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HOW do you survive and prosper in the Britannia bear-pit? Use your head – just not like Marouane Fellaini.
The stern task for a burgeoning fine football side like Everton is to weather Stoke’s physical onslaught and respond by picking them apart cleverly and being clinical when it counts.
Everton almost did just that but ultimately failed – and to make it worse Fellaini resorted to his own rough-stuff.
Sure Ryan Shawcross probably had blue dye on his hands afterwards, such was his incessant pulling and tugging of the Belgian’s shirt, but Fellaini is lucky he did not have blood on his.
To respond to characteristic Stoke provocation from the England defender with a blatant, street-brawl style head-butt as Fellaini did in the second-half was indefensible, irresponsible and shocking.
The 25-year-old may end up with an enforced Christmas break as a result, but David Moyes should make him train like he is going to be involved in every one of Everton’s Christmas fixtures. Fellaini has let his manager and the club’s supporters down badly at a crucial point in the season when his contribution would have been important.
Too often the influential man-mountain lets his head drop under the stifling attention of cynical opponents; sadly he let it drop on Shawcross’s forehead this time.
But the reaction was symptomatic of Fellaini’s only flaw. He will not discover his true potential until he finds a way to cope with the pressure of situations like this. The former Standard Liege player will remain a marked man because of his ability, but he must learn how to stay focused.
The negative publicity his head-butt will inevitably bring will not help him flourish further, but credit at least goes to his manager who bucked the trend of others by admitting he saw it. Typically forthright, the Blues boss condemned the head-butt and maybe his honesty will persuade the FA to show a degree of leniency. Maybe.
It was a frustrating outcome to another frustrating afternoon, when Moyes’s men impressed in patches but in the end returned quickly to the script which has undermined them so often this term. They rose to the first-half challenge, created chances and lived to regret missing them again.
The early stages were typically frenetic with the hosts piling on pressure, and pressing Everton fiercely in their own half. It took a while for the Blues to settle, but when they did they signalled why their football has garnered such high praise lately. Remaining cool under pressure Everton worked the ball from left-back up into Stoke’s area playing neat triangles, and Darron Gibson slipped a deft ball to the over-lapping Seamus Coleman who picked out Nikica Jelavic only for the striker’s shot to be blocked by Shawcross.
As ever, the Blues’ most potent threat continued to come from their left flank, especially with Kevin Mirallas’s presence missing on the opposite wing.
However, the impressive unbeaten home record of Tony Pulis’s side is no accident and although typically direct they showcased their intent when they forced Gibson into a rare lapse in possession, and worked a shooting opportunity for Matthew Etherington which the winger dragged wide. Then when Steven Pienaar was dispossessed, a few quick Stoke passes suddenly found Kenwyne Jones in a pocket of space but he curled his left-footed shot high over the bar as Phil Jagielka closed him down.
Everton’s passing still flourished in patches, but Fellaini was taking time to get into his stride, and Steven Naismith was having difficulty adapting to the game’s physicality.
Suddenly, Everton were fortunate not to be behind – when an unmarked Steven Nzonzi botched a simple headed chance from a corner. On his 200th consecutive league appearance, Tim Howard gratefully clutched the French midfielder’s header to his chest.
The Toffees may have grabbed the lead themselves next, when Jelavic pounced on a deflected ball and moved it onto Naismith who beat Asmir Begovic, but saw his goalbound effort cleared off the line.
There was little time for the Stoke defender to rest on his laurels though. Everton went probing again, and when Pienaar crossed Shawcross misjudged his clearing header and watched in horror as it looped up and over Begovic.
Emboldened, the Blues could have gone a long way to securing victory just moments later. Further smart interplay from Pienaar and Leighton Baines saw the latter pick out Leon Osman but the midfielder wastefully drilled his shot wide of the post. If Moyes looked more than a little infuriated in his technical area, it was understandable. Chances to take a comfortable lead into half-time at the Britannia Stadium are rare, especially when Everton’s last three visits have yielded just two points .
Stoke certainly started after the break in a fashion which suggested Everton would quickly rue the miss. Charlie Adam forced Howard into a strong save as the Potters poured forward.
The visitors’ American goalkeeper had been equal to everything getting thrown at him; judging crosses adeptly and standing tall when it mattered. So it was typically contrary Everton when he was chiefly at fault for Stoke’s leveller. Shawcross aimed an almighty hoof into the Blues area and Jones rose splendidly above Jagielka to beat Howard far too easily at his near post. With Everton rocking, Stoke’s powerful Trinidadian striker was in bulldozer mode. Next he rode challenges from Baines and Fellaini to bustle into the area again and give Howard another fright when he almost forced the ball in.
The afternoon was going steadily downhill for Everton’s talismanic Belgian. Clearly not firing on all cylinders he compounded an off-day with his meltdown. The incident contributed to deterioration in the game’s already patchy nature. Tempers started to fray as both sides mixed it, and Shawcross’s tussle with Fellaini continued to niggle away as the Belgian then stuck an elbow into his foe’s face, as Jelavic also showed his frustration at Stoke’s rough stuff.
Sylvain Distin might have scored from a Baines corner but again the chance was wasted, and Moyes decided a change was due. Off came a subdued Naismith, and in his place teenager Ross Barkley was given a chance to show his progress since being sent on loan to Sheffield Wednesday.
It was a tall order for the 18-year-old to shine on this particular stage, with the game so finely balanced. And only the combined resilience of Howard and Distin kept the Blues in it when the shot-stopper used his legs to thwart sub Cameron Jerome and then the Frenchman headed Peter Crouch’s follow-up attempt from almost off the line.
Deadlock seemed imminent but Everton typically wasted another chance to seize the points at the end. There was to be no repeat of the last-minute heroics at Goodison last Sunday when Pienaar skipped past two tackles but steered a lame shot past Begovic’s post.
There are worse things than a point in the Potteries – chiefly the headache Fellaini’s stupidity will leave for not only Shawcross but his own club over Christmas.
MAROUANE FELLAINI must learn to cope with opponents who try to unsettle him, warns Sylvain Distin.
The Belgian midfielder is facing a potential ban for head-butting Stoke City’s Ryan Shawcross during the second-half of Everton’s 1-1 draw at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday.
Fellaini has apologised for the incident while also insisting he was afforded little protection from Stoke’s attempts to nullify his threat by referee Mark Halsey, but Distin believes his teammate must learn to keep his focus regardless.
He said: “He is a good player for us and he’s doing amazingly this season. He keeps scoring goals and if anything happens to him and he gets banned I guess it’ll be a lesson for him.
“We were talking about it before the game with him. Those kinds of game they are going to try and frustrate him and he needs to make sure he doesn’t react badly. It’s a mistake and he will learn from it.”
Everton must wait to learn how long they will be without the influential Belgian as the FA review video evidence of the incident, but manager David Moyes was quick to acknowledge his player was in the wrong and will be fined by his club.
“He deserves to get the punishment,” said the Blues boss.“I’ve seen it, it’s a terrible thing to do and I expect him to be punished.
“It’s down to the FA. I’ve told him it’s not acceptable and whatever he gets, he and us deserve it.”
he Blues’ point against Stoke wasn’t enough to keep them in the Premier League top four, but Distin believes the result was fair – even if he was frustrated with his side’s overall display against tough opponents..
He said: “We were a bit disappointed but a point here against a team who have conceded so few goals at home isn’t too bad.
“We feel like we could have played better though. We had two clear chances to win it and I thought we could have played a bit better football. Fair play to Stoke though, they stuck at it and it’s difficult for anyone to go to the Britannia.
“Before the game as you walk through the door and out onto the pitch you can see all their players bending as they go through. They’re big and hard and very organised. They all know what they have to do and they know how to frustrate the opposition.”
Distin also called for greater consistency from match officials with regards to Stoke’s physical tactics.
“It’s wrestling, it was tough. It was difficult to run through, they just catch you all the time and grab you.” he said.
“I think the ref could have a better look at it. But that is football and it’s going to happen when you come to a place like Stoke.”There is just no consistency. That is the problem as a player.Sometimes you get grabbed or blocked and it is not a penalty. Then you see what happened against City when the ref gave them a penalty, and you think ‘there should be a penalty every week’. There is no consistency so it’s a bit frustrating when it’s not going your way.”
The narrative moves fast in English football but, even so, it can safely be presumed they haven’t changed the rules on the sly midway through the season.
So, as of the weekend, it was still illegal to hold on to another player to prevent his movement. Meaning the first foul that was committed in the Stoke City penalty area in the 59th minute on Saturday was by defender Ryan Shawcross.
That does not justify Marouane Fellaini’s reaction, and is only the tiniest mitigation for an incident that will almost certainly end with a three-match ban for the Everton player, but it is nevertheless an important fact.
For it makes plain that what happened on Saturday, a clash that could have ended in serious injury, a fractured cheekbone or broken nose, was a direct result of football’s decision to allow wrestling matches in the penalty area.
Fellaini assaults Shawcross primarily because he is being prevented from playing, illegally, and Mark Halsey, the referee, appears happy to let this continue. Football has never had more policemen and yet such little interest in implementing the rules.
The replays clearly show that, directly before Fellaini strikes, Shawcross is gripping him by an upper arm beneath the shoulder, to restrict his run. This is a foul. It isn’t a penalty, because the ball is dead but it is without doubt subject to corrective action.
As none is forthcoming, Fellaini takes matters into his own hands, attempts to wrestle free and, as he passes Shawcross, ducks his head into his opponent’s face. Shawcross collapses. Halsey misses the incident.
For this reason the FA can pass sanction and Everton will lose their key player at a crucial time in the campaign. David Moyes, the manager, is resigned to this and did not complain. To his credit, he as good as invited punishment.
Maybe, by doing so, he felt he was acting for the wider good. Had Moyes defended his player, the fallout would have centred on Fellaini, who got away with several instances of poor behaviour on Saturday.
Instead, with Everton pleading guilty, football would now be wise to study cause and effect.
Fellaini is a physical player. He gives as good as he gets, and one imagines he gets plenty. Even so, he does not usually prioritise butting defenders over scoring goals. If Shawcross’s marking had been old-school, without fouling, this would not have happened.
Football is a contact sport. In the penalty area, players will be in proximity. Yet over the last decade, increasingly, defenders no longer guard their man, but grapple with him.
Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea were masters at it, so are Stoke. And because referees have not stopped this behaviour, it is encouraged.
Every penalty area resembles a red-belt judo class these days. The FA, supposed guardians of the game, are content to let this continue.
Fellaini has admitted he was wrong and apologised. There can be no quibbles over punishment.
Yet the wider problem is not being addressed. A single weekend, in which every foul of this nature was met with a warning, then a yellow card (or a penalty if it happened when the ball was in play), would curb it instantly.
Results would briefly resemble rugby scores, but then the crisis would be over, and football would be re-acquainted with the old-fashioned ways of defending. After all, isn’t that exactly what a player like Shawcross is supposed to be about?
Marouane Fellaini will escape with a three-match ban despite headbutting Stoke captain Ryan Shawcross during their running battle at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday.
Referee Mark Halsey and his assistants missed the incident at a corner in the 59th minute, as well as several others involving the two players during the 1-1 draw.
In two separate clashes between the pair later the Everton midfielder appeared to elbow Shawcross in the face and then swipe at him with his right hand.
But the FA will concentrate on the headbutt, basing their punishment on what would have happened if Halsey had spotted the incident and shown a red card rather than the severity of the offence.
The FA will be free to act when Halsey’s report arrives today and they are almost certain to charge Fellaini retrospectively with violent conduct and ban him for three games.
They seem certain to ignore the later clashes, at least one of which could also have resulted in a red card.
The Belgium star is also facing a club fine of two weeks’ wages — up to £150,000 — from furious Everton manager David Moyes who was said to be incandescent in the visitors’ dressing-room after Fellaini was clearly caught on camera thrusting his head into Shawcross’s face.
Moyes is known to despise such acts of thuggery and feels let down by one of his most important players who is now likely to miss the Christmas fixtures against West Ham, Wigan and Chelsea.
To his credit, after the match the Scot immediately admitted that Fellaini deserves the punishment coming his way, describing the headbutt as ‘a terrible thing to do’.
On Sunday night the 25-year-old was said to be distraught he had let his team-mates down and that his actions could harm their chances of staying in the top four.
He was the first Everton player off the pitch and later issued a public apology.
‘I apologise completely to Ryan Shawcross, my team-mates and to our fans at the game,’ said Fellaini. ‘I lost my temper and it was unprofessional.’
Everton’s only issue is that they feel Shawcross was allowed to get away with holding their player at set-pieces, even though Fellaini was penalised by Lee Probert for a similar offence at Manchester City against Edin Dzeko two weeks ago.
Fellaini said: ‘There was a lot of pushing and pulling going on inside the Stoke penalty area and I didn’t feel I was getting any protection from the officials.
‘Nevertheless I know I shouldn’t have done what I did. I have also apologised to the manager and the staff — I have no excuses.’
Shawcross’s team-mates praised him for not retaliating.
Goalkeeper Asmir Begovic was particularly outraged by what he had seen and was booked by Halsey when he complained furiously to the referee.
‘I was a little bit unhappy with what was going on, and the holding and the shirt pulling and everything else that wasn’t really being dealt with,’ said Begovic.
‘Ryan’s got good composure. Sometimes it’s easy to retaliate but then he would have only hurt himself. He did really well to control himself.
‘Fellaini is a great player but it’s just an unfortunate thing and I’m sure it will be dealt with properly. People know they have to come here and compete with us, and sometimes they can go a little bit overboard.’
Stoke defender Andy Wilkinson was punished retrospectively with a three-game ban in September when he was found guilty of violent conduct towards Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli.
He said: ‘I thought Ryan dealt with it really well. If it was out of order then you hold your hands up and take your punishment. It happened to me this season.’
Shawcross was at the centre of everything in this typically hard-fought game between these two teams.
He headed into his own goal to give Everton the lead and then supplied the pass for Kenwyne Jones to equalise and preserve Stoke’s 15-game unbeaten home run.
Everton's Marouane Fellaini is sweating on a call from the FA today (Monday) as he faces up to a possible NINE-match ban.
David Moyes is still fuming with Fellaini after he was involved in THREE separate clashes with Stoke skipper Ryan Shawcross in Saturday’s 1-1 draw.
And the Toffees boss is set to hit him with a £150,000 fine - the maximum two weeks’ wages - as punishment.
The worst of them was a blatant headbutt towards the Potters defender - yet each incident went unpunished by referee Mark Halsey.
Fellaini, who ended the game without even a booking, is almost certain to be hit with a three-match ban for the headbutt alone - ruling him out of the games with West Ham, Wigan and Chelsea.
Fellaini issued a grovelling apology on Saturday night, admitting: “I have no excuses.”
But the FA have the power to cite for more than one offence and his apology will not spare him, with even Moyes already braced for retrospective action.
Replays also appeared to show Fellaini elbow Shawcross in a second clash and then hit the defender with an open-hand smash in the third confrontation.
Fellaini could be hit with an extended ban if the referee admits to missing the other incidents when he is shown the evidence via a video link today.
There is a precedent - Joey Barton was banned for 12 matches for three incidents in QPR’s final-day showdown with Manchester City last term.
He was red carded for an off-the-ball clash with Carlos Tevez before further run-ins with Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany.
Furious Tony Pulis has questioned whether Fellaini’s foul play would have gone unpunished against the big boys.
Fellaini’s extraordinary escape came just days after the Potters boss had contacted referees’ chief Mike Riley to complain his players are being unfairly targeted.
Pulis let rip at Riley after Chelsea’s David Luiz and Aston Villa’s Ciaran Clark escaped punishment for challenges on Jon Walters and Glenn Whelan respectively.
“I would have liked to have seen (the outcome if) that incident happened to a few other clubs,” said Pulis, whose team have the worst disciplinary record in the Premier League.
“And a few other players at those clubs.”