Everton seek top-four finish

2009-03-14 19:33

Liverpool - Everton kept their challenge for a top-four Premiership finish firmly on course with a 3-1 win over Stoke at Goodison Park on Saturday.

David Moyes' team are four points behind fourth-placed Arsenal, although Aston Villa can stretch the gap to the Champions League places to seven points if they beat Tottenham on Sunday.

Stoke slumped to their 15th away game of the Premiership campaign without victory despite Ryan Shawcross almost inspiring a most unlikely second half comeback from the relegation-plagued visitors.

Everton looked well on course for a routine home win as they took a 2-0 lead into the break. But the loss of influential Australian midfielder Tim Cahill, forced off at half-time through injury, turned the flow of the game on its head.

The hosts had been comfortable even before a two-goal burst inside six minutes effectively wrapped up the three points.

In the 19th minute, a long ball forward found Jo who exchanged passes with Marouane Fellaini and took the return ball in his stride before burying a shot underneath the dive of keeper Thomas Sorensen.

It was an effort which the visiting number one should have saved but the pressure was beginning to tell on him and his team.

Just six minutes later, Sorensen was again at fault as a cross from the impressive Leon Osman found the head of Cahill whose effort was parried by Sorensen.

Unfortunately for the keeper, the loose ball fell directly into the path of Joleon Lescott who had the simplest of tasks in forcing the rebound over the goalline.

It was all so routine for an Everton team which has now lost just once in their last 18 league and cup games, a remarkable statistic that bears testimony to the work performed by Moyes this season in the wake of an often crippling injury list.

And there appeared likely to be more goals still to come from the hosts.

Osman might have added to the lead before the interval after a smart pass by Jo, which allowed the midfielder to neatly switch feet and curl an attempt just off target.

Yet the early stages of the second half brought about a most unexpected change in the game's momentum.

After 52 minutes, the visitors hauled themselves back into contention from, predictably enough, a set-piece. A number of Liam Lawrence corners had threatened in the first half and, this time, his accurate centre found Shawcross who glanced his header beyond Tim Howard and into the far corner.

It was the signal for a completely unexpected Everton panic. Howard needed two attempts to gather another Lawrence corner before substitute Ricardo Fuller headed just wide.

Then, on the hour mark, Lawrence's corner was helped on at the near post by Danny Higginbotham and Shawcross came within inches of converting the ball at the far post.

A 30-yard shot from Salif Diao also sailed just off target and Glenn Whelan was similarly close from slightly closer in as the Blues were in complete retreat.

With Stoke pressing, Everton might have added a cushion four minutes from time but Sorensen made a double save from Osman and Steven Pienaar to ensure the game remained in the balance until the final minute.

Leighton Baines' long ball was neatly controlled by Fellaini who benefited from a deflection as his shot beat Sorensen and finally subdued the visitors.