Turkish forward Cenk Tosun made two more massive repayments on the transfer fee paid for him with two goals as Everton overcame a tough tackling Stoke side in a game played in snow showers on a freezing cold afternoon.
With lots of attention taken by off-field events particularly surrounding the future of CEO Robert Elstone and to a lesser degree yesterdays Breakfast Business Meeting, Everton have been able to train and prepare for this visit to the Potteries in relative peace and quiet.
Paul Lambert hasn’t been enjoying the best of times since he took over the Potters hot seat following the departure of Mark Hughes having won only one of their last eleven games although they have become much more difficult to score against in recent weeks. For this vital game in their fight against relegation to the Championship, Lambert selected no fewer than four former RS in his line-up: Butland, Johnson, Zouma, Shawcross (c), Stafylidis, Ndiaye, Adam, Allen, Shaqiri, Crouch and Sobhi.
Without the services of Gylfi Sigurdsson to call upon, Sam Allardyce made just one change to the side that comprehensively dealt with Brighton last weekend in restoring Idrissa Gana Gueye to the midfield engine room in place of the stricken Icelander. Continuity of selection is something Everton have enjoyed very rarely this season so hopefully the starting eleven would demonstrate some cohesion in the face of a no doubt stern challenge from Stoke. The team sheet therefore read Pickford, Baines, Jagielka (c), Keane, Coleman, Gueye, Davies, Rooney, Walcott, Bolasie and Tosun.
In charge at a blustery, cold and snow showery bet365 Stadium was the ever-popular Martin Atkinson.
An early challenge on Tom Davies saw the midfielder down and needing early treatment before returning to the action. A foul by Stafylidis earned a free kick that Rooney floated into the box for Davies to lose Adam only to fail to hit the target with a free header as the snow billowed around the stadium.
A quick Everton corner went all wrong and allowed Stoke to break quickly but Crouch was unable to find a finish to trouble Jordan Pickford.
As the sun tried to break through, Stoke weathered the early Everton raids and began to get a toe hold in the game before a decent break saw Walcott stretch his legs but run out of options. In the next Blues attack, Davies reaching for a ball from Coleman was flattened by Shawcross with no foul given.
Adam somehow got away with a high kick on Jagielka and Everton were denied a clear penalty when a cross from Coleman clearly hit the hand of the covering fullback, but none of the officials appeared to see it.
The snow returned in earnest around the twenty minute mark and began to stick on the pitch making playing conditions tricky to say the least.
Rooney with a terrific challenge dispossessed Crouch as Stoke began to threaten and seconds later Adam mis-controlled the ball and went in studs up and late on Rooney leaving him in a heap and referee Atkinson didn’t hesitate in showing the former RS a straight red card with half an hour played.
Rooney was able to carry on and inevitably, every time he got the ball the boos rang down from the home support as they clearly felt he’d made the most of the tackle from Adam.
Despite having the extra man, Everton were unable to fashion anything in the fifteen minutes up to the break, something that definitely needing addressing in the interval.
Half Time: 0-0
No changes at half time by either side saw the Blues in early possession and Rooney took a short pass from Gueye to try his luck from distance with Butland doing well with the shot that bounced just in front of him.
Davies who’d been in the wars earlier went down again barely four minutes into the second half and was eventually replaced by Dominic Calvert-Lewin on 53 minutes, ahead of Shawcross being booked for a clumsy challenge on Tosun.
Everton’s best chance so far came on 57 minutes when Rooney found Keane from a right wing corner but his header was blocked and cleared.
Past the hour mark a superb ball from Rooney found DCL in space and the offside flag stayed down, but DCL failed to get the ball under control and Johnson got back to prevent any danger to the home side.
Everton finally made the breakthrough on 69 minutes as Baines got forward to find Bolasie for a cross into the box that Tosun got a flick on but Butland denied him, Stafylidis denied DCL on the second effort but Cenk Tosun was on hand to crash home his third goal in three games.
Choupo-Moting replaced Sobhi and then Berahino replaced a limping Shaqiri with a quarter of an hour to go and within two minutes, the home side were level. Allen floated a free kick into the six yard area where Choupo-Moting found ridiculous space to beat a somewhat hesitant Pickford to the ball and poke the ball home. The goalscorer was hurt in scoring and inside two further minutes was on his way back to the sidelines to be replaced by Jese.
With the home fans now loud and proud, and Phil Jagielka booked for a foul on Ndiaye, Everton needed to stay calm and play football, using the extra man.
And they did just that with Coleman and Walcott combining for the former Arsenal man to swing in a sweet cross for Cenk Tosun to meet with an even sweeter diving header from eight yards on 84 minutes that Butland got a hand to, but couldn’t keep out.
Having regained the lead and time running out, Sam Allardyce decided it was time to go ultra defensive to protect the three points and he brought Morgan Schneiderlin on at the expense of Wayne Rooney on 87 minutes.
With four added minutes signalled, Evertonians were howling for a penalty when Shawcross flattened DCL but no decision went the Blues way, and Mason Holgate replaced Yannick Bolasie for the final two minutes that thankfully passed with no further threat from the home side and the Blues travelling support were able to celebrate a rare but very important away win.
Full Time: 1-2
A poor first half, played in awful conditions saw the sending off of Adam for a challenge on Rooney as the only real talking point.
Everton needed to make the most of the man advantage and they made somewhat heavy weather of it on a pitch half covered in snow, before eventually wearing the home side down and finding the back of the net thanks to a brace from Cenk Tosun.
Not vintage football in any way shape or form, but right now, we’ll take the result and try to build on it in the preparations to face champions elect Manchester City.