Everton were celebrating "history day" at Goodison, for no apparent reason other than to relive the glories of yesteryear. Yet it was their not-too-distant past which almost came back to bite them, dire early-season home form having probably cost the club the chance of Champions' League football next year.
Two goals to the good after dominating the first half, Everton allowed Stoke back into this game when Ryan Shawcross headed home seven minutes after the resumption, and the visitors had enough openings to cause further damage. Thankfully for David Moyes, marking his seventh anniversary in charge of Everton, the newly braided, or corn-rowed, Marouane Fellaini eased home nerves with a goal on 90 minutes.
If his finish was a cut above, Fellaini's and Everton's second-half contribution lacked lustre, and Stoke may consider themselves unfortunate to have fallen back into the bottom three. "We didn't start the second half at all well and for 20 or 30 minutes Stoke put us under pressure, which was the opposite of last week against Middlesbrough," said Moyes. "Perhaps there was a bit of complacency. At the moment we are winning games without having that flow, but I'll take the wins."
Stoke, yet to win away this season, were hoping to build on their mini-revival that yielded five points from three games. That looked unlikely when they fell behind after 18 minutes. Tim Howard's long free-kick found its way to Fellaini and his ball into Jo was controlled with the right and finished smartly with the left, the striker's second goal since his loan move from Manchester City.
The excellent Joleon Lescott, making his 100th Premier League start for Everton, celebrated his landmark with their second goal after 24 minutes. Leon Osman's cross from the right was met with a towering header from Tim Cahill which Thomas Sorensen could only parry, and Lescott was presented with the simplest of tap-ins.
It was all Everton, with Phil Neville running the midfield, but that changed seven minutes after the break when Shawcross rose unimpeded to head home from Liam Lawrence's corner. He almost doubled his day's tally from the same source after an hour, but couldn't quite get a touch at the far post.
Moyes said Cahill was withdrawn from Everton's midfield at half-time because of "a slight calf strain", which allowed last Sunday's match-winner, Louis Saha, another cameo up front. But Stoke, sharper in the tackle and imaginative in possession, were now in the ascendancy. Salif Diao and Glenn Whelan both went close with long-range shots as the home support grew increasingly anxious.
Saha was close to getting on the end of Osman's cross and Sorensen made a double save from Jo. With four minutes remaining the keeper spilled a venomous shot from Osman and then did well to keep out Steven Pienaar's follow-up. Fellaini secured the points at the death with his sixth goal of the season when he controlled Leighton Baines's cross neatly before beating Sorensen from inside the area.
"You cannot get away with a performance like that in the first half and words were spoken at half-time," Stoke's manager, Tony Pulis, said. "But then for 25 minutes we had them hanging on and looked the more likely team to score a second goal. Their third goal was very disappointing, but survival is still in our hands."