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After only three defeats in 21 games confidence is flowing through Everton veins. Their approach work was impressive, if sometimes too elaborate, but they took the lead in messy, fortuitous circumstances on the stroke of half-time. Peter Crouch attempted to head Tony Hibbert’s cross clear but the ball struck Marc Wilson and then ricocheted off the Stoke forward to cross the line.
This was Stoke’s 54th game of a season that started at the fag end of July, but refusal to admit defeat on home turf is part of their DNA and three substitutions in the second half swung the game. Jerome has become too accustomed to life on the bench for his liking, but here he conjured a goal out of nothing.
The forward had been on the field barely a minute and was allowed to advance at least 40 yards as he escaped the attentions of Phil Jagielka and John Heitinga, to bundle the ball past Tim Howard.
Stoke manager Tony Pulis, who would like to secure a top-10 finish, said: “We’ve got two cup finals left and we have to be ready for them.”
He said: “I feel if we can try and keep winning I’ll be pleased if we finish in the top 10. This point should let us do that. If you’d given me that at the start of the season I’d have settled for it.”
Everton’s lead over their neighbours could have been more significant had it not been for a spirited Stoke fightback, which culminated in Cameron Jerome’s equaliser. But with two games left to play, the portents are promising for Moyes and he will surely consider finishing above Liverpool this season as a significant accomplishment. However, Moyes sidestepped the subject last night.
The memories of last month’s painful FA Cup defeat at Wembley are fast being erased by the glorious prospect of Everton finishing the league season above their rivals.
It has been seven years since David Moyes last secured that notable achievement on Merseyside but this draw enabled Everton to move three points clear of Liverpool, after Fulham’s surprise victory at Anfield.
Meanwhile, Burnley have taken Hednesford Town's Cheyenne Dunkley and Chris Clements on trial.
Southampton are also considering a return for Celtic striker Gary Hooper after they offered £7m in January.
Southampton had a £5.5m bid turned down in January and Newcastle also made an enquiry for the England U21 striker.
Southampton and Fulham are also keen on Rodriguez, 22, who only has one year left on his contract.
Everton manager David Moyes wants to sign Burnley striker Jay Rodriguez but the Championship side want £8m.
‘It will be a bear-pit at QPR,’ he said. ‘And there is likely to be something on the game against Bolton. But we will be giving it our best shot.’
Pulis is not the kind of manager who will demand anything less than a full shift in the final two matches — against QPR and Bolton — despite the club’s lengthy campaign.
‘Anyone who tells you they can guarantee a change will work is a liar.’
‘Sometimes you get substitutions right and sometimes you don’t,’ he added.
He said that it ‘didn’t take a genius’ to see that the Potters were jaded. This was their 54th match of a season that began last July in the qualification rounds of the Europa League.
Pulis refused to take the credit for the changes that eventually brought about a share of the points.
He has made just five 90-minute outings for the Potters in 33 appearances. Although he raced over to the home bench after scoring, it seemed like he was taking tactical instruction from the manager, rather than making a more forcible point.
Jerome has not been afforded too many chances to make his mark. But this was his eighth goal of a campaign that has been stop-start since his £4m move from Birmingham last summer.
Jerome collected the ball just over the halfway line and twisted and turned his way between two centre halves before producing a finish that was helped by a ricochet off Jagielka’s back.
A drab first half was enlivened when Steven Pienaar swept a free-kick to the right. Tony Hibbert produced the cross which saw Tim Cahill attempt to force home. He succeeded only in unsettling Stoke’s Marc Wilson, whose header bounced into the turf and rebounded off Crouch’s back and over the line.
Rory Delap’s long throw-ins had looked the most likely source of an equaliser but it was a triple change which injected life into the hosts.
‘To be honest, I didn’t know our goal came off Crouch. I thought we played really well and I was pleased how we performed. And I thought we were liable to score the second but we couldn’t quite crack it in the end.’
‘I’ve just said to them, “Try to keep winning” because I’ll be pleased if we finish in the top 10 — and I think this point just about does it,’ he said.
‘If you had given me that at the start of the season, I would have settled for it all day long.
But if seeing Liverpool’s name below them in the Barclays Premier League table held any great attraction, Moyes wasn’t showing it.
His humour would not have been helped by the manner in which Jerome powered through Phil Jagielka and John Heitinga, two defenders who are renowned for their physicality.
Moyes had greater cause for complaint as Everton had enjoyed the better of the evening’s chances.
But within two minutes of coming on Cameron Jerome scored a goal that showed off his best virtues. His strength and pace created the opportunity for a finish that received a kind deflection.
Until the Stoke boss decided upon wholesale changes with a quarter of the match to go, his team had looked distinctly below par.
That the visitors were not able to earn themselves a healthier advantage over their neighbours was due to a bold triple substitution from Tony Pulis midway through the second period.
But Stoke’s top scorer inadvertently set them on their way to a point when the ball bounced into Asmir Begovic’s net in the penultimate minute of the first half.
Not since the Champions League qualification season seven years ago have the blue half of the city been able to lord it over their rivals.
Having lost their FA Cup semi-final to Liverpool, the assistance would have come as scant consolation, but an own goal from former Reds striker Peter Crouch aided the Scot’s quest.
David Moyes was given a welcome helping hand from an unexpected source as his Everton side remained on course to end the campaign as Merseyside’s top dogs.
“We were just caught out a wee bit for their goal. Though it was a bit fortuitous, in that it took a touch off Jagielka.
“In the second half Stoke were better, but I always felt we were liable to score a second goal. We were just unable to craft it at the end. But I am pleased with the performance, there was nothing wrong with the way we played.”
“I think our style has improved as the season has gone on, partly because of the introduction of Steven Pienaar. The loss of Mikel Arteta was always going to affect us, but if you watch Everton over the past few weeks, you can see the confidence in the side.
“Players are taking the ball, passing and they now believe they have a centre-forward (Nikica Jelavic) who can nick them a goal, though he couldn’t do it tonight.
“So we’re happy with the style of play.”
Stoke equalised when sub Cameron Jerome scored a deflection off Phil Jagielka on 69 minutes, and Moyes admitted he was disappointed his side didn’t cope better with the Potters’ raft of second half substitutions.
“You know Stoke are always a threat,” he said. “And they threatened two or three times with throw-ins that were headed over. That was the main threat we had to deal with in the first half.
“I thought in the main the boys played really well at the back.
“You will always have to deal with different bits of play with Stoke, and if you are not on your guard they can catch you out.
DAVID MOYES admits Everton FC have surpassed his expectations for this season – after their draw with Stoke guaranteed them a top 10 finish.
The Toffees were held 1-1 by Tony Pulis’ men at the Britannia Stadium last night, although the point widened the gap over Liverpool in the Premier League table to three points, and ensured they will finish no lower than 10th.
Moyes, who insisted his side were unfortunate not to secure another three points after Peter Crouch’s own goal gave them a first half lead, was in pragmatic mood afterwards.
“We will just try to keep winning, and I’ll be pleased with top 10,” he said. “I think the point just gets us top 10. Certainly our form from January might be better than the top 10, but I would have taken that all day long at the start of season.
“I thought we played very well, and we were a wee bit unlucky not to take more from it. But taking a point here is not the worst result.
“It was a fortuitous goal, but we deserved to go ahead, I felt. We played well, I was really pleased with how we performed.”
The Blues comfortably played the more stylish football in the face of their host’s trademark tactics, and Moyes welcomed his side’s display – even if they were unable to maintain their free-scoring streak.
He said: “I felt we started well. We moved Steven (Pienaar) in, brought Magaye on, and kept playing some nice football, keeping the ball.