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Kevin Mirallas kept Everton's bid for UEFA Champions League football alive with the only goal to increase Stoke City's worries as their slide down the Barclays Premier League table continued.
The Belgium forward struck from an electrifyingly quick counter-attack in the first half which left defenders trailing in his wake. His sixth goal of the season, although only his third in 18 league appearances, was enough to ensure David Moyes' side built on their victory over champions Manchester City before the international break.
Everton began the day six points outside UEFA Champions League qualification but by the final whistle they were just four behind fourth-placed Chelsea, who slipped up at Southampton.
Their quest to play among Europe's elite for only the second time remains a possibility and the first half of next month is crucial to their hopes as they face Tottenham Hotspur and, more importantly, Arsenal - the team who stand between them and the top four.
Stoke, on the other hand, are looking over their shoulders with more anxiety as one win in 12 league matches has brought the bottom of the table into closer focus than manager Tony Pulis would have expected after finishing 2012 unbeaten in 10 games.
A lack of goalsis the Stoke manager’s concern with just six in 11 league games, which has contributed to a tally of 14 matches this season without scoring, the most in the division.
With Phil Jagielka returning from a three-match absence with an ankle injury to captain the side Moyes, without the suspended Marouane Fellaini and Steven Pienaar, opted for a back three. It took a while for the side to settle in this unfamiliar formation and Stoke could have gone ahead within three minutes. Ryan Shotton's long throw picked out Robert Huth, whose header was well saved by Tim Howard - but Jon Walters crashed the follow-up against the crossbar from close range.
Aside from two Nikica Jelavic headers, one straight at Asmir Begovic and the other deflected wide by Robert Huth, Everton produced little in the opening 25 minutes.
Goalkeeper Howard was returning to the starting line-up after recovering from two broken bones in his back but no-one expected him to provide the assist for the opening goal in the 28th minute.
Marc Wilson's cross from a short free-kick was punched clear by the American and landed at the feet of Mirallas, the Everton player highest up the pitch. Although he gave Steven Nzonzi a chance to nick the ball in the centre-circle the midfielder could not do so and got in a tangle allowing his opponent to race clear. Although Stoke scrambled to get back the summer signing from Olympiakos could not be caught, clipping a shot which Begovic got a hand to but could not stop.
With his confidence boosted the forward then thrashed a shot across Begovic's goal and wide of the far post from the right corner of the penalty area. The best Stoke could muster in response was Walters' curling shot which was palmed away by Howard.
In the second half Huth planted a header wide from Whelan's free-kick when he could have hit the target. Shotton also squandered a more difficult effort, Wilson's inswinging cross deflecting off Sylvain Distin's back, from a similar position.
Ryan Shawcross' foul on Jelavic earned the Stoke captain a booking and Everton a free-kick on the edge of the area but Leighton Baines blasted into the wall. But the hosts did need the cushion of the extra goal as Stoke hardly tested Howard.
Everton manager David Moyes: "I am nearly as pleased with that result as I was with the one against Manchester City a fortnight ago. We have not got a great record against Stoke so it was great to get over the line.
"It is great that we are going into April and people are still talking about Everton having a chance of a Champions League spot. Okay, it is a big call and a long way away but we are in with a chance and what we will try to do is finish as high up the table as we can.
"We believe we are in there. I don't think we have ever been out of it. We are hanging in there and are underdogs in terms of getting it, but we have those teams to play and we will go and give it a go.
"We have been close all season, we have matched most teams this year so we will try to do it again. Spurs are in a much stronger and healthier position than us, but we have been there or thereabouts most of the season and we'll not be too far away.
"It was a great individual goal. Sometimes against Stoke that is what you need, an individual who can take on people and thankfully he did it from about 70 yards out."
Stoke manager Tony Pulis: "The last two away games, Newcastle and here, we have deserved something out of the game and it is just disappointing. You can't fault the players' commitment. We played some good football at times and I don't think the players get the credit for the football we do play.
"We had chances but the disappointing thing is we haven't put them in the back of the net. I have been managing for a long time. I know for a fact, in our fifth year in the Premier League, our performances have been much better than the previous four years away from home but we haven't got the results.
"It has been that sort of season for us where we've been closer to winning games and being in games than we have before. What we need more than anything is a break - or to play badly and win a game."
|12 May 2013||v West Ham (H)|
|27 Apr 2013||v Fulham (H)|
|16 Apr 2013||v Arsenal (A)|
|19 May 2013||v Chelsea (A)|
|07 Apr 2013||v Spurs (A)|
|05 May 2013||v Liverpool (A)|