Mirallas magic floors Stoke

Kevin Mirallas’ stunning solo goal illuminated an often drab and
uninspiring 1-0 victory for Everton over Stoke at Goodison
Park.

David Moyes’ men remain in contention for a top-four Premier
League finish and are now just four points adrift of Chelsea in the
battle for UEFA Champions League football next season.

Stoke, meanwhile, have now lost eight times in their last 11
Premier League outings and have slipped to 13th in the table, only
four points above the increasingly congested battle against the
drop.

Everton welcomed goalkeeper Tim Howard and Phil Jagielka back
into their starting line-up and they were joined in the team by
Nikica Jelavic as Moyes made three changes and opted for a 3-5-2
formation with Marouane Fellaini and Steven Pienaar suspended.

Stoke selected centre-back Robert Huth after his three-game ban
as he replaced the injured Matt Etherington, with the German
helping the Potters go close to opening the scoring with just three
minutes gone.

Ryan Shotton’s long throw into the box was met by Huth’s head
with Howard palming it away as he threw himself to his left, with
Jon Walters, who lined up in midfield in Tony Pulis’ 4-4-2
formation, scrambling his follow-up effort against the underside of
the bar.

Leighton Baines had come close to providing Jelavic with the
ammunition to test Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic on more than one
occasion before Everton took the lead courtesy of a majestic solo
effort from Mirallas.

The Belgian collected possession deep inside his own half as
Howard fisted away a Stoke free-kick, wriggling away from the
attentions of Steven N’Zonzi before switching on the after-burners
and embarrassing Geoff Cameron as he turned the last defender
inside and out before slotting under Begovic.

Howard had to be alert again as the interval approached,
plunging away to his left to push away a stinging effort from
Walters from outside the box with Stoke remaining a threat to
Everton’s back three.

Stoke continued to create decent openings after the interval
with Huth’s downward header from Whelan’s free-kick in the 57th
minute whistling the wrong side of Howard’s upright, while Shotton
could not control his chance at the far post soon after as Marc
Wilson’s cross flicked off Distin.

Everton could have extended their lead in the 63rd minute when
Jelavic’s far post header from Darron Gibson’s cross went straight
at Begovic, before the Croatia striker brought a finger-tip save
out of the Potters keeper with a free-kick from the edge of the
box.

Cameron Jerome flashed over the bar after Shotton’s back-heel
before deep into added time substitute Charlie Adam stung Howard’s
palms at the near post after a free-kick had incorrectly been
awarded following Leon Osman’s challenge on the former Liverpool
player.

Speaking after the game, Everton boss David Moyes insisted his
side remain outsiders to
secure Champions League football next
season
.

He said: “We are the big underdogs, we need results to go for us
as well as us winning our games, but we are in there and it is a
great thing to say Everton are in with a chance of the Champions
League.

“We deserve to be there because of how well we’ve played this
season.”

Stoke counterpart Tony Pulis had no problems with the effort his
side displayed, but admitted they
need to be more clinical in front of
goal
.

He said: “Our problem has been scoring goals. We haven’t played
many games where we haven’t created chances and, again, we have
created enough chances to score.

“That’s a bit of a worry, but the commitment and the football we
played today and the attitude of the players was absolutely first
class.”