Everton rediscover resilient streak to overcome Stoke

Posted by Luke O'Farrell

After wins for Arsenal and Tottenham in the earlier matches, it was imperative that Everton gained three points in the late kickoff. Anything less and those faint hopes of Europe would evaporate. Despite failing to click into top gear, the Toffees did just enough, adding another clean sheet along the way.

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Continually struggling for clean sheets, Everton achieved consecutive shutouts for only the second time this season. Springing something of a surprise, especially for a manager known for his tactical rigidity, David Moyes opted for a back three. The recalled Phil Jagielka joined John Heitinga and Sylvain Distin with Tim Howard also returning in goal.

As a result, the performance had a disjointed feel throughout, though; it was somewhat understandable since Everton have stuck to a defensive back four for the past eleven years. Taking their time to adjust, some players eventually looked comfortable in the new setup. However, others, such as Victor Anichebe, looked lost from first whistle to last.

Unsure of their role, several players seemed afraid to assert their authority on proceedings. This led to a number of subdued performances from players usually prominent. Leon Osman and Darron Gibson completed the most passes, as they often do, but the pair fell short of dictating the play with fewer players in close proximity.

Eventually, as the match wore on, the formation shifted and there was a more familiar look to the Everton setup in the second half. Heitinga filled the right back berth, Seamus Coleman pushed into midfield and Anichebe played just off Nikica Jelavic.

Reverting to their recognised approach, Everton maintained a level of control, but still looked short of the creativity required for a deciding goal.

Out of practice at right back, Heitinga rarely ventured beyond the halfway line. This left the impressive Coleman to carry the fight to Stoke, a task he resolutely attempted, but the lack of support often hindered him.

Elsewhere, lacking the reassuring presence of Steven Pienaar, Leighton Baines played further back and his influence on proceedings appeared lessened.

Nonetheless, while the performance failed to hit the heights of last week, the results are the important aspect at this stage. After toughing it out here, Everton secured a first win over Stoke since October 2010. Having drawn the last two against Stoke and lost the two before that, this was vital win.

Threatening to become a bogey side for Everton, Stoke had lost just one of the past seven meetings. Hard to beat and well organised, Tony Pulis has manufactured a resolute side. Carrying a constant threat on set pieces, whether it was corners, free kicks or throw-ins, the visitors troubled Moyes' men on several occasions.

Thankfully, with the home side boasting the stronger side in possession, Stoke struggled in open play and rarely threatened the Everton goal aside from set pieces. In a sharp contrast to their visitors, Everton created 13 chances with all 13 from open play.

Despite lacking the free-flowing football of previous months, Everton are rediscovering another trait, one that used to be their staple and it is their ability to grind out results.

Overcoming injuries and suspensions, the Toffees have returned impressive results in the last two matches. Needing a similar approach, as the season closes, with results becoming paramount, the rediscovery of a resilient, hard to beat streak could keep Everton in the European hunt.

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