at the age of 40.
But credit where it's due, we deserved the win, but it's very un-Everton like for us to win that ugly, apparently winning that way is the sign of a good team.
2 Posted 28/08/2016 at 03:02:47
3 Posted 28/08/2016 at 04:40:16
I personally took one to the head, gladly as I was surrounded by children. It hit me and no one else it really has to brought into question the ineffectiveness of the present police and stewards that were present at the Park End.
Personally I would have been happy to meet then circa (1985 / 1990) type scenario. But as a 44-year-old with my 12-year-old boy, I thought them days are gone.
4 Posted 28/08/2016 at 05:05:22
5 Posted 28/08/2016 at 07:04:50
On the subject of the football, I thought Holgate again was superb today, as was Barry.
6 Posted 28/08/2016 at 10:33:50
The addition of Brahimi and Kone would make me a very happy and optimistic blue.
7 Posted 28/08/2016 at 10:47:20
For example, Lukaku, OK he's not scoring (which is no doubt as frustrating for him as it is for anyone), but his general play is very good at times, his touches are neat for a big guy, and he's creating space for others.
Gradual improvements, onwards and upwards as they say.
8 Posted 28/08/2016 at 12:14:23
We've also had that bit of luck going our way for once, thanks to a decent keeper. Long may it continue.
I still believe we are lacking a creative midfielder to pull the strings in midfield and striker who can help out Lukaku. Those two positions really do need addressing by Wednesday.
9 Posted 28/08/2016 at 13:24:52
10 Posted 28/08/2016 at 13:28:48
11 Posted 28/08/2016 at 13:36:04
The chances are absolute zero.
12 Posted 28/08/2016 at 13:47:32
Dumbing down your report again, Lyndon! Great read. Like you, I think Rom's touch will be rediscovered. Soon, I hope, for his and our sake.
13 Posted 28/08/2016 at 13:56:41
Restored indeed, Mr Lloyd, good Sir! A fine opening in a style most becoming of an article describing our upper hand in a manly contest betwixt two fellows of solid demeanor, their teams equally stout of manner and unfailing endeavor!
I really like your headline Lyndon, genuinely I do. More of this kind please!
Whenever I read match reports from the age of our inception, I'm always inspired by the use of their "up and at them" vocabulary.
Perhaps a little, but now and again, might prove both rousing and efficacious?
Great report BTW. Thoroughly enjoyed the wordage.
14 Posted 28/08/2016 at 14:49:42
While I'm here, thanks for the kind, eloquent words, Tony (13) and Brent (22).
15 Posted 28/08/2016 at 16:27:20
16 Posted 28/08/2016 at 16:36:21
17 Posted 29/08/2016 at 11:13:49
Far more importantly, as you say, there was a woeful failure by the police and stewards to react. There was single policewoman where I was sitting and a half-hearted effort was made at the end of the game by several stewards/police to speak to a few Stoke fans. There is a very serious risk of injury happening in that section coins this time, what might it be next time? and we need to see much better security.
18 Posted 29/08/2016 at 14:32:45
Martinez and Moyes were a pair of Jonahs; 'Fortune favours the brave'!
19 Posted 30/08/2016 at 03:25:01
Happy to stand corrected. I was watching on-line in Melbourne at 2:00 am, so maybe fatigue affected my judgement!
Having said all that, it's all positive so far. Concur with what others have been saying in other threads about Stek, Holgate, Gueye, and I thought Bolasie was brilliant against West Brom. Exciting times. :)
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