As I sit down to write this, I’m still not entirely sure what exactly I’ve just witnessed.
Virtually every weekend there’s one stand-out game in the Premier League; whether that be a derby, a top-of-the-table clash or a relegation six-point scrap.
Can any Stoke fan say with any real, true conviction that one of our matches was the stand-out game?
OK, apart from that game against Liverpool last season…
No-one particularly likes showing us – we accept that we’re unfashionable, that’s fine. The first five years in the Premier League certainly did us no favours.
But now..? Now we’re the fashionistas. We’ve become fashionable. We’ve almost become likeable.
And today, we played our part in probably one of the best games in the 2015/16 Premier League season.
The game at Goodison Park this afternoon was meant to be far from stand-out. Yes, there were a few pair-ups that could have made things interesting; Romelu Lukaku can’t stop scoring, we are struggling to concede at the minute. We’re also playing some pretty attractive, flowing football ourselves – something that Everton have struggled to contain so far.
I guess then, all things considered, a few goals could be expected.
But seven? With the game finely balanced throughout, both sets of players did all they could to go out of 2015 with a bang.
We’ve waited 15 games for Shaqiri to score – and when he finally did, O.M.G.
If his first goal – a seven-yard tap-in following a 12-pass move starting with Shawcross in defence – was a contender for team goal-of-the-season, his second was pure unadulterated skill and audacity and a shoe-in for the goal-of-the-year awards.
Debate still remains now as to whether he meant the half-volley-outside-of-the-foot-flick over Tim Howard following a 50-yard pass from Bojan; some critics (mainly fans of teams who should be performing better than they are) insist he meant to pass it to Arnautovic some twenty-five yards away.
Having seen some of his skills and frustrations at misplaced passes so far this year, his celebration should tell you all you need to know as to whether he meant it or not.
It was further good news for the source of goals for Stoke – as Joselu finally broke his duck in the Premier League.
His effort – running away from goal, 14-yards out – being powered into the back of the net was somewhat reminiscent of van Nistelrooy and Bergkamp. We are, of course, yet to see how consistent he can be – but it looks as if he may have just begun to find his feet following his summer move from Spain.
And what too of Arnautovic?
The media are running out of superlatives for the team at the moment – but micro-analysis will show that much of our attacking play comes through him.
It was Arnie how made the initial run that created space for Shaqiri’s second goal. It was his run and defence-splitting pass that found Shaqiri for the opening goal. Credit for both of these also has to go to Bojan – who continues to shine in the so-called false-9 role.
At the moment, Marko is enjoying a rich vein of form that has seen him grow in confidence and stature – it flows through the team, and his work-rate is infectious to those around him.
Yes, he still has his mini-tantrums – he gets frustrated with himself on the pitch far too often – but he makes up for his misplaced passes or mis-control by getting his head up and tracking back (no seriously. Up. Have you seen him sprinting after a ball?! He’s like Sonic the Hedgehog.!) and 90% of the time winning the ball back.
The games against both Manchester clubs, and now today at Everton, have begun to make media and opponents alike to sit-up and fear us. We’ve proven we can beat anyone on our day – we just need to do it consistently now.
Starting with a trip to The Hawthorns on Saturday…