What with the cushioning effect of his extraordinary hairstyle, Marouane Fellaini probably did not do too much damage to Ryan Shawcross when he head-butted the Stoke captain midway through the second half of this otherwise rumbustiously entertaining match.
The damage the Belgium international may have inflicted on Everton's chances of qualifying for the Champions League, however, may be considerably greater. Although the referee Mark Halsey clearly did not see the assault, the television cameras certainly did and – through the offices of the FA disciplinary panel – a long ban seems certain to result. With eight goals Fellaini is his side's top scorer in the league this season and his absence during a hectic period of matches will make it hard for David Moyes's side to maintain their top-four challenge.
"We'll take the punishment if it's given for it," the Everton manager said. "I've told him in the dressing room it's not acceptable and I won't accept it as a manager that he does that. He's a really good player and the big disappointment if anything does happen is that he's a really big part of the team. He's let the team down. If the referee had seen it he should have been sent off."
Fellaini later issued an apology on the Everton website. It read: "I apologise completely to Ryan Shawcross, my team-mates and to our fans at the game. There was a lot of pushing and pulling going on inside the Stoke penalty area and I didn't feel I was getting any protection from the officials. Nevertheless I know I shouldn't have done what I did. I have also apologised to the manager and the staff. I have no excuses, I was disappointed with the way I was being treated and I lost my temper, which was unprofessional of me."
For Tony Pulis, the head-butt was only one of three incidents for which Fellaini should have been sanctioned, the Stoke manager citing an elbow and hand in the face as well. According to Pulis it is symptomatic of the way his side is regularly treated by referees conscious of Stoke's reputation for the physicality of their approach. "We'd just like to know why referees aren't acting," he said, pointing to fouls in previous matches committed on his players by Chelsea's David Luiz and Aston Villa's Ciaran Clark.
In this case it was because Halsey did not see it. Had Fellaini been sent off the odds are Stoke would have gone on to win, though whether they would have deserved to is arguable, for all that Moyes felt Everton played as badly as they have this season. Contrast in styles apart, there had been little to excite the crowd's interest until shortly after the half-hour. Stoke should have taken the lead when Jon Walters, unmarked at the far post, headed a corner back across goal to the equally isolated Steven Nzonzi. No more than six yards from goal, Nzonzi should have done far better than direct a weak header straight into Tim Howard's arms.
Moments later Everton did beat the Stoke keeper, Steven Naismith seizing on a Nikica Jelavic mis-kick to prod the loose ball over Asmir Begovic only for Shawcross to hook the ball off the line.
The Stoke fans were still chanting Shawcross's name when the Stoke captain's determination to get his head to Pienaar's cross resulted in his glancing the ball above and beyond Begovic and into the far corner of his own goal.
It could and should have got worse for Stoke. Pienaar's pass inside the Stoke defender Andy Wilkinson put the overlapping Leighton Baines clear into the City penalty area, and the Everton full-back looked up and put the ball on a plate for Leon Osman. Moyes was not the only person to put his hands to his head in disbelief when Osman, under no pressure, scuffed his shot wide.
"That was the turning point," Pulis said, and so it proved. Charlie Adam's volley had already brought a decent save from Howard when Shawcross, from within his own half, launched a long high ball into the Everton penalty area. Kenwyne Jones, whose last league goal was scored in August 2011, was marked by Phil Jagielka, but the Everton captain made no attempt to go for the ball, allowing Jones to leap and guide a header into the top corner of the oddly static Howard's goal.
He almost added a second within minutes, kneeing the ball on to the post after tangling with an uncertain Howard, and Stoke it was who had the best chances to sew up all three points, most obviously when Howard saved from Cameron Jerome and Peter Crouch failed to turn home the rebound.
"At half-time I was able to tell the players we'd got out of jail, to push up 10-15 yards and see what they were like when they had to defend, and I thought we created four of five great opportunities, so we're disappointed we haven't won," said Pulis.