Everton v Stoke
Inspiration eventually triumphed over perspiration at Goodison Park as Yakubu’s first goal of the season earned Everton victory over an obdurate if unimaginative Stoke City side.
The visitors set up to defend from the first whistle and showed little ambition to take away anything more than a point.
Their focus on keeping their shape and denying the hosts space paid off for more than an hour before David Moyes’ side finally cracked the code.
The Blues, while not at their best, had showed far more intent to win the game before their greater adventure eventually paid off.
The game opened up following Louis Saha’s introduction to partner Yakubu in attack after an hour and the Nigerian’s goal – thumped into the roof of the net – was enough to lift Everton up to seventh in the Premier League table.
The big team news for the Blues had been the return of Mikel Arteta to the midfield and the Spaniard looked in good shape early on with a couple of typically dextrous touches.
For the visitors, concerns that several key players would miss out through illness proved inaccurate as all their big hitters made their starting line-up.
Tony Pulis’ side contained no less than five players who most would consider to be recognised centre-backs, and the visitors had a beastly look about them.
The Blues enjoyed little or no joy in the opening half as Stoke’s organisation and stoic defending thwarted their attempts to build momentum.
The visitors' threat going forward was minimal with Sylvain Distin enjoying the better of a heavyweight duel with the increasingly peripheral Kenwyne Jones.
Some neat passing midway through the opening half released Yakubu for a run on goal but the Nigerian, who felt a tackle coming, shot tamely at Asmir Begovic.
Aside from a half chance for Phil Neville that was all Everton could muster and, while Stoke had offered nothing, their threat from dead balls was underlined as Matthew Etherington’s corner evaded everyone and the hosts were left scrambling to clear.
The second half began with renewed promise as Seamus Coleman jinked, dropped a shoulder and drove into the box before shooting straight at Begovic.
Baines’ searching cross was then bravely defended by Abdoulaye Faye with Tim Cahill poised to crash home a header at the back stick.
But for all Everton’s endeavour, the best chance of the game arrived at the other end as the Blues failed to deal with a straight ball and the ricochet fell to Ryan Shawcross to skew an ugly effort inches wide.
The visitors were showing glimmers of adventure and had the ball in the net on the hour. Referee Lee Probert wasn’t convinced, however, and ruled out Tuncay’s effort for a shove on Baines.
The Blues responded by surging down the other end and, after Cahill’s effort had been blocked, John Heitinga blasted his follow up high over the bar.
David Moyes brought on Saha, switched Steven Pienaar to the right. The game became more stretched and Everton were rewarded with the opener.
Pienaar’s break down the right appeared to have fizzled out but Yakubu’s determination to retrieve a lost cause revived the chance.
The striker fed Cahill, his shot smacked back off the foot of the post and the Yak steadied himself before hammering high into the roof of the net with Begovic’s flailing sprawl a mere afterthought.
Stoke looked bereft of ideas but a slip by Jagielka afforded them a chink of light.
Etherington gambled, drove into the space and fizzed a low effort across Howard and inches past the far post.
The visitors attempted to chase a point but Tim Howard remained untroubled as Everton collected a deserved maximum.