Honours even in ragged contest at Stoke

Everton battled Stoke, the conditions and themselves at times and had to be content with a point after falling behind to another dreadful early goal

Lyndon Lloyd 01/02/2017 16comments  |  Jump to last

A cold, windswept evening in Stoke has never been anyone’s idea of an easy ride. It wasn’t so long ago that Rory Delap would cause panic in the Everton penalty area every time the Potters got a throw-in within bombing distance of their penalty area and, to be brutally frank, whether it’s called the Britannia Stadium or the bet365, things haven’t changed all that much in these parts.

Shorn of the mercurial talents of Xherdan Shaqiri, out with a calf injury, and with Bojan Krkic having been loaned out for the rest of the season, Stoke City had a rudimentary air about them in this game and the Blues left the Potteries with mixture of relief at avoiding defeat and regret at their inability to let their own class tell.

Evertonians came into this game buoyant after three successive Premier League wins, as many clean sheets and at the possibility that with a win, the Blues could be sitting just eight points off second place.

Old habits die hard with this Everton team it seems, however, and a failing that has plagued this season reared its head again this evening as Koeman’s team got off to another poor start and conceded the first goal.

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It was symptomatic of a defence that was all over the place in the early stages and one ripe to be caught out by a routine ball over the top that left Marco Arnautovic in oceans of space and 36-year-old Peter Crouch galloping through completely unchecked without a blue shirt within 10 yards of him. The veteran striker was on hand to convert the Austrian’s well-weighted centre and put Stoke ahead, notching his 100th Premier League goal in the process.

It was an awful goal to concede from Everton’s perspective and it forced them once again to have to fight their way back into the game. Where their only possession prior to the goal had been back and forth across the back, they gradually started to make inroads into Stoke’s rearguard.

It was one of those nights when the pitch seemed that bit too hard and the ball that bit harder to control and it certainly seemed that way when Leighton Baines, collecting a wonderful cross-field ball by Tom Davies wide on the left, picked out Kevin Mirallas with a cross but the Belgian couldn’t quite get it under control and he ended up scooping the ball awkwardly over the crossbar.

It was a move that highlighted the spaces that were prone to open up in Stoke’s defence but the Blues seemed unable to create it. It didn’t help that Mirallas and Romelu Lukaku seemed to be operating on different wavelengths throughout or that Ross Barkley was having one of those games where very little was coming off for him. To his credit, he never stopped looking for the ball and trying to make things happened but the fact that he was name-checked again by his boss after the match for giving the ball away told its own story.

He wasn’t alone though. Morgan Schneiderlin, otherwise an impressive full debutant in central midfield alongside Davies, was guilty of a couple of dangerously lazy passes across his own half and Seamus Coleman was also having “one of those days” down the right flank.

The Potters, meanwhile, continued to carry the greater threat and could easily have extended their lead before half-time. First, Crouch volleyed inches wide of the post after Arnautovic’s knock-on had sprung Everton’s ragged offside trap. Arnautovic then found himself in the clear behind the Blues’s defence to collect Charlie Adam’s chipped pass over the top but just Joel Robles raced off his line to make an excellent save.

Further signs of life in Everton’s attack came when Coleman latched onto Mirallas’s deft touch at the end of a decisive move but with Bruno Martins Indi sliding in to block in front of him, he knocked his shot it over the top.

But the Irishman turned provider after being found by Mirallas once more a few minutes later but this time he cut back onto his left foot, curled a cross into the six yard box where Ryan Shawcross turned it past his own goalkeeper.

Everton celebrations were halted by the sight of the linesman’s raised flag indicating offside on Lukaku but after consulting with his assistant, referee Craig Pawson signalled that the goal was given.

With parity restored, the Blues almost handed the initiative straight back to their hosts on the stroke of half time when Crouch dissected their defence by flicking Eric Pieters’ direct pass into the path of Arnautovic but once agaain Robles came up big to foil him in a one-on-one situation.

Koeman’s half-time change, which saw Mason Holgate withdrawn in favour of James McCarthy and the side revert to a conventional back four, came as no surprise. The young defender had endured a torrid 45 minutes and there seemed little sense in employing three centre halves against a lone striker when they couldn’t cope with Arnautovic arriving from deeper.

The switch had the effect of largely nullifying Stoke’s attack but the extra congestion in midfield meant that the game descended into a ragged scrap until Ademola Lookman came on with 20 minutes to go.

Up until then, Everton had struggled to get on the ball while, even with Saido Berahino on the field, Mark Hughes’s side had largely resorted to giving the ball to Adam to simply hoist it in the general direction of Robles’s goal hoping to catch the ‘keeper out with the wind.

The change of pace and inventiveness that Lookman offered, particularly when he linked up with Davies, threatened to turn the game decisively in Everton’s favour though and the teenager almost scored with his first involvement. Davies found the new signing with a back-heel from the touchline and he rattled a low shot towards the near lost that Lee Grant did well to turn behind.

Berahino went close for Stoke when he tried to knock the ball over Robles’s head but Ramiro Funes Mori was on hand to head it over the bar before Everton looked to have won it at the other end. Coleman, Ashley Williams and Barkley exchanged quick triangle passes to open up the space ahead of them and the move ended with Coleman digging out a great cross from the byline that picked out Davies arriving near the penalty spot .

Grant made a terrific reflex save to turn his header to the side and Lookman could only rifle the rebound agonisingly across the face of Stoke’s goal and just past the far post.

Given that the home side had resorted to basic yard-dog, hoof and hope tactics in the second period, had either of those efforts gone it it would have represented just reward for Everton’s more joined-up approach, even if they weren’t really able to raise the standard of the fare much above agricultural.

As it was, they had to be content with a share of the spoils and a sixth successive league game without defeat. Attentions will turn to Saturday’s game against Bournemouth where the more familiar comforts of home should allow Koeman’s men to express themselves a bit more.

The starting line-up for that one will almost certainly include Schneiderlin who slotted in nicely into the midfield and showed some clever touches and impressive reading of the game, while also helping launch some of the Blues’ most dangerous attacks.

It also wouldn’t be surprising to see the name of Lookman on the teamsheet, most likely in place of Mirallas who had a poor game despite getting into some decent positions. The 19-year-old once again looked a real talent and his pace, inventiveness and eye for goal made a visible difference to an otherwise fairly staid display.

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Reader Comments (16)

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Jim Bennings
1 Posted 02/02/2017 at 07:07:39
It proves that once again much like the contest at Hull on New Years Eve, that whenever you throw in a slightly below par performance then you are going to seriously struggle to stamp your authority in that game.

Last night we got dragged into a battle, we too frequently got involved in the match that Stoke wanted to make it.

Players such as Barkley, Davies and Mirallas allowed no time in possession and they failed to raise their game significantly enough to truly warrant putting Stoke under any considerable spell of pressure that might have yielded a winner, apart from the late incident when Lee Grant saved very well from Davies and Lookman, at no other point did you feel an Everton winner would come.

There were never enough men in the opposition penalty box, and the service was poor to a below par Romelu Lukaku.

All in all we took a relatively good steady point at a hard venue and from a game which developed into everything I expected it would be, a pure scrap.

We will know better after the visit of Bournemouth on Saturday if last night's hard earned point was a valuable one though, failure to build on it by not beating the Cherries will be very negligible and would also probably tell us that the players don't have the mettle to truly put the sides above us under pressure.

Paul Kennedy
2 Posted 02/02/2017 at 08:50:42
I think we need to be realistic: Stoke is a hard place to go!! I was happy to take a point before the game... keep unbeaten build confidence... onward and upward.
Tim Sharpe
3 Posted 02/02/2017 at 08:54:50
In reflection, this is the type of game we would have lost last year, but Koeman is not allowing heads to drop, and with the exuberance of Davies, and that little bit of steel we seem to have found we knuckled down and got a deserved point.

Robles seems to be growing into a fine keeper again, I worry a lot less when I see his name on the team sheet than I used to.

A cold, windy night in Stoke, and we did okay.

Jim Bennings
4 Posted 02/02/2017 at 09:06:18

There's definitely a much harder edge to Koeman's Everton than the meek spined one from last season.

We are now a much harder team to score against and I for one, am really enjoying the "no nonsense" defending of putting the ball in Row Z again unlike last season's insane Beckenbauer turns on the edge of our own penalty area resulting in many goals being conceded.

Kunal Desai
5 Posted 02/02/2017 at 09:30:28
I still believe the spine of the side needs rebuilding in the summer, dependent on whether Lukaku stays or goes, we need another striker, certainly creativity in that midfield and competition for Barkley, another top CB alongside Williams and a goalkeeper.

The second clearout in the summer should be Mirallas, Lennon, Funes Mori and possibly Stekelenburg.

Jim Bennings
6 Posted 02/02/2017 at 10:24:43
I truly believe signing Michael Keane or Virgil Van Dijk to go in defence, an eventual younger left back to challenge/replace Leighton Baines and potentially Gylfi Siguardsson to play in midfield and dependent on what the situation is with Lukaku this summer, a quality replacement for him or at least an experienced backup to him to also help the boy Lookman along, we'd be seriously challenging top 5 maybe 4th.
Brian Harrison
7 Posted 02/02/2017 at 10:40:47
Tell me any team that enjoys playing at Stoke at home on a windy night. I posted yesterday saying it would be physical as that's the way Stoke play. We were below par but managed to pick up a point, and for me that's the big difference between the charlatan and Koeman, last season we would have lost this game.

Holgate was caught ball watching, but young players will make mistakes but he is good enough to learn from this mistake. He gives us the option of playing 3 at the back which suits us better than a back 4. So I hope he starts against Bournemouth on Saturday.

With Barry,Gueye, McCarthy, Davies and Schneiderlin all competing for a midfield start at last we have proper competition for places. I just wish we had more competition for the forwards.

Kunal Desai
8 Posted 02/02/2017 at 10:42:53
Jim – This summer, Everton are going to have to spend in excess of £100M for 3 to 4 top quality players. That's what it will take to break in and compete with that top four, as well as convincing players not to join those that are already playing in Champions League. It's a tall order.
John Raftery
10 Posted 02/02/2017 at 11:22:41
In the end, this was a point gained from a match in which we might well have been 3-1 down at halftime. I thought McCarthy did well in helping us to get hold of midfield in the second half but, as Lyndon says, the game became bogged down. We lacked width in attack and it was only after Lookman came on that we seemed the more likely to score a second goal.

The conditions were never conducive to passing movements and to a large extent that suited Stoke more than our team. Overall, we can be happy to keep our unbeaten run but the players must learn to start games on the front foot. Our inability to establish an early lead in away games is a handicap. Worse though is our inability to stop the opposition scoring an early goal. That has cost us points at Bournemouth, Southampton and Hull.

We have still to visit four of the top six teams when we will not be able to afford such slow starts.

Santa Krsh
11 Posted 02/02/2017 at 11:47:27
Two things I noticed which got me excited regarding our style / formation in the medium term.

One was McCarthy played a little further forward than usual in the last 10 - 15 minutes. His deft touch to release Davies almost resulted in a chance but the youngster took one touch too many & he played a delicious through ball again to Davies in the closing minutes which was just a tad overhit.

Am I right to suspect Koeman is preparing McCarthy for a kind of No 10 role which could solve a variety of issues such as McCarthy could be less involved in the more physical side of the pitch because of his recent niggles while also contributing to the harrying and pressing of the opponents higher up the pitch and also solving our never-ending quest for a Mata-esque kind of player?

The second thing relates to a couple of times Davies got into goalscoring position in a typical Lampard way of arriving late into the box which, if he is properly groomed, could solve another of our long-standing issues of lack of goals from midfield.

Davis and McCarthy playing a bit higher up also lets Schneiderlin and Gueye to do the destruction job to perfection.

Am I getting too excited too early or exaggerating simple passages of play? Time will only tell.

Franny Porter
12 Posted 02/02/2017 at 12:43:53
People who expect us to roll over teams like Stoke are a bit misguided in my opinion. There are absolutely no "gimmes" in this league and any one team can beat any other. Look at Watford against Arsenal, or Hull, a team made up of cast-offs ,who just lost their best player holding Man Utd a team who spent 80 million quid on one player.

Bournemouth on Saturday is another test, they will without doubt park the bus and traditionally we have struggled in those games. If we can get three points against them on Saturday, for me, that is a good sign of progress added to the previous three games.

Barry Jones
14 Posted 02/02/2017 at 15:09:06
Santa (#11), from Koeman's comments, he appears to be preparing Schneiderlin for that central #10 role, albeit a tad deeper than usual. I think he will go for Gana and McCarthy or Besic as a holding pair and Schneiderlin ahead of them dictating the play more.

If you watch Schneiderlin, he is was more capable of the role than is McCarthy. His range of passing, movement, decision making and comfort in possession are all very good. McCarthy is one dimensional in comparison.

I thought that Schneiderlin played very well against Stoke. He hit a few dubious passes at times but in general, his quality was there to see. I think he will rank alongside Gana as one of the best assets we have picked up this season.

Alan Bodell
15 Posted 02/02/2017 at 17:26:16
That was a good point, Robles is proving to be a very good signing.
Adam Carey
16 Posted 02/02/2017 at 17:44:08
Stoke away was always going to be a tough game, no matter what sort of form we were in. The way they set up at home, I think a lot of us had 'draw' in our heads yesterday as a good result.

Given the next 3 games are Bournemouth (H), M'boro (A) and Sunderland (H), I feel these should all be wins. 10 points from 12 in February, on top of a full house in January would set us up the nicely for the run in.

Gana is back, Morgan and Ademola are fitting in quickly and Tom just seems to grow into each game. Upbeat is the feeling of the moment as far as my beloved blues are concerned.

Francis Gibson
17 Posted 02/02/2017 at 22:43:57
"...even if they weren’t really able to raise the standard of the fare much above agricultural."

This is the best thing I've read in a match report in yonks. You've a flair for wordsmithery, Mr Lloyd!

Tom Bowers
18 Posted 02/02/2017 at 00:00:16
Not a bad result but the concern we all share is the sluggish starts in most games which undoubtedly has cost a lot of points this season. I can understand not wanting to concede early but what it does is encourage the opposition to attack and in doing so raises their confidence level.

Somehow Everton must show more resilience early on to a degree where they stifle the opposition in midfield and discourage them. Only then will Everton be able play their own possession game and attack with efficiency.

In many games this season Everton have been very shaky defending in the first fifteen minutes and even if they don't concede then, they have psychologically given belief to the opposition that they can score against Everton when ever they attack, even the so-called lesser teams.

However, with some players now performing better and some new players one has to be more optimistic about the future tactics.

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