STOKE CITY elevated themselves up into eighth place in the Barclays Premier League on Wednesday evening courtesy of a deserved 2-0 victory over struggling Everton.
The Potters, who took all three points the last time the two sides met on Boxing Day, had on-loan Chelsea man Victor Moses and substitute Mame Diouf to thank for their latest triumph.
On-loan Chelsea man Moses got the ball rolling with a superb header prior to the interval before substitute Diouf rattled home his eighth of the campaign after Marko Arnautovic’s strike had cannoned into his path off the post.
The triumph, Stoke’s twelfth of the season, was enough to leapfrog both West Ham and Swansea City after they both slipped to narrow defeats against Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur.
Mark Hughes made two changes from the side that overcame Hull City four days earlier, replacing the injured Stephen Ireland with Charlie Adam and opting to hand Peter Crouch a start following his match-winning contribution in the last league outing.
Everton arrived in the Potteries on the back of an undeserved defeat to Arsenal on Sunday, and the extra 24 hours that the home side had to prepare for the fixture undoubtedly worked in their favour as they looked the strong of the two teams throughout the encounter.
As was expected, the Toffees were neat and tidy on the ball, but rarely managed to get in behind a dogged and determined City backline.
The blow of losing Philipp Wollscheid early on to injury was cushioned by the impressive performance of his deputy, Geoff Cameron.
The American international and central defensive partner Marc Wilson managed to stave off the threat of Romelu Lukaku all evening, whilst the two full-backs Phil Bardsley and Erik Pieters were equally as impressive.
Hughes’ troops weren’t weren’t enjoying quite as much possession as they have become accustomed to, but they still looked the side more likely to break the deadlock during the opening 45 minutes.
Moses had stung the fingertips of Tim Howard with a rasping effort before netting his fourth of the campaign in stunning style – leaping highest to meet Bardsley’s centre and planting a header into the top left hand corner.
Crouch went close to doubling the advantage on a number of occasions, but each time he looked set to pounce inside the 6-yard box Phil Jagielka came to his side’s rescue with crucial interventions.
Aaron Lennon brought a save out of Asmir Begovic towards the end of the half in a rare Everton surge forward, but even that failed to really trouble the Bosnian stopper, who went on to claim his 50th clean sheet for the Club with a second successive shutout.
The second 45 minutes heralded a vastly improved showing from the visitors, particularly during the opening exchanges of the half.
Lukaku’s pace gave him the edge in a battle with Wilson after Gareth Barry had played him through on goal, but the grit and determination of the Irish ace ensured he tracked back admirably to divert the Belgian’s dangerous effort around the post.
A succession of corners had the City rear-guard under intense pressure as they battled, and finally prevailed in their bid to contain the desperate visitors who were throwing everyone forward in an effort to get back into the encounter.
Martinez opted to withdraw Lennon and Barry at the expense of Ivorian striker Arouna Kone and the evergreen Leon Osman.
Kone cut an imposing figure, and he let rip a thumping effort at goal shortly after his introduction, but thankfully Begovic was aware and managed to get down to his left and palm the forward’s strike away from danger.
Hughes responded by making a change of his own as he welcomed Austrian maverick Arnautovic into the fray, with the impressive, but tired, Adam making way for his arrival.
The pace and trickery of the wideman was always going to cause a nuisance to the Toffees backline, as the home side looked to soak up the pressure and then catch them on a counter attack to seal the win.
That plan worked to quite devestating effect as Arnautovic and fellow substitute Diouf linked up well down the right, Arnautovic struck his strike at the post and Diouf prodded the rebound home from 3-yards.
There was almost a moment of consolation for Everton in stoppage time when Kevin Mirallas curled a free-kick towards the top corner, but not for the first time Begovic responded with a superb save.