Stoke City 1 Everton 1: Peter Crouch, no doubt hopeful Roy Hodgson's appointment as England manager will revive his prospects of going to Euro 2012, marked the new era by finding the net last night.
Unhappily for Stoke, it was an unwitting own goal, but the win Everton needed to move five points clear of Liverpool in seventh place was transformed into a draw by Cameron Jerome's sublime finish.
Three minutes after replacing Crouch midway through the second half, the former Birmingham striker burned off both centre-backs before chipping Tim Howard with aplomb for his eighth goal of a season in which he has played only five complete games. Jerome's pace and panache ensured a just outcome, with Everton, having been the more composed side, looking weary in the later stages and being relieved to see Howard smother Robert Huth's shot in the final seconds.
Stoke's run now stands at one victory in nine Premier League fixtures, yet manager Tony Pulis hailed "a great result". He added: "I thought Everton were the better side in the first half. Their goal was a bit fortuitous but they deserved it. We were better in the second half and deserved the draw." Praising Jerome, a £4m recruit last summer, Pulis added: "He's been fantastic, a credit to himself and professional football. He never moans and groans, and he's a great player to bring on when the game's getting stretched." Stoke now face two "cup finals" according to the Welshman, their final games being against relegation-threatened Queen's Park Rangers and Bolton.
David Moyes, his Everton counterpart, shrugged when asked whether finishing above Liverpool was now the main objective. "I'll be pleased if we finish in the top 10," he said, unaware this relatively modest target had been achieved. "If you'd offered me that at the start of the season, I'd have taken it. I thought we played very well and were unlucky not to take more from it."
Everton built more eye-catchingly but were denied a sight of goal until the 27th minute when Leon Osman's drive drew a diving save from Asmir Begovic. When early substitute Magaye Gueye skipped past Walters in the 35th minute, the cross flashed into the penalty area before hitting a surprised Nikica Jelavic on the knee and looping over. Steven Pienaar was next to threaten, Begovic tipping his 20-yard shot behind.
The pressure reaped an improbable reward in the final minute of the first half following a short free-kick played wide by Pienaar. Tony Hibbert's cross struck Marc Wilson in a congested six-yard box and hit Crouch on the back before rebounding into the net.
Pulis went for a triple substitution, Jerome announcing his arrival by chasing Matt Upson's ball out of defence and muscling between Phil Jagielka and Johnny Heitinga as they chased back. His shot clipped the lunging Jagielka before drifting past Howard to send the decibel levels soaring around the stadium.
Man of the match Pienaar.
Match rating 7/10.
Referee A Taylor (Cheshire).