Stoke vs. Everton: 6 Things We Learned

Matt Cheetham@@Matt_CheethamCorrespondent IDecember 15, 2012

Stoke vs. Everton: 6 Things We Learned

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    A trip to Stoke is rarely a mission too many away fans anticipate with glee. With a raucous crowd, several behemoth players and an intimidating, physical approach, each visiting side is given a stern examination of their credentials.

    This game was no different for Everton, and David Moyes will be pleased his side secured a point.

    An amusing own goal from Ryan Shawcross gave the Toffees the lead, before Kenwyne Jones levelled proceedings when his tame header seemed to bewilder Tim Howard.

    As is so often the case at the Britannia Stadium, the action was continually punctuated by the referee's whistle, as tussles, tangles and altercations prevented either side from establishing a rhythm.

    Overall, the draw was a fair result, although both sides will feel frustrated by certain events.

    Here are six Everton-related talking points to emerge from this result.

1. The Dark Side of Fellaini

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    The major incident from this game was Marouane Fellaini's blatant head-butt on Ryan Shawcross, which will overshadow anything else.

    Having been jostled, barged and wrestled around in the penalty area for most of the game, Fellaini eventually responded with an idiotic lunge at Shawcross, which was somehow missed by the referee.

    The Belgian is almost certain to be banned for his actions and his side will miss his influence, just as they missed his influence for most of this game.

    As in the West Brom fixture earlier this season, when faced with confrontational, hands-on defenders, Fellaini became too easily agitated, which radically lowered his contribution.

    He did not register a shot, gave his second-poorest passing display and produced his worst challenge success rate of the year. Additionally, for the first time this season, he failed to even create a chance for a teammate.

    Post match, it would have been all-too-easy for Moyes to elude his player's stupidity, but instead he was refreshingly frank, admitting he expected Fellaini to be banned (via BBC Sport), and rightly so.

    Fellaini's challenge was brainless and he does not deserve any sheltering from his manager.

2. Howard's Woes Continue

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    A recurring topic of discussion in these weekly Everton assessments has been the gradual deterioration of Tim Howard's form throughout the year.

    Although some incisive goalkeeping late on partially atoned for his main error, there's no denying his feeble attempt at keeping out Jones' header eventually cost his team dearly.

    Similar slip-ups have already caused goals against Southampton, Norwich and Newcastle this season, and he's actually been fortunate a few more careless flaps haven't been punished.

    At the moment, he isn't commanding his penalty area as he has done and looks considerably more frail and even undecided when coming for crosses.

    Without wanting to hammer home the message from several previous articles, he's been unrivaled for the gloves for far too long. It's high time he had a young backup to push him for selection.

3. A Lonely Jelavic

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    Hounded and harried off the ball, Nikica Jelavic was rarely a factor in Saturday's game, which made it difficult for the Toffees to impose themselves in the final third.

    Generally so lethal around the penalty area, Everton were unable to find their front-man as he struggled to shake off the attentions of some uncompromising markers. 

    By the end of the game, the Croatian had touched the ball just 19 times, his lowest contribution of the season, despite coming off before half-time in a game against Newcastle. 

    Stoke's physical style has been something Moyes' side have found tough to better in recent times, with just one win from the past seven highlighting this.

    Too often Everton's strikers have been nullified by powerful defenders, which was clearly evident again here. 

4. Individual Mistakes Mounting

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    Howard's error will be remembered, and chastised the most, but Everton's overall performance was once again disjointed by some frustrating individual lapses.

    Leon Osman's awful miss with the score at 1-0, Darron Gibson's sloppy back-pass and Fellaini's head-butt could have all been equally decisive—and it's not the first time the Toffees have been so accommodating. 

    Admittedly, Stoke were especially generous with the opener, but too often this season errors have handed opponents a route back into games Everton have worked hard to lead. 

    It's much easier to accept when a team dissects another through clever play, but when goals appear so avoidable, as so many have for the Toffees, it becomes difficult to stomach.

    Phil Neville's slip against QPR, Howard's clanger against Norwich and Coleman's foul against Reading are just three examples of easily preventable goals, instances that have been permeating recent performances. 

5. Encouraging Signs from Barkley

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    A positive from Saturday was a brief 20-minute viewing of the prodigiously talented Ross Barkley, back at the club after impressing on loan at Sheffield Wednesday.

    After being an unused substitute for the past few games, Moyes finally gave him an opportunity to strut his stuff, and the youngster looked bright and confident, clearly buoyed by his successful spell away. 

    After a rapid rise this time last season, Moyes has been cautious with his latest prospect, eager to ensure he hones his play off the ball and isn't rushed through in a similar way to Jack Rodwell.

    With Fellaini now set to miss three games, will Barkley become a contender to feature behind Jelavic?

    It's probably unlikely, but he would certainly be playing in his favoured, freer role, with far less tactical responsibility to trouble him off the ball.

6. Draws Must Become Wins

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    While Saturday's result is solid enough in isolation, Everton have now amassed nine draws from 17 games this season, with eight coming in the past 11.

    Once again not enough composure was shown in front of goal to build on a 1-0 lead, and an inability to preserve a clean sheet left a draw as the predictable outcome.

    While this point keeps them in fourth, for now, Moyes' side are struggling to separate themselves from a cluster of teams behind them and are in danger of being overrun.

    With the table so congested from third down to 10th, the Toffees must find a way of stringing together a run of wins, or they will struggle to keep pace with other Champions League contenders. 

    Statistics via EPL Index