Five talking points: Everton vs Stoke City
Everton rode on an excellent solo goal by Kevin Mirallas to go 6 points clear of Liverpool, and remain in the hunt for Champions League football next season. For Stoke City though, it might signal the beginning of a tough business end for the season, with them sitting just four points clear of the drop zone, amid a pile of clubs who aren’t yet sure of safety yet.
With that in mind, here are five talking points from the game.
An un-Stoke like Stoke defence:
The problem for Stoke City, unlike quite a few of the other clubs threatened by relegation, has not been conceding too many goals, but scoring too few. This has been largely thanks to their fearsome defensive pairing of Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross, who also started the game yesterday. What was different, however, was the lack of the calm, composed demeanour with which the duo usually deal with attacks. Perhaps it was the presence of three attackers up front for Everton — or maybe it was a plain bad game for the duo — but Stoke were lucky to leave with the concession of just one goal.
The Mirallas goal:
A solo effort, which will definitely be one of the highlights of the weekend, it was Mirallas’ goal that was ultimately the difference between the two sides. After a set-piece from Stoke was punched out by Tim Howard, Mirallas picked up the ball deep in his own half, and managed to get away from the attention of Steven N’zonzi. Continuing his run, he dragged Cameron inside before deftly flicking the ball around him, getting past with ease and slotting the ball into the net in spite of a touch from Asmir Begovic. A goal deserving of winning any match.
European football for Everton:
With Chelsea’s loss to Stoke dragging them out of third spot and into fourth, Everton’s win gives them a glimmer of qualifying not just for the Europa League but possibly for the Champions League itself. Just 4 points now separate them from the fourth placed London club, with Arsenal at the median, in fifth spot. The Merseyside club have games against both the aforementioned clubs yet to come, and a visit to Stamford Bridge on the last day of the season might well turn out to be the decider if their form holds true.
The absence of Marouane Fellaini and Steven Pienaar:
Much was said before the start of the match about Fellaini and Pienaar’s absence, and how it would leave Everton starved of creativity and attacking options. Once on the pitch, however, those concerns all but disappeared, thanks to some excellent performances, as well as a well laid out tactical plan. With three attackers up front, and five midfielders, Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman bombarded the Stoke fullbacks sufficiently to create multiple opportunities which went begging. The tricky feet of Mirallas and Jelavic, as well as the power of Anichebe only served to increase their threat.
Will Tony Pulis survive till the end of the season?
Our final talking point for the game is a light-hearted one. While there is little doubt that Tony Pulis will remain at the helm of the club irrespective of their results in the remaining fixtures, the question really is over his health. After all, while it is heartening to see a manager involved so intensely in the game, it really cannot be good for the health of a 55-year old to be blowing a fuse every single time the opposition creates inroads into his team’s defence, can it?