Stoke marked the halfway point of this rollercoaster of seasons. When the full time whistle blew, we’d have played every other team in the league. Off the back of the most dramatic of winners against Newcastle, there was a renewed sense of optimism for some. With the potential to go sixth by the end of the afternoon, and just one win from fourth (should other results go our way)- there was a lot to play for at Goodison.


Brendan Galloway came in for Leighton Baines, Tom Cleverley gave way to James McCarthy, and Arouna Kone and Gerard Deulofeu returned to the side in place of Kevin Mirallas and Aaron Lennon- both of whom dropped out of the squad completely. McCarthy broke down in the early stages of the game, and was replaced by Tom Cleverley. Stoke entered the game conceding on average less than a goal per game away from home, but scoring even fewer. So of course, given it’s Everton, the stage was set for seven goals: some excellent attacking stuff from the toffees, but a defence and a keeper intent on throwing up all over themselves at the back- shipping four as the manager watched on. This was the fourteenth time we’ve conceded three or more under Roberto Martinez. It happens with alarming regularity: once every 6.78 games. A side that has always played with two defensive midfielders- a back line packed full of talent throughout his time at the club, and statistics tell us we’re likely to concede three or more around five or six times a season. It’s unacceptable, and it has been for a long time now.

Increasingly, the signs are pointing alarmingly toward our first year under Roberto Martinez being an anomaly. A combination of improved football under the Catalan (although we did play some very good stuff under Moyes sometimes, too), combined with the defensive discipline left over from Moyes’ time with the club. We’ve played some excellent football under Martinez, but until fundamental defensive discipline is restored, losing games like this is likely to be thought of as a microcosm of his time with the club. We’ve the leagues joint top scorer (Lukaku), and joint third top in assists (Deulofeu). For what it’s worth, Lukaku has the same amount of goals as Jamie Vardy of Leicester, and Deulofeu has the same amount as Riyad Mahrez of Leicester. Leicester are a point off top with a game in hand, we languish in eleventh. Why? Because they are a thoroughly well coached side. They defend as a team, work hard for one another, stop crosses coming into their box, play in an uncomplicated manner- with pace and intent. They may fall away from the top- they probably will, but they are putting us to shame with the players we have at our disposal. They concede a fair few, too: don’t think I’m holding them up to be a fantastic side, because they aren’t- they are a decent side. They spent thirty six million on wages last year. Half of what we did- and some change. They are playing to their potential, and then some. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts where Leicester are concerned. The opposite is true of Everton.

Stoke made the brighter start, their play was in stark contrast to a pedestrian Everton. Bojan was looking lively as he buzzed about the pitch. His movement allowing him to find spaces between the lines. A midfield with two holders were stuggling to come to terms with the intelligent runs of Bojan, Arnautovic, and Shakiri. Arnoutivic had a shot blocked in the early stages and almost sprung the offside trap after a nice ball from Shakiri. It was no surprise to see Stoke take the lead fifteen minutes into the game, and sadly, it was no surprise to see how soft Everton were…


Ryan Shawcross steps in to win the ball back for Stoke, deep within their half. From here, ten Stoke players touch the ball, taking twenty nine uncontested touches of the ball as they work it left to right, right to left, and back to front. Seamus Coleman did get tight to Arnoutovic, but that was it. There wasn’t a single Everton boot in challenging the ball from start to finish as Stoke bypassed our midfield. The ball came into Bojan who turned nicely away from John Stones, and the ball was eventually worked to Shaqiri who swept home ahead of Brendan Galloway for 1-0…


A really good goal from Stoke, but one that only happened because of the passive, soft defensive effort from the entire Everton team. Also, quite what has spooked Mori into dropping so deep here in the lead up to the goal, I don’t know…


It didn’t cost us in this instance, but you’ve got to question why he’s done it? Or, perhaps: why the others haven’t done it? Because this is the kind of thing you should be working on in training- Stoke’s front three have been good this year: fifteen minutes in and we already look unorganised. Was the plan to drop in and deny them any space to run into? Or more likely, was it just a brain fart on behalf of Mori? Here’s the issue, though: they clearly aren’t on the same page. They clearly aren’t talking to one another. They clearly aren’t well drilled, and worst of all: none of these issues are new. Arguably more than in any other area of the pitch, you need your defence to be of one mind, but they aren’t here. They’re too spread out. One has dropped, two are advanced, and the only advanced player- who would go on to score here, is afforded far too much space by Brendan Galloway. Lovely goal for the neutrals, an ugly goal for Everton to concede.

In fairness, it didn’t take long for an equaliser to come. Nice interplay between Ross Barkley- who had a very good game (adding another assist, touching the ball 89 times, and completing 95.6% of his 68 passes- the game ran through him for long periods), and James McCarthy set up the man of the moment: Romelu Lukaku, who finished with ease…


Circled is Erik Pieters who was slightly deeper than the rest, playing Lukaku onside, the big man did the rest, finishing low to Jack Butland’s right.

The rest of the half was fairly open. Galloway slashed wide after making a great run in support of Ross Barkley surging from deep. There was a half shout for penalty on Coleman, and Gerard Deulofeu was rightfully booked for diving after a heavy touch when he had Ryan Shawcross one on one in a chance that was pretty similar to one against Crystal Palace- also down the Park End, when he took another untimely poor touch. ‘The supplier’ has come off the boil a touch in recent weeks- which makes the complete omission of any wingers on the Everton bench all the more perplexing.

Stoke made it 2-1 before half time, and it was more sloppy stuff from Everton…


John Stones is trying to get the ball into Lukaku, but his pass is cut out, and the ball ends up at Bojan’s feet (circled closest to the ball). It’s one minute before half time, and quite why Seamus Coleman is in this position at this stage isn’t clear to me. I should clarify: the plan is obviously to try and draw Coleman’s man inside with him, and leave Deulofeu one on one with his, but should he be here a minute before half time? I’d rather him be beside Stones, giving him an easy pass, so close to half time. It’s 1-1: there’s no rush, and if we lose the ball here, look how many Stoke have ready to counter. It’s a risky move, and one Stoke punish us for. Circled bottom of the screen is Shakiri who is on his bike as soon as the ball comes to Bojan…


And from here on out, its class from Stoke. Galloway is the wrong side of Shakiri, having been trying to push forward to support- as was Coleman, and once Bojan plays the ball, Shakiri’s pace gets him away and if the finish was deliberate, it was stunning. Again, a good Stoke goal, but naïve from Everton? Trying to force an issue, we’ve left the back door open for- at a conservative estimate- the millionth time? 2-1 Stoke.

Into the second half, and we were making the better fist of it. Moving the ball about well, but failing to have any real end product. Deulofeu dipped a nice front post cross in that nobody gambled on. Standard. Cleverley rolled the ball to Kone on the edge of the box but the Ivorian- so badly out of scoring form, chopped an unconvincing shot high over the bar. We were moving the ball into the final third pretty well, but lacking real quality in tight spaces to unlock an organised Stoke back line.

Out of nowhere came an equaliser, and it was brilliant. Tom Cleverley playing a decisive, early forward ball, just as Lukaku wants it. Affording the Belgian room to work, and he didn’t disappoint…


Cleverley picks the ball up here, and pings a beauty into Lukaku, with the Stoke defence unprepared for the direct approach…


Rom brings it down and does what he does best…


Slotting in front of the Gwladys. His fifteenth league goal. His thirty first of the calendar year- 40% of the 78 goals we’ve scored in 2015. Cleverley was subbed off immediately- an achilles injury, apparently.

Momentum was well with Everton now. Good work from Deulofeu cutting in from the right allowed Lukaku to lay the ball off to Naismith who drilled in a shot that was deflected wide, the crowd were behind Everton, and it didn’t take long for a third to come. Another powerful run from deep from Barkley, set free by Lukaku, he had options to choose from, but played the ball across goal to Deulofeu to tap in, sending the Goodison crowd wild. We deserved the lead at this point. Some thought we’d scored too early. The goals weren’t over.

It’s been a week since I wrote this: which talked about how our manager had to give the team more, and how the players had to do their part, too. I spoke about how we don’t stop crosses- how the low point of our season came from a soft cross down our right against Bournemouth when the game just had to be seen out, I spoke about how the manager backing the goalkeeper is hurting himself, and his side. It all came so predictably true all over again on Monday…


Arnoutovic got the ball out wide: Coleman didn’t make a genuine attempt to get close enough to stop the cross- he didn’t even give a courtesy raise of the leg to try and block its flight. Once the ball has beaten him, the ‘keeper flaps and palms it out. From an Everton perspective: it’s unlucky for the ball to fall to Joselu (of course, Everton being Everton: it was his first goal for Stoke), but again: every Everton defender has followed the ball in, not picking up a body to mark, but most infuriating of all: look at how many Everton shirts are between the posts to defend the danger. We’re 3-2 up in a crazy game, and we don’t have the footballing IQ to get numbers back into our most vulnerable areas, and weather the storm. It’s really poor stuff again. Having played well and worked hard to get ourselves back into the game twice- and take the lead- we show our frailties again. There is no leadership in this team. No organiser. It’s all so naïve.

There was even time for a heart-breaking fourth for Stoke to end the game. So, so Everton.

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