In normal circumstances a point away at Stoke is not a bad result, especially given their impressive home record this season. However, with the impending ban of key player Marouanne Fellaini the negative impact of this game could be far reaching as we embark on the festive fixture marathon without arguably our two most potent players….
Passing / Territory Stats
Stoke’s general strategy was the usual territory based approach. Given that our game is also more about territory and less about possession this one was always destined for deadlock with us slightly shading territory 50.5% to Stoke’s 49.5%.Possession wise, we also marginally shaded it with 51.2% of the ball to Stoke’s 48.8% which is more even that it usually is in our clashes. Our pass completion was down on the average of 79.9% to 73%, slightly better than Stoke’s 70%. I’d put this differential down to the pressure they put on us when we had the ball. Our passing in the final third was much better, with 68% completion to Stoke’s 51% however Stoke were more positive on the ball with 58% of their passes played forward compared to our 48%.
Stoke attacked us down the flanks and predominantly the right. Begovic pumped long diagonals to Walters to use his height advantage on Baines and this passing combination was Stoke’s second most frequent, taking place 9 times. Whilst Stoke won most of the aerials we did well in picking up a lot of the second balls with Osman nabbing 4 interceptions which was the most of any player on the pitch. The most frequent passing combination in the game was Cameron to Etherington down Stoke’s left flank which took place 12 times. The former West Ham man doesn’t possess the pace he once had to get to the by-line and whip in deliveries and got little change out of Coleman who was excellent, winning 7 out of 7 tackles resulting in the winger creating no chances. The completely ineffectual Charlie Adam mostly wandered around the final third like a lost soul and it’s difficult to see exactly what he brings to the Stoke party.
Even the goals were crud…..
Overall Stoke created more chances than us, with 10 chances to our 7 although most for both sides were the result of pressure or errors rather than fluid football. In keeping with the standard of the game, both goals were terrible. First, Shawcross – who was involved in all the key incidents – comically headed a routine cross over his own keeper before Tim Howard gave Moyes another reminder that his days as No1 at Goodison are coming to an end as he feebly misjudged a Jones header from a Shawcross punt. In between, Leon Osman continued his personal crusade for worst shot of the season with this week’s effort featuring his signature pee roller which went wide with the goal and the game gaping.
Stop, Start, Stop….
The game was broken up by foul after foul, re-taken dead balls and constant hold ups in play which was no big shock given that his game pitted the leagues most persistent foulers (stoke) with ourselves who are the third worst in the foul play league. As a spectacle it was truly dire and whilst it wasn’t quite the self harm level of the game at Goodison last season it wasn’t too far away.
Fellaini’s GBH on Shawcross is of course what the game will be remembered for. Like it or not, opposition teams target the Belgian as a loose canon. This season, hatchet men such as McAuley (wba) and Caldwell (wigan) have succeeded in getting very tight on him and waiting for him to implode. We’ve noted before how Fellaini’s temperament is poor, remember the red card vs. Bolton which ruled him out of for three games in 2010 and I’m pretty sure he and Shawcross butted each other in the bore fest at L4 last season. Basically this was an accident waiting to happen.
When Fellaini loses his head his game deteriorates and he fails to do the things which make him such a key man such as controlling longer balls on his chest and general link up play with our attacking midfielders and Jelavic. All these abilities disappeared yesterday once his head had gone and the red mist descended. Granted, Shawcross is a lumbering galoot who will take the physical side of the game to the limit, but what the Belgian did was plain daft.
With the media biff’s baying for blood it’s anyone’s guess when we will next see the Belgian. With Mirallas out for a spell also we now look very short on firepower and incision going into the Christmas games. The only game we’ve had to play without both was the insipid Norwich contest last month which was perhaps our worst display of the season after yesterday. Given the options available I’d like to see the special talent of Barkley given an opportunity in midfield with Osman further forward in fellaini’s slot.
In conclusion, this was a fairly lame display by us. Osman should have wrapped the game up prior to half time and in the second period we created hardly anything in front of goal. With the exception of a 15 minute spell at the start of the second half Stoke were equally gash and a draw was probably a fair result.