Match Review: Everton 1-0 Stoke City - Kevin Mirallas shines with a solo effort
A marvellous solo goal from Kevin Mirallas proved sufficient for Everton to overcome an uncharacteristic Stoke City, and keep their challenge for European qualification alive. In the absence of Marouane Fellaini and Steven Pienaar, David Moyes introduced tactical changes which proved very effective, and helped his side grab a narrow victory. Stoke, on the other hand, are now just 4 points above the relegation zone, and deeply embroiled in the relegation dogfight at the end of this season.
The home side started with a fresh looking 3-4-3 formation on the pitch, in the absence of Fellaini and Pienaar, with Jelavic, Mirallas and Anichebe all starting up front. However, it was the visitors who had the first real chance of the game within 3 minutes. A header from Huth off a long throw-in drew a diving save from Tim Howard, and when the ball fell to Jonathan Walters just a couple of yards from goal, he only managed to loop it up against the crossbar. A real let-off for the side who are looking to nail down a spot for European qualification.
The game progressed at a fair pace, with Everton pressing Stoke for the most part, and Stoke relying on rare, quick forays into the opposing half. Neither side really managed to work the opposing custodian though, with Begovic being marginally the busier of them. It was frustration for the most part, with Nikica Jelavic making half-connections on more than a couple of good crosses from Leighton Baines.
However, it was a fellow striker who would make the breakthrough with a tremendous solo effort. Picking the ball up from a Tim Howard punch deep in his own half, Mirallas managed to get away from the challenge of N’zonzi, before turning Cameron inside out with great footwork, and scoring via a touch from Begovic. This spurred Stoke into action, and they had the ball in the back of the Everton net through Crouch, but the assistant raised his flag for an offside in the build-up, and the goal was disallowed. Jonathan Walters then had a good effort punched away by Tim Howard, allowing the Toffees to go in at the break with a slender 1-0 lead.
Both teams started the second half with an attacking mindset, but it was Stoke who yet again came close first. Ten minutes in, yet another header from the returning Huth had Tim Howard scrambling, but went narrowly wide of his left post. Kevin Mirallas then tested Begovic with a deflected shot, before Shotton missed a glorious chance to head his team level. A good cross from the left flank was headed behind by Distin, but fell straight into the path of Shotton, who got plenty of power on his header, but sent it sailing over the bar.
There seemed to be a lack of discipline in the usually compact Stoke defence; either that or Moyes’ plan of going with 3 attackers was working especially well. A couple of free kicks were conceded at the edge of the box from very similar positions, and Nikica Jelavic saw a good effort go narrowly wide following a fingertip save from Begovic which went unnoticed by the referee. The game concluded with a free kick on the edge of the Everton box which was seen away quite easily by the home side to run out winners, and keep alive their hopes of European football for next season.
Result: Everton (Kevin Mirallas 28’) 1 – 0 Stoke City