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The Britannia: Where Football Goes to Die

By Lyndon Lloyd   ::  17/12/2012

If ever a game had 1-1 written all over it before a ball had been kicked, this testy encounter between the Premier League's two draw specialists was it. And so it was that a game drenched in predictability ended all square, with Everton playing out the themes of their season once more — scoring first, spurning chances for more and conceding a soft goal — and Stoke City using their size and uncompromising physical approach to preserve their unbeaten home record.

That the aftermath would be dominated by the controversy of Marouane Fellaini's head-butt on Ryan Shawcross, vigilante retribution for an afternoon of grappling, man-handling and out-right illegal shackling of visiting players throughout the game was not surprising either, though referee Mark Halsey's failure to see the incident or penalize the Stoke defence for bear-hugging their way through a succession of set-pieces probably was.

The Belgian would be retroactively punished with the three-match ban that his ill-advised actions would have triggered had he been sent off on the day and while the cost of his absence until the New Year is yet to be felt by Everton, if it helps bring to attention just how far refereeing standards have slipped when it comes to holding by defenders in the penalty area these days then it won't have been for nought.

Though he can have no defence for losing his temper and professionalism — and let's face it, it's not the first time he has behaved like a thug in Everton colours — it's difficult not to feel a measure of sympathy for Fellaini when you consider, for example, how soft was the penalty awarded to Manchester City against the Blues at the beginning of the month compared with what was allowed to stand by the officials at the Britannia on Saturday. When there is such breathtaking inconsistency from referee to referee and match to match, it's hard not to let frustration get the best of you.

Annoyingly, the Blues could have taken some of the sting out of Fellaini's forthcoming suspension with more composure in front of goal and all three points. Though they were harried out of their usual passing rhythm — again, wholly expected given the reputation of Tony Pulis' side — they were nevertheless able to stamp enough of their authority on the first half to create the better chances.

Nikica Jelavic had an early side-foot shot blocked after Seamus Coleman had delivered a low cross from Darron Gibson's through-ball and when Steven Naismith nipped onto the loose ball from the Croatian's uncharacteristic air-shot, Shawcross had to prod it behind from under his own crossbar to prevent the opening goal after 31 minutes .

That merely delayed the inevitable and while Tim Howard was getting mostly punching practice at one end as the hosts flung the ball into his area from wide areas, it was Everton who went ahead with an aerial ball when Shawcross looped Steven Pienaar's cross over his own goalkeeper to make it 1-0 nine minutes before half-time.

Three minutes later, though. the chance to drive home their Champions League credentials with a killer second goal against low-scoring opposition went begging. A typically enterprising move down the Everton left ended with Leighton Baines cutting the ball back from byline to the unmarked Leon Osman but with the whole goal to aim at, the midfielder improbably fired wide.

As expected, Pulis sent his team out for the beginning of the second half with more vigour and purpose while Everton, not for the first time this season, emerged looking lethargic and disjointed for the first few minutes, a demeanour not altered by an early scare from a free kick that somehow found Charlie Adam completely free on the edge of the six-yard box. Howard pawed his close-range shot off his line and the defence closed the Scot down following the rebound so that he couldn't maintain the attack but the lesson went unheeded.

Five minutes later, an almost identical free kick, awarded for an innocuous-looking challenge by Naismith, was floated in, Jagielka was easily beaten in the air by Kenwyne Jones and Howard made an incomprehensible mess of trying to make what looked like a routine save by his right-hand post, the ball flying past him to level the scores.

Matters threatened to go from bad to worse for Everton, first when Jones flicked the ball over Howard but then contrived to knee it off the outside of the post from the angle, and then when the defence pressed the self-destruct button again with 11 minutes to go but Howard saved well to deny Cameron Jerome and Crouch couldn't hit the target with a chip from the rebound.

In between, Moyes's men struggled to threaten Stoke. Jelavic was forced to continually chase lost causes and took a regular battering from his markers as he challenged for balls punted forward. Fellaini, meanwhile, was at his most ineffective, displaying a worrying disconnect from the wavelength of the rest of the team; his response to the shackles placed on him by the Potters' tactics seemingly being to sulk rather than take the game by the scruff of the neck. And he was lucky, of course, not to see red when he thrust his head into Shawcross' face in the 57th minute.

Short of options with Mirallas unavailable, the manager tried to change things up and introduced Ross Barkley for Naismith with 20 minutes left and the youngster's introduction and willingness to take the ball did offer a bit more cohesion in midfield.

Sylvain Distin headed wide from a 71st-minute corner and was visibly annoyed that he didn't make better contact but it wasn't until the final minute of injury time that a gilt-edged chance to grab the points arrived when it fell to Pienaar. The South African went on a terrific run through the heart of the home defence but with Barkley free to his right he went for glory himself and dragged a poor shot wide of goal when it was paramount that he at least hit the target.

So, as difficult an encounter as predicted but, arguably, another two points lost as Everton had the chances to win it. Certainly, a genuine top-four team would probably have ground out the three points with more clinical finishing and that will weigh on Moyes as he tries to keep the belief in his team as they strive for that prized place. Another point is a consolation, though, and avoiding defeat once more will serve morale for a side that continues to be very hard to beat.

Reader Comments

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Barry Rathbone
840 Posted 18/12/2012 at 17:07:58
Lyndon, I disagree with the title.

Stoke are a "big" side and the snippets I've seen since promotion show a side with wingers who are direct, take no shit give it out and get it back without moaning and play to their strengths. Barca they're not but the Britannia has seen more excitement than GP during their time in the Prem.

Bolton got this under Allardyce even though he played the sublime Okocha among others. Don Revie's Leeds will forever be labelled "dirty Leeds" despite being one of the finest sides ever.

Too simplistic for me.

Patrick Murphy
842 Posted 18/12/2012 at 17:46:02
Barry Leeds United Were an extremely fine footballing side in which practically every player could trap, tackle and pass, however like Stoke they had a cynical element to their game which they were rightly labelled for.

But this Stoke City side has no redeeming features whatsoever, I don't see a Giles or a Cooper a Bremner or a Clarke or indeed anybody in their side which would make me pay to watch them.

Now I've got that off my chest , I do hope all these constant references to Stoke City end here until the next time we play them.

Jamie Barlow
844 Posted 18/12/2012 at 18:00:52
In what way has The Britannia seen more excitement than Goodison during their time in the Prem?

Lyndon Lloyd
847 Posted 18/12/2012 at 18:27:32
Barry, it was a horrible game of football and my overriding feeling watching it was that I couldn't wait to get it out the way. From Delap's bombs from the touchline to Crouch's height and the antics of their defence on Saturday, Pulis' MO has been all about bamboozling a goal in somehow and stopping the opposition from playing.

Effective it may be in keeping the team in the Premier League and on the fringes of Europe but it's not the beautiful game and I'd hate to have to watch that week in, week out. (We had enough of that while we were struggling pre-Moyes.) This is a club with a bigger transfer budget than Everton's at the moment, let's not forget, and though they've signed a supposed playmaker in Charlie Adam, he made virtually no impact in Saturday's game.

Oliver Molloy
849 Posted 18/12/2012 at 19:00:50
Lyndon,
You hit the nail on the head with your observation "Certainly, a genuine top-four team would probably have ground out the three points"

Barry Rathbone
852 Posted 18/12/2012 at 18:38:31
Lyndon, I just think it's too broad brush stroke if it was just existing as per most of the Moyes reign they wouldn't have the loudest crowd belting out "Delilah" in unison.

We know how quiet GP has become under Moyes but once a bit of "up and at 'em" pokes it's head above the parapet the place wakes up.

The beautiful game has it's place but as admirable as Barca are it's easy to fall asleep when they're on. Effective footie needs a bit of both (as we have had from Swansea of last season) and while they have tall forwards Kenwyn Jones and Crouch can play (that half volley last year!) as can Etherington.

I just think people see a bandwagon and hop on too quickly.

I suspect you were binned by a girl from stoke in the past and can't let it go - c'mon man get some magazines, videos, anything - just move on!

Jamie Barlow
853 Posted 18/12/2012 at 19:07:31
I don't know Oliver. Man City and Arsenal have been to Stoke and couldn't grind out three points.
Lyndon Lloyd
854 Posted 18/12/2012 at 19:12:46
It's an uncomfortable observation but it's not all our fault. I think most would agree we lack that killer instinct but also a little bit of quality in the final third.

Mirallas is a huge miss because he is so different to the rest of the squad and I believe he would have caused Stoke problems with his pace and unpredictability. No point crying over spilled milk, I suppose, but it's cruel luck that we lose our most dangerous player for so long to injury and on the heels of Gibson's lay-off to boot.

David Barks
855 Posted 18/12/2012 at 19:07:29
But how have the "genuine top-four" team's done at Stoke? Arsenal 0-0. City 1-1. They play terrible football, never taking chances and just hope to fluke a goal. As was pointed out, Pulis wants to just bamboozle a goal in somehow, whether it be from all those long throws for years, or just keep lumping it forward and hope for a good bounce or mistake. We play it forward to Fellaini, but in the hopes that he brings it down with his chest and passes it off to Pienaar or Baines or Jelavic or Mirallas or Osman who are all flooding forward. From there intricate one touch football is used, knocking it around and looking for an opening. But that is not our one and only game plan. We play it through the middle with Gibson and Osman, trying to send Baines or Coleman down the wings behind the defense. Stoke are just awful. I think it would be fantastic if Evertonians refused to make the trip for next years match to protest the anti-football.
Lyndon Lloyd
856 Posted 18/12/2012 at 19:16:19
I should add that "Certainly... probably..." is a messy contradiction! Score one for the need to proof-read better. I would favour "probably" — as Jamie rightly says, City couldn't win there (are Arsenal genuinely top-four material this season, we shall see) — but we had clear-cut chances to win.
Andy Crooks
857 Posted 18/12/2012 at 19:28:18
Quite a hard title, Lyndon, I think. I was proud of our dogs of war and if I was a Stoke supporter I be proud of theirs.
Andy Morden
859 Posted 18/12/2012 at 19:31:34
Just to add an alternative perspective on how we did at the Brittania...

One of my work colleagues is a season ticket holder there. His opinion is that Everton are the best team to have visited the Brittania this season. He also suggested that we made Stoke raise their game because we got at them.

Which paints a slightly different picture to the view that we did badly and should have battered them. Rather, I think we have to acknowledge Stoke are good at what they do, no-one goes there and bosses them, and a (albeit frustrating draw) is nothing to be ashamed of.

Oliver Molloy
862 Posted 18/12/2012 at 19:15:26
Yes Jamie but in general we have have failed to finish the job against the likes of Norwich,Wigan,QPR,Reading,Arsenal,Fulham..count that lot and we would have another 12pts !
Mike Allison
863 Posted 18/12/2012 at 20:02:47
That's why Stoke are happy to belt out 'Delilah', not because actually they play good football and are cruelly misrepresented, but because they have low standards. Just being in this league is still a novelty to most of those fans.

We were proud of our dogs of war because we'd been shit and nearly got relegated and they gave us a chance of beating good teams and even win a trophy. They seem to be proud of theirs because they don't care that their team cheats all day every day. As for the wingers, they don't picked any more. Are you telling me John Walters and Ryan Shotton are wingers in the sense of being good, creative footballers who you'd want to watch?

Jamie Barlow
864 Posted 18/12/2012 at 20:04:36
Yeah, I agree Oliver. We've dropped far too many points, although with a little help from bad officials. I just think to come away from Stoke without any injuries and a point isn't a bad result.
Patrick Murphy
866 Posted 18/12/2012 at 20:13:14
Is it true that Felli has gone to LA to take part in a remake of the 'The Shawcross Redemption' or is it a cruel rumour?
Andy Crooks
877 Posted 18/12/2012 at 21:01:06
Mike #863. All this good football from Everton is a quite novel innovation. For many years we have played as much shite as Stoke. I believe that David Moyes has earned us moral high ground on a level of fair play but as far as good football goes it s to soon to be patronising. Over the last ten years I've seen football die at Goodison Park far too often.
Steve Cotton
885 Posted 18/12/2012 at 20:51:41
Just a side note to anyone who watched the game, their right back went flying in studs high twice in the first 15 minutes and thru Pienaar another twice in the the same half, how come that twat Lawrensen didn't highlight this...
And he never got booked, I don't think even one of these challenges was shown on MotD either..... conspiracy!
James Stewart
886 Posted 18/12/2012 at 21:44:39
Barry — "The Britannia has seen more excitement than GP"

What a load of horseshit.

The title of this piece is awesome and very apt. Stoke are a disgrace to the league and it's about time referees wised up to their thuggish brand of anti-football.

Edward Simpson
890 Posted 18/12/2012 at 21:53:31
They are a disgrace to football, ignominious, the only team in this league I would label them as.
The way they man handle, push, foul players on the opposite team is a disgrace and they have one of the most oblivious managers I have seen in a long time.
They stand out like a sore thumb and play the most god awful football I've ever seen.
The match was bloody tedious and as usual the ref matched how Stoke played, meaning that they got away with so much stuff, yellow cards were no where to be seen.
Barry Rathbone
893 Posted 18/12/2012 at 22:02:48
Mike Allison, what an arrogant post, we cheer because we're entitled to be proud but Stoke fans aren't - sort yourself out.

James Stewart, you wanna ease up on the "thuggish" stuff - pot calling the kettle after your caper with Liberty Valance. Not in the least bit "awesome".

Ciarán McGlone
896 Posted 18/12/2012 at 22:51:47
People have short memories. Most of Moyes football has been horrible.
Brent Stephens
898 Posted 18/12/2012 at 22:55:59
Barry Rathbone. What an arrogant post. Sort yourself out.
Dean Adams
900 Posted 18/12/2012 at 22:57:17
Well, not to put to fine a point on it but the statement about a genuine top 4 side is a tad left-field. They drew with both of the teams who were in the top 4 last season, Arsenal 0-0 and Man City 1-1, so just why we should go there and win if we were genuine is, for me a little bit hypocritical and somewhat misleading. Just saying like....!!
Lyndon Lloyd
903 Posted 18/12/2012 at 23:08:33
Dean, I clarified my point at no.856 above. I didn't see either Man City or Arsenal's games but I know that we had two clear-cut chances to win and didn't take them. Top-four teams don't routinely spurn chances like that but we do on a weekly basis (refereeing incompetence notwithstanding).

I saw someone mention somewhere that the only team that will stop Everton finishing top four this season is Everton. That's it right there for me — we need to prove we're good enough (as much to ourselves as anyone else) or add a couple of key signings in January to become good enough.

Roberto Birquet
905 Posted 18/12/2012 at 23:06:22
Oliver and Malloy and Lyndon: only two Premier League goals scored by opposition at the Britannia before this weekend.

Where I do agree is the predictability of the result. I had it down as 1 - 1 before the game. I hate watching Stoke. Crouch and Owen were obviously desperate when they signed there.

Nevertheless, we shoulda won. Osman shoulda been on target at least. It was the one genuine bit of emotion I felt the entire game. "How the Hell did you miss that?" I screamed out. The rest of the game was more or less what I expected.

And as for Fellaini. A bloody idiot as he did it – hitting out – at least twice. But I could not believe the amount of times Shawcross simply wrapped his arms round Fellaini and locked his fingers in a complete embrace. "How the Hell is that allowed?"

And I don't care if there are five pens a game. Each time, make it a pen. Or at least make some rule. You can hold a shirt, but not wrap your arms around. Make a rule – even if ridiculous – and stick to it, because it's become a sham.

Dean Adams
906 Posted 18/12/2012 at 23:23:45
Lyndon - I would'nt argue with that conclusion and yes of course our lack of ability to kill teams off is frustrating for all our fans. Maybe other clubs (Arsenal for one) would be feeling similar thoughts about their own team.

Hopefully without Fellaini it will give Jelavic the opportunity to enjoy the area to himself like the end of last season when he was deadly. Here's hoping!!

Mike Green
907 Posted 18/12/2012 at 23:44:05
Perfect title - well done Lyndon.
Ben Jones
908 Posted 18/12/2012 at 23:49:08
I agree with the article actually.

I know we are playing very good football, and I know previously under Moyes, we haven't... but I have never known any football fan in the past 10 or so years have that sinking feeling of anti-football when you go to Goodison, just like you do in the Britannia.

You can't knock Stoke with success, it's led them to be an established Premier League club, and they do have some decent players. But it is horrible to watch, it really is.

James Stewart
912 Posted 19/12/2012 at 00:40:45
Barry,

It is a great movie! We could have used a John Wayne as well against Stoke!

Jim Knightley
913 Posted 19/12/2012 at 00:27:58
One of my major issues with Stoke is that they continue to play a brand of direct football, continue to have the lowest average possession stats in the league, continue to foul players... despite having had the 3rd highest net spend in the league over the past five seasons.

Now we have played some poor football under Moyes, especially during the first half of last season, when our football was bad as anyone in the league... but then we lost our creative players, and couldn't afford to replace them. And in contrast to Stoke's £15M net spend per season over the last five years, have a minus £3M net spend per season over the last five years...

Now what excuse do Stoke have to play their regressive football? They are not a promoted team anymore, they are an established Premier League outfit whose league positions under Pulis have not shown any notable improvement. I think therefore there is a fundamental financial difference between us and Stoke... and I expect that if Moyes had £15million to spend, we would have watched a consistently good level of football at Goodison... but unfortunately our club cannot even compete with the likes of Stoke when it comes to spending.

But back to the point: I don't think Stoke deserve the praise they are often given; I think they have played a consistently dull style of football, and not earnt the results their financial outlay has warranted.

With respect to the game, the result itself was very good, just not the loss/embarrassment of Fellaini. Over the past couple of seasons, top-four sides have consistently failed to take points at the Britannia. We also again had a great shout for a pen ignored; we were superb in the first half again. If we could only replicate first half performances over 90 minutes, we would comfortably be in the Champions League positions!

WT Looi
925 Posted 19/12/2012 at 06:49:18
I like the title Lyndon used as well. Although every style of football has its place, the match was simply an excruciating experience. Only one team tried to play football and that was the Blues. The way Stoke go about their game makes our hoofball look like rocket science. I would never want to fault endeavour and limited but honest play, but I don't think Stoke should emerge with any credit at all. Their play was vastly dependent on match officials turning a blind eye to their 'tactics', and them - Britannia stadium and all - being a somewhat nostalgic throwback to the unglamorous days of British football. I can't verify that - not been around that long. I certainly don't agree with Barry's comment "take no shit give it out and get it back without moaning. " I lost count of the number of times the Stoke defenders made the most of Felli's or Jela's challenges in the last half hour, just to get them cautioned or to break up the play. You certainly don't see Distin doing that, though Jagielka seems to take a chance every now and then.

Honest teams? Blue tints aside, I think we're one on the few left and that's why we are perpetually 'hard done by'. Can't think of another team that's had a penalty given against for shirt pulling (Man City), given a straight ban for reacting against player holding (Stoke) - an offence much more severe I think, in terms of stopping the player.

Derek Thomas
927 Posted 19/12/2012 at 07:17:09
Roberto #905.. ' you can hold a shirt ' have a word with yourself will you,

NO (pause) YOU (pause) CAN'T.

Does the phrase ' Thin end of the wedge' ring any bells. This is precisely why we have this WWF carry on

Shirt holding is a foul...in the box it is a Penalty

A foul is a foul and in the box it is a Penalty

Why is it always Us might be the cry. But if the Reffs start handing out Pens left right and centre this weekend then some good will have come out of it.

But don't hold your breath

Ajay Gopal
933 Posted 19/12/2012 at 08:34:33
I have a horrible feeling that all the attention that has been drawn on Stoke's 'dirty' playing style, 'anti-football', persistent fouling, 'wrestling' matches in the penalty box, etc will play right into Liverpool's hands. I predict Liverpool will get 3 penalties and win 3-1. Now all in 1 voice: "Stoke play the most beautiful football, they are the most fouled team in the premiership, Stoke don't get any protection from the referees....."...:-)
Steve King
937 Posted 19/12/2012 at 09:02:31
I wonder what odds the bookies are giving for a penalty against Stoke this weekend??

Think that may be worth a flutter!

Luke O'Farrell
962 Posted 19/12/2012 at 12:12:33
The title could not be more accurate. Every positive result for Stoke feels like a defeat for football; at least in terms of how the game ought to be played. They're a horrible, horrible team to play against.

Although, they do excel in one area - they're brilliant at stopping the opposition played. Unfortunately, it can be too easy to stop Everton playing at times. A bit of pressure and a number seem to lose their heads.

Also, Stoke are anything but exciting. They've scored exactly 169 goals in their 169 Premier League games. That's not exciting, that's woeful.

Denis Richardson
971 Posted 19/12/2012 at 12:34:46
Wish we would stop moaning about Stoke's style of play - at the end of the day they have their style of play and its the referee's job to blow up when/if they foul. If they chose to play like they do that's their business and right. We didn't even manage a shot on target in a couple of home games last season! One of which was against....Stoke! Over the last few years (first half of last season anyone?) we've been one of the worst sides to watch so lets not start pointing fingers at others.

They are direct and physical and all we can do is take it and hope the ref doesn't go blind but we cannot blame Stoke for their tactics. Just sounds like sour grapes - we haven't exactly been whiter than white in the past ourselves.

If the refs clamped down more on their holding, the'd be forced to play a different style. However, until that happens we can't blame them for their style of football.

Despite the shite football, I still liked the wimbledon crazy gang for upsetting the 'bigger' sides back in the '80s (as long as it wasn't us obviously!).

Take it on the chin an move on.

Dennis Shaw
011 Posted 19/12/2012 at 18:30:04
Remember a certain Leon Osman stating others in the team had to help and chip in with more goals? Well Ossie, there was a perfectly good chance squandered at the end there!!!

Fellaini will be a massive loss for us. I don't think Moyes is brave enough to push Barkley straight in so I predict a bleak festive period and being overtaken by the RS.
Andy Meighan
047 Posted 20/12/2012 at 08:35:39
The way Evertonians inadvertently try and defend Fellaini is laughable. Trying to apportion some of the blame to Shawcross is just not on I'm afraid. This sort of thing, holding and grappling goes on in every single game and how many players lash out? Not many. That idiot Fellaini has previous for this sort of thing so it's nothing new.

The man who cost us the game at Stoke though was Osman. Why oh why is he obsessed with side-footing the ball? Does he get told to do that? It gets on my tits, that, it really does.

Still, you were right about one thing, Lyndon. The Britannia really is the place where football goes to die. I'd love someone to go there and give them a good hiding... I just wish it could've been us.

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