Everton overcame a plucky Stoke City on penalties to record their first win on Singaporean soil, as Phil Jagielka stroked the winning spot-kick to send the Toffees into the Barclays Asia Trophy final.
The Merseyside club, who will face Arsenal after the Gunners beat a Singapore Select XI 4-0, had lost in such circumstances in both of their games at the 2005 edition of the tournament – against the Thailand national team and Manchester City respectively – but in sweltering conditions it was they who kept their nerve to convert each of their five penalties.
Stoke’s new loanee acquisition Marco van Ginkel was the fall guy from 12 yards, as Tim Howard guessed right to palm the Dutchman’s firm strike over the bar, consigning Mark Hughes’ side to the third/fourth play-off on Saturday.
Romelu Lukaku was as relieved as anyone inside the sparsely populated National Stadium, with the striker guilty of missing late opportunities to win the game, first dragging his shot wide when gifted the ball by the opposition, and then coming off second best in a one-on-one duel with Jakob Haugaard in injury time.
Stoke were without the lion’s share of possession but not penetration in an opening 45 minutes that saw them create the better chances. Peter Odemwingie really ought to have scored when the ball was cut back to him 10 yards out, but the Nigerian side-footed his shot wide of Howard’s goal.
As Everton searched for such a presentable opening themselves, Tony Hibbert was thankful to Jagielka for bailing him out of trouble when Marko Arnautovic robbed the veteran full-back only to be denied a shot on goal by a last-gasp challenge from the Everton captain.
The closest the Blues came to breaking the deadlock prior to the interval was correctly chalked off, as Lukaku rounded the young Danish keeper Haugaard to finish but only after running into an offside position to receive Steven Pienaar’s defence-splitting pass.
Steven Naismith gave the game an injection of urgency that had been absent in the first half, albeit the forward will have rued missing one such glorious opening carved out between himself and Leon Osman, as Haugaard clawed his rising shot over the crossbar.
Roberto Martinez, who admitted afterwards his side lacked a cutting edge, chose to make five changes at the break, two of whom were new arrivals Tom Cleverely and Gerard Deulofeu. While the latter looked some way short of match fitness, the former showed signs of the deep forays that proved fruitful towards the end of his loan spell at Aston Villa last season.
Cleverley may find his place in the Everton starting line-up comes in breaking up the James McCarthy-Gareth Barry axis Martinez has entrusted throughout his time at the club, but the former Manchester United produced a lively cameo, coming close to breaking the deadlock himself before producing the pass of the match for that late Lukaku chance.
But Everton were not to be denied their place in Saturday’s final as Lukaku made amends with his side’s first spot-kick, which was then added to by Cleverley, John Stones, Deulofeu and decisively Jagielka.
The Tofees failed to win a single pre-season game last summer as preparations for an ultimately disappointing campaign got off to an inauspicious start, but having remained unbeaten from two outings in which they are yet to concede this time around, victory over fellow finalists Arsenal would give Martinez real cause for optimism.
“It was a good game for both – Stoke and ourselves will have got a lot out of it in terms of preparation,” Martinez said after the match.
“When we got to the decisive penalty shootout, it was good that we scored every single one of them. The concentration was terrific and Tim Howard was at his very best. It was great to see the composure from the players. It’s good now to look forward to the final.”
Everton: Howard; Hibbert (Stones 46), Galloway, Jagielka, Browning, Barry (Cleverley 46), McCarthy (Kone 80), Pienaar (Deulofeu 46), Barkley (Osman 46), Mirallas (Naismith 46), Lukaku. (Subs not used: Joel, Garbutt, Coleman, Williams, Robinson, Kenny).
Stoke: Haugaard; Bardsley, Cameron, Muniesa (Wilson 61), Teixeira; Sidwell (c), Shenton (Walters 71); Odemwingie (van Ginkel 61), Ireland, Arnautovic (Adam 46); Joselu (Crouch 61). (Subs not used: Given, Whelan, Johnson, Diouf, Moha).