Everton 1 Stoke City 0 match report: Kevin Mirallas wonder goal adds Everton to hunt for fourth

 

goodison park

Despite being public enemy No 1, plaudits have to be directed towards Callum McManaman. His goal, 31 minutes into an FA Cup quarter-final on this ground three weeks ago, sank Everton to depths they had not imagined possible.

Out of the FA Cup and adrift of Europe, some supporters were even questioning the management of David Moyes. McManaman and Wigan have inadvertently galvanised this club.

Football's a bit fickle – not in the stands but in results – and two clean sheets and comfortable wins later, Everton head into the final weeks of the season harbouring ambitions of toppling Arsenal or Chelsea in the battle for Champions' League places. If they continue in this vein, they could surpass both.

Beating teams like Stoke should be second nature to this side and doing just enough to take the points is all that is necessary now.

"We are huge underdogs in the race for fourth, but we've got the big teams to play," Moyes said. "It's great that we're going into April talking about having a chance of a Champions' League spot."

Stoke did have fleeting moments but their midfield stubbornness renders taking hold of a game virtually impossible, although Jonathan Walters flicked the bar early on from Ryan Shotton's throw-in.

The noise coming from the Potteries earlier in the season had been that they wanted to forgo the physical onslaught that has served them so well in the past in a bid to appease supporters with a brand of football befitting a club aspiring to break into the Premier League's top 10. But when Tony Pulis, Stoke's manager, ordered Shotton to stop taking throws quickly, it told the whole story.

As it stands, they still have that chance to once again finish higher than before. Credit to them for that, but the frustration festering among supporters is that Pulis has blown millions on attacking players – a staggering £80 million spent in the last five years – without evolving their style.

So when they won a free-kick in the final third, the rigidity of Pulis's set-up should have at least equipped them to pick up a second ball and continue aerially probing.

The worrying soft centre that has suddenly surfaced, however, allowed Everton to break.

Kevin Mirallas picked up possession in his own half and slalomed his way beyond defenders at high speed, dumping Marc Wilson on his backside before sliding the ball past Asmir Begovic.

"That was the Mirallas from the start of the season," Moyes said. "There were signs against Manchester City last week that he's getting back to the way he was. He has been out with injury and is just beginning to regain some confidence."

Exasperation was then etched on the face of Pulis when Walters saw a wonderful bending effort well saved. Who knows whether that was a reaction to the quality of the stop or Walters having the audacity to shoot from distance?

Despite being only two points behind Fulham, who are in the top half of the table, Stoke have won only once in 2013. The congestion beneath, in a desperate scramble for safety, is threatening to engulf them. With four games to play against sides scrapping for their lives to come, April will provide answers to what sort of credentials Stoke possess.

Robert Huth went close from a Glenn Whelan set-piece, while Shotton fluffed his lines, heading over the bar from inside the six-yard box. It would have only only Stoke's 12th goal from open play this season.

"It's about getting to those 40 points as quickly as you can," Pulis said, signalling the club's true aim. "We're not scoring goals. That's a bit of a worry, but the commitment today was first class. We played some really good football. The players are having a go, but things aren't breaking for us."

There was also Michael Owen, sat on the bench, pondering how it came to pass that this was the 250th club game he has missed since joining Newcastle United in 2005.

It is not totally beyond the realms of possibility that his career may end with relegation.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific