Yak drags Everton to higher ground

Everton 1 Stoke City 0: Bustling striker secures the points after Toffees are forced to labour by unambitious opponents
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The Independent Football

If this is an Everton revival after their indifferent start to the season, it is a slow burner. They may be five matches unbeaten now but this was a laboured, indecisive performance. Aiyegbeni Yakubu's first Premier League goal since April finally gave them an advantage but for the 28 minutes that followed before referee Lee Probert's whistle brought relief to manager David Moyes, they looked insecure and a Stoke equaliser would have come as no surprise.

Their labours reminded Everton how difficult it can be to break down an opponent so well drilled in defensive discipline, especially when so many players are still well short of their best.

Mikel Arteta, who had been missing with a hamstring injury, was never quite crisp enough in his passing, Seamus Coleman was full of energy but only occasionally used it effectively and Steven Pienaar simply had a bad day, allowing himself to be knocked around and making too many stray passes. Leighton Baines, so impressive lately, especially going forward, was equally out of sorts. And though he took his goal well, Yakubu's contribution until then had been that of a player still suffering a deficit, in sharpness and confidence.

The saving grace – if you ignore the goal that Stoke had ruled out for a foul that was questionable – was that they at least showed some resistance in the areas that mattered most. Phil Jagielka, going from strength to strength as a central defender, was solid throughout.

Tony Pulis, the Stoke manager, was livid – in so far as he felt he could be, without risking censure – over the disallowed goal, which Probert ruled out on the basis that Tuncay Sanli, who forced the ball over the line in the 61st minute after Robert Huth had won the ball in the air, had pushed Baines in doing so. The television replays suggested that contact had been minimal. Fearful of the consequences of being too outspoken, he restricted himself to being "very disappointed". After the indulgences shown to Gary Neville last week, when he felt the Manchester United man should have been sent off, you could not blame him for feeling there was a conspiracy afoot, even if only of fate.

If you had sympathy with Pulis on that score it was more difficult to agree with him that Stoke had "given it a real go" in "an even game".

Pulis raised a few eyebrows last week when he attributed his side's failure to keep clean sheets – with the regularity that they had managed in previous seasons – to him setting them up to play more attractive football. There was not too much evidence of it yesterday as they settled in to defend their lines.

For an hour, save for the odd breakaway attack, you could have barely slid a cigarette paper between their midfield quartet and the four at the back. The presence of Tuncay had seemed a mystery, given that Pulis has so often felt the Turkish striker was a luxury.

Everton dominated possession but as they struggled to make an impression, Stoke's plan appeared to be working. Asmir Begovic, making a rare appearance in goal after Thomas Sorensen cried off with an elbow problem, had a couple of saves to make but neither tested him as Yakubu and Pienaar failed to make the most of fleeting opportunities.

Although Abdoulaye Faye, seemingly startled to receive the ball, missed the target at the far post towards the end of the first half, and Ryan Shawcross wasted a chance early in the second half with a centre-back's finish, it was not really until Everton had gone ahead that Stoke pushed forward with real conviction.

The Yakubu goal at least gave Moyes reason to feel that progress is being made, however slowly. Dispossessing Faye, Yakubu laid the ball off intelligently to Tim Cahill, whose shot hit Begovic's right-hand post, then was alert enough to seize the loose ball, duck inside Danny Collins and fire a shot into the roof of the net.

"It was through working hard that Yak got his chance and scored the goal," Moyes said. "He is looking like he is beginning to get his confidence again. It would be great to see the old Yakubu back, that's for sure."

Attendance: 35,513

Referee: Lee Probert

Man of the match: Jagielka

Match rating: 5/10