After a week of Merseyside conspiracy theories came a slab of cold reality from Everton. No spin, no guessing games... just clearly stated dejection at missing out on European football for the first time in four years.
Qualification for the competition that has wonderfully illuminated Fulham's season would have gone down nicely again at Goodison Park. Which is why some straight talking followed the failure of a salvage operation aimed at turning round a faltering first half to the season. "It's an empty feeling," said captain Phil Neville following the stalemate with an equally robust Stoke City that rendered Anfield events yesterday irrelevant. "It's European football we want. Eighth place for me seems a bit of a failure for the squad we've got and the performances since Christmas."
A club record-equalling 10th Premier League game in a row without defeat was small comfort for a side convinced they had broken through when Phil Jagielka headed home Mikel Arteta's corner 16 minutes from time.
TV evidence came out in favour of the officials, particularly the assistant who flagged for offside against Victor Anichebe, although Moyes – sufficiently exasperated this time as to take a couple of strides on the pitch in protest – questioned whether the Nigerian was interfering with play, even while stood in front of goalkeeper Asmir Begovic.
Stoke City (4-4-2): Begovic; Wilkinson, Huth, Shawcross, Higginbotham; Delap (Pugh, 87), Whelan, Whitehead, Etherington (Lawrence, 87); Fuller, Sidibe (Tuncay, 87). Substitutes not used Simonsen (gk), Diao, Collins, Moult.
Everton (4-5-1): Howard; Jagielka, Yobo, Distin, Baines; Osman (Rodwell, 72), Neville, Cahill, Arteta, Anichebe (Bilyaletdinov, 90); Saha (Yakubu, 72). Substitutes not used Turner (gk), Hibbert, Senderos, Baxter.
Referee H Webb (Rotherham).
Man of the match Fuller.