Another miserable day for Stoke fans, as a controversial penalty decision sees us lose for the second week running. Leighton Baines’ penalty deflected off the post onto the head of Shay Given to give Everton the only goal of the game.
The game once again showed the need for a first choice striker, as The Potters only managed 1 shot on target all game, with Walters missing a glorious chance to get us a goal back.
Hughes set the team out very differently to the last game, with Peter Crouch starting up-front after his hat-trick heroics in the week. Diouf started, frustratingly, on the wing with the absence of Shaqiri. Bojan was dropped to the bench, and Geoff Cameron replaced Wollscheid, who didn’t make the squad.
Marko Arnautovic, who many thought would be playing in the blue of Everton at one point this summer, started down the left and gave us our first chance of the game. Characteristically the Austrian turned in on his favoured right and tried his luck from 25-yards, but hit his shot over the bar.
It was a big game for Ryan Shawcross, as it was reported England manager Sam Allardyce was in the crowd. He knew he had to bring his best, which we haven’t seen so much recently. Thankfully for us, he was on his game, and made some very key challenges and clearances to keep Stoke in the game.
Mid-way through the first-half, Crouch showed he wasn’t just valuable going forward, but he can also do his part in defence. This was shown when he was forced into making an acrobatic clearance off the line, as the home side had Given beaten.
Half time came about and Stoke would have been the happiest to go in with the scores level. Everton had knocked on the door several times, and The Potters just didn’t look like that much of a threat going forward.
However, we did not start the second half the way we would have wanted. We apparently hadn’t learnt our lesson from last weeks game, as we again conceded a penalty from a corner. Bardsley was the one to give away the foul, as he was said to be holding/tripping Ashley Williams. I can’t say I have seen the incident myself, as from my angle at the game all you could see was Williams hit the deck, and after last weeks decisions, a penalty was inevitable.
Leighton Baines would step up, and he would have his penalty kick saved initially by Shay Given onto the post. Unfortunately, the ball would rebound off the post and onto the head of the Irishman and into the net. A stroke of luck for Everton, but you couldn’t deny the goal was coming.
There has been a lot of uproar on social media, mostly from Stoke fans, that it wasn’t in fact a penalty, and if it was, it was a soft one. It didn’t stop with the fans though, as Mark Hughes and Glenn Whelan weren’t too happy in their post match interviews.
We tried to hit back quickly, and came extremely close to equalising through Marko Arnautovic. The Austrian was very much a bright spark in a pretty lifeless attack, as everything good seemed to go through him. His run started from the left, he got himself into a good position inside the box, and after being hushed away once, he turned and hit with his right, which was saved onto the bar by Stekelenburg.
Everton continued to dominate the play, but Stoke were definitely not out of it. Jon Walters replaced Peter Crouch up front and came the closest to scoring for us too. Again, Arnautovic showed his class as he broke free from the Everton defence down the left.
From a tight angle, it was just him versus the keeper. A body faint seemed to have beaten Stekelenburg, but Arnie wanted to make sure, as he attempted to square it to Walters, who couldn’t get the ball in time, and what seemed like a certain goal, came to nothing.
From the view I was stood from, Arnautovic had completely sold the keeper and really should have taken the shot himself. But then again, it was a tight angle and the safer option was the find the striker in the box waiting. My only question is, is if that was a Berahino or Remy in the box waiting, would they haven been able to be in the right position to score? It raises a lot of questions, and in reality shows our desperate need for a striker.
And that’s how the game would finish. Everton would create a lot more chances that threatened our goal, but Given showed his experience and was able to keep the scoreline to just 1-0.
There is a lot of things I could say about today’s game, and the season in general so far, which I will save for another time. But there needs to be some serious questions asked about our tactics going forward. The Crouch experiment worked to an extent today, as he won the majority of balls flung towards him. But the problem was nobody was running onto them, and with a striker in Diouf on the wing, crosses into the box towards the big man didn’t happen regularly enough.
Regarding substitutions, Hughes again left it too late in my opinion to bring on any game changers. When we really needed some energy and flair in our attack, Bojan should have been the first pick, not Walters. Waiting till the 80th/85th minute to bring on both him and Sobhi was a mistake, but in reality one of them should have started anyway.
As a fan, I as well as many others, can’t see where a goal is going to come from, which really isn’t great. So far this season, we’ve scored from two set-pieces, which in the long run will not be good enough.
I am in no means relegating us with words, because we know we have the class to stay well away from the relegation zone come the end of the season. But changes need to be made, whether that be through transfers or a change in tactics.
There were positives to take away from todays game however, one of which being the defence. Everyone bangs on about how weak we are defensively, which after the Manchester City game can be justified. But today we looked stronger and the gaps that showed last week seemed to be gone. Shawcross, with Allardyce watching, put in his best performance so far this season, which was really good to see. The defender has had it rough because of injury recently, and it has taken him a while to get back to top form. But it is good to see that our captain looks to be back at his best!
Final Score: Everton 1-0 Stoke City
Goalscorers: Given (O.G)