The Belgian produced a moment of individual brilliance in the first half to help David Moyes' men grab all three points from a dire contest at Goodison park on Saturday.
In a game short of genuine quality, Kevin Mirallas' brilliant solo effort in the first half proved the sole highlight and helped the home side move within four points of fourth-placed Chelsea.
The Blues made three changes for their clash with the Potters, with suspended duo Marouane Fellaini and Steven Pienaar making way for Phil Jagielka and Nikica Jelavic, while the fit-again Tim Howard replaced Jan Mucha in goal. Tony Pulis, meanwhile, was forced into omitting the injured Matt Etherington, with center back Robert Huth taking his place in the starting XI.
David Moyes had taken the unusual step of lining up with three central defenders, and the home team’s lack of familiarity with the formation almost cost it in the opening moments. Tim Howard did well to parry away Robert Huth’s header but received a huge slice of luck as Jon Walters’ follow up bounced back off the bar.
In spite of that early moment of interest the Goodison Park crowd was subsequently treated to a dire opening 20 minutes, with both sides struggling to get going. Jelavic’s header straight into the hands of Asmir Begovic was the only chance of note as the home side toiled despite controlling possession.
Both sides had real difficulty in stringing passes together throughout the opening half hour on Merseyside and so it was perhaps unsurprising that the first goal came through a moment of individual inspiration.
Everton had been defending a corner in its own box before Howard’s punch away reached Mirallas in the center circle and, though the Belgian had a slice of luck in evading N’Zonzi, he evidenced every ounce of his quality in gliding past Geoff Cameron before finishing his great work off with a cool finish despite Begovic’s best efforts.
Unfortunately for the Toffees, the goal did not facilitate a flurry of chances.
Rather unsurprisingly, the second half started in similar fashion, before the cloud of mediocrity was lifted with 20 minutes gone as Huth and Jelavic both went close with headed efforts at either end.
Everton vastly improved from that point on, with two successive threatening runs brought to an end by cynical Stoke fouls on the edge of the box and Jelavic going close with a free kick at the second attempt.
The match largely petered out from that point on, with young substitute Ross Barkley's yellow card for an enthusiastic tackle on Whelan a rare moment of interest. The Toffees would have cared little, however, as they grabbed three points which keep their Champions League hopes alive.