Sunday 17 December 2017

Shaqiri gives masterclass as Stoke edge thriller

Everton 3 Stoke City 4

Stoke's Marko Arnautovic celebrates scoring their fourth goal with Joselu. Photo: Carl Recine / Action Images via Reuters
Stoke's Marko Arnautovic celebrates scoring their fourth goal with Joselu. Photo: Carl Recine / Action Images via Reuters
Everton's Romelu Lukaku embraces Stoke City's Marko Arnautovic after the final whistle. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
Everton's John Stones is shown a yellow card after conceding a penalty. Photo: Carl Recine / Action Images via Reuters

Tim Rich

Until you remember this was the club that gave Stanley Matthews to the world, the thought of Xherdan Shaqiri at Stoke seems rather odd - like watching the man at No 23 pull into his drive with an Aston Martin.

When he finally agreed, after much prompting, to sign a five-year contract to play in the Potteries, the suspicion was that Shaqiri had done it purely for the money.

If that were the case he has paid his employers back with one of the goals of the season.

Stoke may have beaten both Manchester clubs and Chelsea this season but this victory, secured with a last-minute penalty, given away by John Stones and converted by Marko Arnautovic - despite slipping while taking it - was probably the most memorable of the lot.

At one stage this game became almost a personal duel between Shaqiri and Romelu Lukaku, who answered with two goals of his own.

It says something about the Everton striker that his last 10 matches have produced 11 goals and only three of those have come in games his team has won.

Everton manager Roberto Martinez, who was bitterly critical of Mark Clattenburg's decision to award the penalty, conceded that his team's failure to see games out was becoming "a recurrent theme and that will be the difference between us becoming a top team".

These were Shaqiri's first goals since exchanging San Siro for the Britannia. The first was very good, finishing off a move that involved Stoke's big three of Bojan Krkic, Arnautovic and finished off by the boy whose parents escaped the civil war in Kosovo for Switzerland.

He was nicknamed 'The Alpine Messi' when he broke through with Basel. The real thing could not have bettered the goal Shaqiri scored just before the interval.

It was a goal from nowhere, a long ball from Bojan that he allowed to bounce twice before side-footing it from an improbable angle over Tim Howard and into the net beneath the Gwladys End.

Yet, for much of an enthralling afternoon it seemed he might not even end up on the winning side.

Lukaku received a ball from James McCarthy standing on the penalty spot with his back to goal. He turned his marker viciously and drove a shot past Jack Butland for the first of what would be several equalisers.

McCarthy was withdrawn soon after. He had not played since coming off in another thriller in which Everton were denied late - the 3-3 draw at Bournemouth in November - and he may have returned too soon. Curiously, the man who replaced him, Tom Cleverley, also failed to last the afternoon and suffered an Achilles injury immediately after providing Lukaku's second. It was a long ball that split Erik Pieters and Philipp Wollscheid in the Stoke defence. The striker took it down on his chest and finished emphatically.

At that stage, Everton seemed the likeliest winners but it meant that, when the game reached a climax, they lacked a second holding midfielder to partner Gareth Barry.

Everton finally went ahead as Ross Barkley raced to the byline and pulled back a low cross that Gerard Deulofeu clipped home.

The least they could have expected was a point but 10 minutes from time Howard palmed a cross into the path of Joselu. He is a striker born in Germany of Spanish parents and his finish had the power associated with one and the style of the other. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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