Everton always seemed to be a pass away from a brilliant goal, but it never came. Nonetheless, they earned a penalty and still managed to beat Stoke City 1-0 at Goodison Park on Saturday.
The one goal came in the 51st minute. Ashley Williams earned a penalty for Everton after he was tripped in the box by Phil Bardsley during a corner kick. Leighton Baines stepped up to take it. His initial shot was saved by Shay Given onto the post, but it bounced back towards the keeper and went into the net off of his head. It was unfortunate for Stoke, but a deserved goal and win for Everton
The Toffees dominated much of the game, keeping 55 percent of possession and taking 21 shots to Stoke’s eight. But the attackers were unable to finish all day long. There were too many missed chances to name here, but two players in particular were the biggest offenders.
Ross Barkley would work himself into good positions, but then pass when he should have shot or shoot when he should have passed. Again, Barkley’s decision-making comes under fire. And when he did shoot it would inexplicably go right at the keeper or wide of the target.
Romelu Lukaku, on the other hand, pretty much exclusively kept the ball for himself and it was to his detriment. And when his teammates gave him the ball, he would squander the opportunity. Lukaku had one chance cleared off the line and an another blocked about two yards from the goal. The positive side of this is that he is getting into good places and his hold-up play was brilliant again, but he needs to start scoring. Everton should have won by multiple goals, but instead it was a nail-biter finish.
Other than the poor finishing from the attack, there was a lot to like today. Idrissa Gueye continued to look fantastic in the middle of the park. His partnership with Gareth Barry will win Everton a lot of games this year. At the back, the veteran pair of Ashley Williams and Phil Jagielka is as strong as you would expect. Between the sticks, Maarten Stekelenburg is assertive and decisive. I can’t even remember how many times he rose up in the box to jump above Stoke’s strikers to end an attack with a catch or punch. Do they still need a “first-choice” keeper? And Mason Holgate continues to impress.
At the end of the day, three points are three points. Going forward, I would expect Everton to become more clinical and win a game like this 3-0 or 4-1. However, last season, this would have been a draw or possibly a loss. That is a big deal and it now has the Blues with seven points from three games. Much was made of Everton’s soft schedule to begin the year, but they are taking advantage, which is what teams with European dreams do.
The players will now all go their separate ways for the upcoming international break. In two weeks time, they will meet back up at the Stadium of Light for a match-up with old boss David Moyes and Sunderland. Another fixture that should be three points, but the Black Cats can prove to be a tough nut to crack.