Stoke City v Everton
It’s a new year but not much seems to have changed as far as Everton’s Premier League campaign is concerned.
Again they played some decent football and enjoyed extended periods of superiority - particularly in the first half - but again they were unable to capitalise.
Stoke could hardly claim to have outplayed the Blues like the 2-0 winning margin might suggest, but their manager is a pragmatist and by placing the onus on both boxes has made them a dangerous side.
You know what to expect at the Britannia Stadium and that is a siege upon to your penalty area with crosses, corners, free-kicks, long balls and long throws their weapons.
You know what to expect but that doesn’t make it easy to stop.
And so it proved for Everton as they succumbed to the bombardment with powerhouse targetman Kenwyne Jones the architect of their demise.
First he sent a glorious header flying past Tim Howard for the opener midway through the first half before his mischief-making led to Phil Jagielka prodding past his own keeper for the crucial second goal with 20 minutes remaining.
What happened between the two penalty areas was rendered inconsequential by the hosts’ exploitation of two isolated incidents of weak defending from the Blues.
Otherwise the Blues coped well with the aerial ball and to help in that end, they had been handed a huge boost before the game with Jagielka declaring himself fit and ready to help deal with the anticipated blitz upon the Everton box.
And it took less than three minutes for the first bomb to drop as Rory Delap slung a long throw in for Jones to flick on.
Thankfully for the Blues Ricardo Fuller narrowly missed a second flick and Howard was able to mop up the danger.
The visitors could have already had a penalty after a wild swipe from Ryan Shawcross missed the ball by half a foot and succeeded only in chopping down Louis Saha.
On his day Jones is beastly in the air and he was involved again as the hosts created the game’s first decent chance. Predictably, the method was unapologetically crude.
Four touches conspired to see the ball trundle past Howard’s right hand post.
Begovic – big goal kick, Jones – flick, Fuller – touch, Fuller – shot. Hardly the beautiful game but Stoke make it work and it is effective, particularly at the Britannia.
Yet on 20 minutes it was the other side of their game that earned them the lead.
Flashes of inspiration from the Potters tend to come from the sprightly feet of revitalised winger Matthew Etherington, and it was his craft on the flank that created an opportunity for Jones to plant a booming header past a helpless Howard in the Everton goal.
Despite another decent start the Blues again found themselves behind – the sixth time they had conceded in the opening half of the last eight Premier League games
Undaunted the visitors continued to play their football with Leighton Baines, in particular, becoming more prominent.
His cross was headed wide by Tim Cahill, while it was Baines’ surge that led to Seamus Coleman skidding a dangerous cross along the corridor of uncertainty between keeper and back four.
And on the stroke of half time a desperate block from Shawcross saw Steven Pienaar’s shot balloon up and land on the top of Begovic’s goal.
It was a good response from David Moyes’ side but the interval arrived with them still behind.
The break did little for the Blues – or the game.
Twenty minutes of scrappy football characterised the start of the second half and Moyes looked to the bench to try and change the flow of the game.
Off came Phil Neville and Mikel Arteta with Leon Osman and Victor Anichebe their replacements.
It was a positive move but as soon as the change had been made the Blues found themselves with a mountain to climb.
Again it was another ball into the mixer that unsettled the Everton defence and again it was Jones wreaking havoc.
This time his header looped up in the air, and when it landed the unfortunate Jagielka prodded the ball beyond Howard under pressure from Fuller.
Jermaine Beckford arrived in a final roll of the dice but the game was up and Everton left the Potteries without the start to 2011 they were hoping for.