Phil Jagielka has admitted it felt great to be back wearing the Blue shirt – even though he has still to regain his full match fitness.
The 30-year-old returned to the Everton team on Saturday after spending four weeks on the sidelines recovering from a gashed ankle sustained against Reading in early March.
Jagielka, back wearing the captain’s armband, showed no signs of rust either, impressing alongside Sylvain Distin and John Heitinga in a reshuffled five-man defence.
“It’s been a frustrating time,” Jagielka told evertontv. “I’ve been able to do most things other than kick a ball. It’s not quite healed up yet but it will get there and I can play without any problems.
“I’ve got to have an injection to take a bit of the pain away because there’s still a bit of scar tissue but it’s part and parcel of being a footballer.
“I’ve been desperate to get back training and playing with the lads. It’s a boring time being on your own, especially being injured.
“I’ve been there before and so it’s been nice to get back amongst it this week, even more so to play today.”
With Marouane Fellaini and Steven Pienaar suspended, David Moyes decided the best way to tackle Stoke was to operate with three central defenders and play the adventurous Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines as wing-backs.
Jagielka felt the change in system paid dividends, with a second successive shut-out clear evidence of a solid rearguard effort.
He said: “The manager has had a big decision to make with the players who are fit and are available. We’ve talked about doing it for many months with me, Johnny [Heitinga] and Sylvain [Distin] being fit for the majority of the season.
“The manager decided to do it today and I think it worked quite well, mainly because of the two wing-backs who played left and right. They have such great energy, as shown in the last few minutes when Seamus [Coleman] ran the ball out of play.
“As much as we enjoyed it as a back three, you have got to take your hat off to the two boys on the wing for doing all the donkey work.
“You find yourself going into different areas, especially with Sylvain and Johnny playing on the outside. I thought they both did really well and as a team we are delighted.”
Jagielka also revealed that victories for Arsenal and Spurs, coupled with Chelsea’s defeat at Southampton, had acted as extra motivation to beat Stoke.
“With it being a late kick-off, we knew how the other results had gone,” added the England international. "To keep in touch with them we needed a win.
"It was a fantastic 10 seconds – the time it took Kev [Mirallas] to control it and sprint down half the pitch.
“That’s what he can do for us. It was fantastic goal and as soon as he had got to one versus one, I was always putting my money on him to at least test the goalkeeper and score. Thankfully it went in.”