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.
Ashley Williams and Yannick Bolasie make their full home Premier League debuts and Romelu Lukaku makes his first league start of 2016-17.
Koeman reverts to a back four with Funes Mori and Deulofeu are on the bench but James McCarthy is out injured, along with Seamus Coleman. Stoke started with plenty of kick and rush, head tennis, and some physicality but Barkley got the ball down and immediately attacked down the right.
Blues were trying to build attacks but perhaps with too much patience and intricacy, Stoke effectively snuffing out the early moves until Mirallas cut inside and fired in low, forcing an early save from Given.
Holgate did well to prevent an acrobatic strike form Crouch. Mirallas did well to dispossess Barkley but he wong the ball back with an arm in the face and Barkley stupidly pulled back his man in frustration, drawing a needless yellow card inside 10 mins. Stoke had a pop at goal through Arnautovic but it flew over.
Stoke settled into the game a little better than the home side, Bardlsey taking another long-range pop, wide of Stekelenburg's goal, while Everton's efforts to get Bolasie on the ball were being well thwarted. Williams was called for a pullback, but Gueye did well to win the ball and play in Mirallas who had strayed well offside.
Another Blues foul -- Everton were giving away far too many silly free-kicks, invoking unnecessary pressure -- until Lukaku somehow bamboozled Shawcross and his shot beat Given but was not clever enough to beat the defender who cleared off the line. Stoke responded through Imbula who seemed to be in with a sight of goal, but hesitated and Barry was in sharply to dispossess him. < /p>
Everton almost scored from a corner taken short that Mirallas then crossed in for Williams to head beyond Given but it was hooked away inches in front of the goalline by the gangly leg of Peter Crouch.
Gueye saw space and immediately swung in a great cross to Barkley at the far post, Shawcross heading the cutback strongly at his keeper. The Blues were applying a lot more pressure now, but the intricate passing to create a set-up was difficult under the tight Stoke marking.
Lukaku turned his man well and advanced but overplayed his dribbling, losing the ball, as the Blues sought an opening. Barkley set Lukaku away and he did so well to get to the Stoke goal area but his cutback was intercepted. It was end-to-end, Barkley then setting up Mirallas who dug out a fantastic shot that was unfortunately straight at Shay Given.
Some great Everton pressure won a corner but first man Whelan headed it away too easily. Bolasie and Mirallas swapped sides to change things a little but Stoke were putting up stern resistance.
Bolasie and then Barkley seem to have had glimpses for a shot but both chose to pass. Barkley tried to dig out shots from a corner but there seemed to be 15 defenders blocking them away. The Blues continued to drive forward, Barry to Holgate and a tremendous Deulofeu-type cross from young Mason that evaded the incoming Barkley.
Everton were pressing hard, trying everything, but Stoke broke away and Bolasie may have caught Arnautovic on the ankle -- he eventually hobbled off, and then came back on after treatment. Bolasie went on a run down the left and won a rather soft free kick off a Bardsley challenge. Barkley's free-kick was headed out perhaps too easily by Bardsley.
Lukaku appeared to have space in the Stoke area and could have played in Barkley but spurned the chance. Mirallas then tried an audacious overhead kick that ran well wide as a fine half of really competitive football, full of vim and vigour, came to an ed goalless.
It took a few minutes to get things moving in the second half, Barkley eventually dancing into the area, holdng the ball well, spinning and firing across the face of goal, despite two we;ll-placed attackers.
Lukaku soun away and selfishly shot (blocked) with Mirallas wide open on his left. Holgate then heaed forward for a perfect chance for Lukaku but somehwo he was thwarted and could not pull the trgger. From the cprner, Bardsley was called for a trip on Willimas running in... Penalty! It was taken well by Baines, brilliantly saved by Given, onto the post, and then in off the back of his head! Very lucky in the end, but just reward for some fine Everton intent.
Stekelenburg was out sharply to punch a free-kick away as Stoke looked to respond, a little too aggressively as Pieters ws booked for a late tackle on Holgate. Arnautovic somehow got free and danced away from Stekelnburg only to have his shot deflected up onto the bar, and then away by Baines... a very close shave.
A strange call from the linesman saw a non-contact intervention by Bardley on Bolasie rewarded bizarrely with a Stoke free-kick. A better attack on the hour, won another corner that Mirallas curled in well enough but Crouch was dominant.
Lukaku was released by Gueye but his mazey run was tracked by Cameroon who won the ball off him. Bolasie then picked out Barkley who this time took the shot quickly but Given was well placed to save at the stretch.
Boyhood Evertonian John Walters replaced former Liverpudlian Peter Crouch as Stoke pressed the Blues hard to get back into the game. Koeman responded by switching in Kone for Mirallas, who had been flagging. But Before that, another Stoke corner was repelled by a firm Barkley header.
Great touches from Bolasie in attack and Williams in defence underlined the impact of changes made by Koeman since his arrival to rescue Everton from the Madness of Martinez. Kone saw a chance for a shot, firing in low for Given to save.
The Blues were giving Stoke a little too much space and failing to press forward effectively when in possession, giving cause for some concern from the crowd on top of their slender one-goal lead. Stekelenburg did very well to cut out an excellent cross from Pieters. At the other end, Barkley go for once got ahead of Shawcross but could not beat Given one on one, a superb save by the keeper.
At the other end, a tremendous chance for Walters that he totally fluffed after being picked out perfectly by Arnautovic. Two more changes by Mark Hughes (Bojan on for Imbula and Ramadan on for Diouf) were the final throw of the dice by Sparky who did not want to lose this close and compelling contest. Barry set up Bolasie who curled the ball a yard wide when he really should have scored.
Into the last 10 minutes and with Barkley tiring, Ramior Funes Mori replaced him... Koeman looking to see the game out after trying everything to get that much-needed second goal. Stoke smelt blood, piling into the Everton area, and it needed smart work form Williams to clear the ball away.
Stekelenburg was alert again to waft away another dangerous Pieters cross, while Tom Davies was readied to replace Bolasie. Kone did superbly to keep the ball in play then drive inside but his shot was high over the bar.
Into 4 minutes of added time and the pressure from Stoke City was unrelenting. Stekelenburg was commanding in claiming the ball, while Funes Mori did well to win a free kick and relive some pressure. Holgate tried to slalom through into the Stoke are and was tackled poorly by Joe Allen, Baines lining up the kick and curling it over the wall but well within range for Given to punch away.
It was pretty much the final action, with the Everton fans finally bursting into voice, celebrating a superbly managed exhibition of top-flight football, a vital, vital win that would have been unthinkable last season.
Everton: Stekelenburg, Holgate, Williams, Jagielka, Baines, Gueye, Barry [Y:88'], Barkley (82' Funes Mori) [Y:8'], Bolasie (88' Davies), Mirallas (70' Kone), Lukaku.
Subs not Used: Robles, Oviedo, Lennon, Deulofeu.
Stoke City: Given, Bardsley, Pieters [Y:57'], Shawcross, Wollscheid, Whelan, Allen, Imbula (72' Bojan), Arnautovic, Diouf (72' Ramadan), Crouch (65' Walters).
Subs not Used: Haugaard, Muniesa, Adam, Ngoy.
Referee: Michael Oliver
From My Seat: Stoke City (H)
The second home league game of the season and almost 40,000 fans descend on L4 and our ‘Temple of Learning’ was overly busy with Red fans watching their idols on telly. Stoke fans a touch worse for wear after city-centre imbibing and regaling us with tales of how great were the ‘Potters’. Being above all this showboating and loud cries from Reds who seemed to believe if they shouted loud enough at the screen they would be heard by their players!
We discussed the new signings to date and speculated on who if any would be with us by the deadline. Most agreed Ron knew the score and would deliver if at all possible but whatever happens he will need the two seasons he mentioned this week to get us right to be challengers for high league placings. At last the teams came through and judging by the comments most were pleased with the selection. Holgate starting and Davies on the bench was well received as we all like to see which of the youth is in the manager's mind and being deemed good enough to join the fray.
Time for the walk up and it was a walk where hope and optimism filled the air, fast food filled the bellies and after the new card system worked seamlessly we were ready for Z-Cars and to give a mighty roar to welcome the gladiators.
Stoke kicked off and the first ten minutes or so the ball was high in the sky rather than on the immaculate green sward before us. It did calm a little after the initial thrust but we were left in no doubt Stoke were fired up and on a mission. With Mori on the bench Williams made his league debut alongside Jags and Holgate was given the right back slot, with McCarthy and Coleman injured. Baines was on the left. Further forward Bolasie made his league debut with Gueye, Barry and Mirallas in the mid ield with Barkley behind Lukaku.
At last we got the ball down with Barkley prominent making box-to-box runs but it was Mirallas who caused the first danger to Stoke when he cut in and fired one low that Given stretched to hold. With just ten mins gone Barkley in centre of the pitch pulled back his man and got a very early booking. Why he did that only he will know. Stoke hadn’t come to defend as we saw from shots from Arnautovic and full back Bardsley going well over. Gueye was becoming more eye-catching and endearing himself to those assembled with his non-stop motion and timely blocks and tackles not to mention a fine turn of pace to deliver good passes which brought deserved applause. An instant crowd favourite.
Lukaku burst into life and left Shawcross for dead, his shot beat Given but, would you believe, a Stoke player was on the line to clear. A goal would be a great fillip for Lukaku and that was close. Stoke responded and the left back Imbula got himself in the box and looked to be pulling the trigger when that man Barry, forever spotting danger, swept the ball away from him with a timely tackle. We then had another goal line clearance when Mirallas put in a cross that Williams headed beyond the keeper but there was the double jointed Crouch to acrobatically boot the ball away.
It seemed all Everton now but it was the fine margins in passing, tempo and quickness of thought that was allowing Stoke to just nick things away from us at the vital moment. Barkley as our number ten was most frustrating for the faithful as passes were either just over hit or under hit or from strong running toward the opposition area control of the ball was lost at vital times allowing Stoke to easily mop up. When he did get it right and delightfully fed Mirallas the Belgian shot straight at the keeper,.Two yards to the keeper's right and 1-0... aah, such margins.
Half-time was approaching and a goal was needed from our pressure but the well-marshalled Stoke rearguard time after time thwarted us. One particular chance I remember came when Holgate marauded at pace down the right wing from a decent pass from Barry and whipped in a low cross goal ball that begged for someone to have made up the ground and tap home but, alas, Barkley was closest but not close enough. So the half ended with Everton on top with us fans ruing what might have been in fact what should have been but wasn’t.
The half-time chat was how were on top but needed to finish better and very complimentary remarks regarding our new Gueye in midfield, plus how well Holgate was showing.
The second half started and right away Barkley and Lukaku had shots after good individual play came to nought when fans and team mates alike rebuked them for not passing to players better placed than themselves. It really is that sort of game. All fur coat but no knickers. They need to be that bit classier.
Five minutes in and we were awarded a penalty when from a corner there was wrestling in the box and under the new directive this season when Williams went down our Ref. Mr Oliver pointed to the spot. The crowd burst into life and all four sides in unison chanted Baines-Baines-Baines. There was no room for argument and Baines duly planted the ball on the spot. On the whistle he stepped up and hit it to Given’s left then it became a little hazy from my seat as Given sprawled to his right and the ball seemed to go over the line in instalments but nonetheless a goal and we are one up. Then the scoreboard showed 1-0 og. Og? How? I wondered and it wasn’t until after the game back in the room of nonsense one of our members showed me a replay from the internet and all was revealed. Baines hit the post ball flew out hit Given on the head and into the net, so, own goal.
The next twenty minutes were frenetic as both sides had chances and our new 'keeper Stekelenburg did well at catching or punching clear, the faithful were liking what they were seeing from him. Next a right scramble took place and we received a giant slice of luck as Arnautovic was put in on our keeper who was out quickly but the Stoke man went wide and passed him and then had a shot deflected onto our bar leaving the penalty area awash with straining players until Baines got a timely boot to the ball and cleared our lines. That made me think that today was our day.
We were now starting to get more control of the game and on 65 minutes Mark Hughes had seen enough of his team's toothless efforts when around our box so he swapped Crouch with Evertonian Jon Walters. Not a lot changed. Stoke huffed and puffed but I thought our rearguard were doing well considering they have had little game time together but Barry and Gueye were putting out fires almost before they started to help out.
70 minutes came up and Mirallas was looking tired after putting in a good hard working shift so Ron changed him for Kone. "Kone!!" said a few but we all trust Ron now so we rode with it.
Was it just me but 1-0 up and the opposition playing hard under the previous manager always looked like we might fold but today and at WBA even after such a short time together we looked more resilient, more together and more organised. I base that on the fact my stress levels have markedly improved from last term. I hope it lasts and gets even better.
With Stoke needing some form of fillip their manager acted on 78 minutes with a double substitution after seeing Barkley bring a superb save from Given in a one on one. Instead of being the fillip needed he watched Barry feed a super ball to Bolasie who curled one around Given but without enough curl it went wide. Bolasie had flitted in and out today and I got the impression he will need a couple more weeks yet to find his feet. This won’t be helped by the wretched international break!
84 minutes and Mori replaced Barkley who had run box to box well and did some neat things yet for me he did not hit the heights a lot of us expect from him. I hope Ron can work some magic on him as he seems to have everything except that final completion of what he started.
End to end stuff all game but I thought we had the most and best chances without the reward of more goals to kill the game so our manager with two minutes plus four added to go removes Bolasie and sends on Tom Davies in an unashamed attempt to lock down those last minutes with a sort of 1-9 1 formation and break quickly. Stoke had a frantic go at us but I thought we coped well and in fact it was us that finished on the front foot with Holgate having yet another marauding run down the right halted by a foul just outside the area which Baines took, over the wall but Given got a fist to it and cleared.
Gueye picked up the ball and on the whistle it was us pressing them back into their own area. ‘If yer know ‘yer ‘Istery’ was belted out and on joining the throng on Goodison Road smiles as wide as the Mersey tunnel were everywhere. From snatches of conversations the fans seemed to be talking in the main about Gueye, Holgate and Barry. I was more satisfied with the collective as there is no doubt we are heading the right way but patience will be needed by all whilst the manager and his staff work through the assembly of a team capable of being in the mix season upon season.
MotM: Idrissa ‘Gana’ Gueye
Well that’s it until the International break is over and we have a Monday night trip to Sunderland. Now that’s one I would like to win by a few goals.
You may have heard of the Blues fan who took ill at the game today and was taken to hospital where sadly he died at just 51 years. A tragedy. If anyone reading this knows the man’s family please pass on my sincerest condolences.
UP THE BLUES
You wait three months for the Premier League to return and just as it's getting some momentum, the international break arrives after just three games to disrupt the rhythm.
For many supporters, particularly those for whom club trumps country, it's a largely unwelcome distraction but the days off can often provide an opportunity for the team to attain full fitness and shake off any rust that was evident in the early days in the campaign.
Roberto Martinez certainly seemed to find them beneficial, not least in 2013 when he signed three players on transfer deadline day and the following year when, just like his successor did this summer, he received players back in stages from international tournament duty and used the fortnight's interval to bed them back in.
With Koeman suggesting that some of his players are still shy of 100% fitness, this upcoming break could be just as useful, particularly if he too makes some more additions by the deadline, but his immediate focus is on the visit of Stoke City this weekend.
The Potters come to Goodison Park looking for their first Premier League win of the fledgeling season having drawn at newly-promoted Middlesbrough on the opening day and then suffered a 4-1 drubbing at the hands of Manchester City last weekend.
In their two games against them last season, Everton saw both sides of Mark Hughes's team — the talent that exists in their ranks with the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri, who scored his first Stoke goals at Goodison, and Marco Arnautovic on the one hand, and their propensity to ship goals, particularly against a team able to move the ball quickly, on the other.
The Blues' 3-0 win at the Britannia Stadium was, the FA Cup win over Chelsea aside, arguably the last stirring performance under Martinez but it was also a completely different affair to the reverse fixture earlier in the season which was more symptomatic of the defensive ills that would eventually bring about Martinez's demise.
3-2 to the good and with their tails up, Everton were 19 minutes away from what would have been an important victory given how they'd lost to Leicester in their previous home game but two late goals, including a press-the-self-destruct-button from John Stones gifted Stoke a sickening victory.
You get the sense that such late collapses through indiscipline, lack of focus and an inability to see out a game will be few and far between under Koeman but the Dutchman is still very much proving himself to Evertonians.
So far so good, however, with a creditable point gained against Tottenham and last weekend's come-from-behind win at West Bromwich Albion which presents the Toffees with the chance to be nicely placed in the top six going into the transfer deadline and the enforced break beyond it if they can pick up a second successive victory.
Koeman has been boosted by the fact that only Seamus Coleman and Muhamed Besic are definitely ruled out through injury, with the Irishman now pencilled in to return from his ankle problem for the Sunderland game on 12 September.
Tom Cleverley, James McCarthy and Darron Gibson were described by the manager as being “slight” doubts but only McCarthy's absence is likely to have any significant bearing on the starting XI, given that he has started all three games so far.
It's the selection conundrums in attacking midfield and central defence that could ultimately determine the formation and starting XI that Koeman goes with. Seeing as Romelu Lukaku will almost certainly start and Stoke's defence is similar in size and physicality to that of West Brom, it's possible he will forego the “back three” he started with last Saturday and go straight to a more orthodox four-man back line.
That would see the precocious talents of Mason Holgate continue at fullback, Idrissa Gueye pair back up with Gareth Barry in defensive midfield, and leave Koeman with decisions to make over which two out of Gerard Deulofeu, Kevin Mirallas and Yannick Bolasie start in attacking midfield.
With Ashley Williams now ready, however, the could be tempted to deploy him in a three with Ramiro Funes Mori and Phil Jagielka, use Holgate as the wing back and have one fewer winger to support Lukaku up front.
Either way, Koeman has already shown a pleasing willingness to make early adjustments if things aren't working so there will be a measure of comfort among the home faithful regardless of what the starting XI ends up being.
In the aforementioned Shaqiri and Arnautovic, plus enterprising midfielder Bojan, Stoke have match-winning quality in their ranks but they lack a reliable goalscoring striker and sophistication at the back. With Everton a more robust side than they were last term under Martinez and superior on paper, they should prevail in this one if they play to their strengths and keep things tight at the back.
Referee: Michael Oliver
Last Season: Everton 3 - 4 Stoke City
Predicted Line-up: Stekelenburg, Holgate, Williams, Jagielka, Baines, Gueye, Barry, Barkley, Bolasie, Mirallas, Lukaku