- Spoils are shared at the bet365 Stadium as both sides maintain unbeaten league start to 2017.
- Crouch nets his landmark 100th Premier league goal early on before Ryan Shawcross OG secures Toffees a point.
- Saido Berahio steps off the bench late on to make his Potters debut.
PETER CROUCH’S 100th Premier League goal failed to reap the rewards the Potters performance deserved as in-form Everton claimed a point at the bet365 Stadium on Wednesday evening.
The 36-year-old striker opened his account for the night with a landmark strike early on in the first half after Marko Arnautovic had unselfishly teed him up following an outstanding ball over the top from Charlie Adam.
However, the Austrian maverick, who assisted the opening goal of the evening, then squandered two glorious opportunities to double the home side’s advantage before a hugely unfortunate, and slightly controversial, Ryan Shawcross own goal drew the Toffees level.
Both sides had opportunities to snatch the three points after the break with Crouch heading agonisingly wide, before substitute Saido Berahino, who stepped off the bench to make his debut for the Potters, saw a lofted effort cleared off the line by Seamus Coleman.
The late, late drama was at the opposite end of the field however, with Lee Grant forced into making an outstanding save to deny youngster Tom Davies, whose thumping header from 8-yards looked destined to hit the back of the net.
Prior to kick-off Mark Hughes was enforced into making two changes to the side that claimed a point against Manchester United 11 days earlier, with Glen Johnson and Xherdan Shaqiri suffering slight muscle strains in the build-up to kick off.
Their spots in the 11 went to Phil Bardsley and Ibrahim Afellay, meaning the likes of Berahino, Wilfried Bony, who had only just returned from the Africa Cup of Nations, and Academy pair Julien Ngoy and Tom Edwards all started on the bench.
An intriguing encounter got underway with the hosts looking the side more likely to break the deadlock, with Crouch a constant menace in the air and Arnautovic and Charlie Adam both seeking to find spaces behind the Toffees backline with their intricacy on the ball.
For all of the Potters’ neat play though, it was a routine long ball forward that caused the early damage with Adam feeding Arnautovic down the left, he exquisitely controlled the ball with his left foot and then clipped a delightful centre across to Crouch with his right, who in turn swept home one of the easiest goals of his landmark total to date.
As if his early opener hadn’t warmed the majority of the supporters inside the stadium up enough, his long-awaited ‘robot’ celebration took the decibels to another level, as the spotlight shone brightly on one of the finest Premier League goalscorers of all time.
Ronald Koeman’s side, who had kept clean sheets in each of their three top-flight victories since the turn of the year, were shell-shocked, and looked vulnerable every time the hosts surged forward.
Crouch let rip a stunning volley that dipped inches wide of the far post following a succession of crisp passes on the edge of the box, before goalkeeper Joel Robles produced a smart save to thwart the wideman, who arguably should have done better when fed through on goal.
Against the run of play though, Everton were fortuitously back on level terms.
Seamus Coleman twisted and turned on the right flank, manoeuvred enough space for himself to strike at goal, but his wayward effort flicked off Shawcross, leaving Grant stranded, and appealing to the referee that the clearly offside Romelu Lukaku had interfered with play.
Following deliberation between the referee and his assistant the goal was given and all of a sudden the game was back on a knife edge.
Deep into stoppage time Stoke should have re-established their advantage, but after Crouch tremendously flicked the ball through to Arnautovic, he opted to strike against the feet of Joel, rather than taking the ball around him which looked the far more viable option.
Still, despite the late first-half frustration it was the hosts who continued to dominate the game following the interval, albeit without creating the clear-cut opportunities that they managed to do earlier in the evening.
That said, Crouch headed wide following a stunning ball from Adam, whilst the Scotland international’s pinpoint deliveries continued to wreak havoc in the penalty area with Arnautovic and Afellay twice narrowly failing to make contact.
Substitute Ademola Lookman, who scored on his maiden outing against Manchester city last month, very nearly caught Grant out at the opposite end of the field, but the 33-year-old was equal to the youngster’s cheeky attempt at beating him at his near post.
Adam, who looked energetic and dangerous throughout, then attempted a moment of audaciousness from inside his own penalty area, but Joel managed to track back and fingertip the midfielder’s long-range effort away from goal.
Both sides traded blows from thereon after with Berahino very nearly capping off his maiden outing for the Potters with a memorable goal, before Grant established himself as the late hero, denying Davies with a stunning one-handed save moments before the final whistle.