With Christmas coming, some of Stoke’s players were photographed parading a few of the seasonal offerings from the club shop, which in Asmir Begovic’s case was a sweater featuring a large red-nosed reindeer. This, however, was rather more of an embarrassment.
They were humbled on what will go down as one of the great full League debuts for Everton. At Goodison they still talk of Colin Harvey’s first game against Inter Milan in 1963 when he was a 17-year-old. Gerard Deulofeu is a year older and this was nothing like facing Inter at San Siro, but it was still a performance that burned into the memory.
There was one moment in which he accelerated away like a Mercedes on an Autobahn. Glenn Whelan tried to pursue him and then attempted to scythe his legs from beneath him. Since Whelan had already been booked, it was just as well he missed completely.
Deulofeu may have been a graduate of Barcelona’s academy but nothing he learnt at La Masia would have prepared him for making his first Premier League start against the hulks of Stoke. He scored Everton’s first, had a hand in two others and electrified Goodison Park.
His manager, Roberto Martinez, often talks of wanting his footballers to display “arrogance” and this is a quality Deulofeu possesses in both senses of the word – he was once disciplined by Barcelona for telling his opponents in a youth-team match that they could stop by the dressing room and ask for his autograph. He was rather more modest yesterday, applauding all corners of Goodison and collapsing into a weary embrace with Nikica Jelavic.
“Last week, when I put him on as a substitute against Liverpool, he was very disappointed,” said Martinez. “He had two good chances and he felt he should have taken them. I decided to give him a start so he could flush those feelings away. His first goal was a sensation and now he can relax.
“We were one of a long list of clubs who wanted him on loan [Mark Hughes said Stoke were also on that list]. I have been an admirer of him since he made his debut for Barcelona against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu when he was 16.”
Martinez smiled when asked if Barcelona might consider making the loan deal permanent. Deulofeu has a £29m buy-out clause in his contract. The way he created Everton’s breakthrough just before the interval showed why. From just outside a crowded Stoke penalty area, there was an exchange of passes with Steven Pienaar and Gareth Barry, finished off sublimely at the near post by the boy who started it.
Hughes admitted that was the moment when Stoke’s resistance, such as it was, began to break. By the time Bryan Oviedo, deputising for the injured Leighton Baines at left back, was given a ludicrous amount of space to pick his spot in the corner of Begovic’s net, it was smashed to dust. In between, Deulofeu had delivered a flicked cross that Barry attempted to meet and which Seamus Coleman did, slicing it over a stranded goalkeeper and into the net beneath the Gwladys Street End.
But for the man in the reindeer jumper, Stoke might have lost by considerably more than four. After Deulofeu had run half the length of the pitch from Tim Howard’s throw, Begovic blocked what would have been one the great Goodison goals. When Jelavic muscled his way clear on goal, he did the same. Geoff Cameron was mightily fortunate not to concede a penalty for handball.
Everton’s fourth goal belonged to another on-loan player, Romelu Lukaku, who, despite telegraphing his run, had not the slightest problem driving home Oviedo’s cross for his eighth goal in 10 games since his move from Chelsea.
Lukaku has said he may be persuaded to remain on Merseyside should Everton qualify for the Champions’ League. As the winter sun set and the floodlights blazed, that did not seem such a strange thought.
Everton (4-2-3-1): Howard; Coleman, Jagielka, Distin, Oviedo; McCarthy (Stones, 74), Barry; Deulofeu, Osman, Pienaar (Mirallas, 83); Lukaku (Jelavic, 79).
Stoke City (4-2-3-1): Begovic; Cameron, Shawcross, Muniesa, Pieters; Whelan, Nzonzi; Walters (Shea, 59), Adam (Jones, 59), Assaidi; Crouch.
Referee: Michael Jones.
Man of the match: Deulofeu (Everton)
Match rating: 7/10