A 27th minute strike from Wayne Rooney and two goalposts saw Everton back to winning ways on the road in a tough battle at St.James’s Park that ended with former RS Jonjo Shelvey seeing red for a lunge on Gana Gueye.
On a run of seven games since their last victory, the Magpies went into the game in desperate need of a result of sorts to quell the impending thoughts of relegation having slipped to within two places of the dreaded bottom three. Our favourite former Fat Spanish Waiter Rafa Benitez has been chopping and changing his misfiring squad and for this fixture against the Mighty Blues, he opted for: Darlow, Yedlin, Lascelles, Lejeune, Manquillo, Shelvey, Merino, Ritchie, Diame, Atso and Gayle.
In a somewhat richer vein of form since the arrival of Sam Allardyce, Everton travelled to the cool north-east equally desperate for a first victory away from Goodison since last January. With the defence seemingly having turned a corner in only conceding one goal since Big Sam took charge, the Blues were looking to get the midfield and forwards firing and to achieve that the manager selected his starting eleven: Pickford, Martina, Williams, Holgate, Kenny, Gana Gueye, Schneiderlin, Lennon, Rooney (c), Sigurdsson and Calvert-Lewin.
The ever (un)popular Martin Atkinson of Rodwell red card fame was the referee.
Everton were fortunate not to concede a first minute penalty as a header from Rooney saw Martina give away a free kick right on the edge of the box that saw a Gayle shot deflected for a corner that came to nothing. Manquillo caused another moment of concern with a left wing burst, but Williams was on hand to clear uncompromisingly into the stands.
The home side were enjoying much the better start to the game than Everton with Atsu and Yedlin in particular prominent down their right hand side. Everton were failing to retain possession. And another chance went begging for the Magpies when Diame narrowly failed to get on the end of a cross from Ritchie with Ritchie then bringing a save out of Pickford with the next attack.
Sam Allardyce would not have been at all pleased with the opening twenty minutes as the Blues failed to get any meaningful possession with which to put the home side under pressure.
Everton finally got forward through Sigurdsson and Rooney finding Martina in space to cross just too far ahead of the arriving DCL. But Newcastle countered immediately with former Everton loanee Atsu and Ritchie again combining with Ritchie crashing a shot past Pickford only to hit the post and rebound to safety.
Incredibly and totally against the run of play, Everton grabbed the lead with Wayne Rooney getting into the box perfectly to get the telling right foot finish as Darlow in the home goal spilled a header from Aaron Lennon on 27 minutes. It was Rooney’s ninth goal of the season on his 100th appearance for the club.
Everton were slowly improving and a sweet turn by Sigurdsson gave him the chance to cross, but a saving header from Lascelles saw the chance negated, ahead of Sigurdsson then exchanging passes with Rooney when a shot was probably the better option.
Williams came up with a tremendous block to deny Yedlin after the Magpies player had made too much ground far too easily for comfort.
Newcastle were again denied by the woodwork as another crunching shot, this time from Merino, beat Pickford only to hit the inside of the Everton goalpost and thankfully go to safety from a Blues perspective.
Great work from Jonjoe Kenny saw him get to the byeline and send in the cross that Gylfi Sigurdsson disappointingly directed straight into the goalies grateful hands when a header back across the goal would surely have bulged the net.
Shelvey was booked for a foul on Lennon shortly before the break and a poor piece of defensive play from Mason Holgate saw him get an ear bashing from Pickford twice in quick succession.
It had not been a great showing from the Blues, but they took the lead courtesy of Wayne Rooney to the locker room and no doubt a few strong words from Big Sam.
Half Time: 0-1
Neither side made any changes of personnel during the interval that saw the Blues defend the Leazes End, where the travelling support, were housed for the second half.
Mason Holgate got a slight touch on the ball before clattering Ritchie, a touch that didn’t prevent referee Atkinson brandishing a yellow card. Another foul by Holgate raised the ire of the home crowd before Diame went in hard on Schneiderlin.
Everton were again living dangerously as Shelvey got away and crossed low into the box where Williams and Gueye combined to eventually work the ball back to Pickford for the rushed clearance.
Newcastle were knocking on the door, roared on by their crowd, and Holgate made a telling block to deny Gayle on another cross from Shelvey.
Everton managed a decent counter attack involving Lennon and Rooney, but Lennon couldn’t get a telling cross into the box.
Merino was booked for a foul on Gana Gueye on 56 minutes as Sam Allardyce pondered making a change with both Phi Jagielka and Nikola Vlasic warming up awaiting the nod.
Kenny intercepted a Shelvey pass to feed Rooney for a shot ahead of Vlasic stripping off and joining the action just past the hour mark replacing Aaron Lennon.
Shelvey had a shot superbly blocked by Holgate for a corner as Newcastle again got forward and Jordan Pickford punched the corner and followed it to catch the ball in commanding fashion.
Kenny was again catching the eye with some really solid defensive work, particularly in the air for not the tallest man in the back four.
The game was now beginning to switch end to end as Newcastle pushed forward allowing Everton space to counter with Sigurdsson narrowly failing to find Vlasic for a shot. Joselu replaced Daime for the home side on 67 minutes to give them another attacking option.
Everton spurned a great chance for two nil on 68 minutes as Vlasic released Gueye and he found Sigurdsson who slipped in the act of shooting and the ball flew high, wide and not very handsomely.
Darlow made a superb save to deny Ashley Williams as the big defender got a free header onto a free kick fired in by Sigurdsson. Williams was next in action in his own area clearing well to deny Joselu.
Newcastle withdrew Ritchie, who’d been a serious threat particularly first half, on 72 minutes with Aarons replacing him. And when Wayne Rooney was replaced by Tom Davies five minutes later, Rooney angered the home crowd by taking his time giving the arm band to Williams and applauding the travelling fans for their tremendous vocal support.
Yedlin got away from Davies down the right flank to feed Gayle who went down under a challenge from Williams that looked suspiciously like a dive, but no yellow card or warning was given.
Entering the final ten minutes, the Everton lead was to say the least precarious, but as in Sunday’s derby, the back four had been resolute throughout. Another Newcastle raid saw Yedlin cross too strongly to reach Aarons on the left and his cross saw Pickford comfortably gather the shot from Atsu.
Sam Allardyce decided another defender was needed and Phil Jagielka replaced Sigurdsson with five minutes remaining on normal time ahead of Benitez throwing Perez on for Merino in a last ditch effort to snatch a draw.
Kenny relieving some of the pressure looked to find Vlasic with a piercing through ball only of the Croatian to be adjudged offside.
It was backs-to-the-wall stuff in the dying moments with Williams conceding a late corner and DCL picking up a booking after being flagged offside on a long ball from Pickford and just before referee Atkinson blew the final whistle, he showed Shelvey a second yellow and red card for a poor challenge on Gana Gueye to pile further misery and pressure on Rafa Benitez and Newcastle.
Full Time: 0-1
Once again, not the prettiest of performances as Everton ground out their first victory away from Goodison Park, since the 1-0 win at Crystal Palace way back in January, to keep the revival under Sam Allardyce on track.
Too often though in the early stages, Everton were second best to the ball and they were thankful for two huge slices of first half good fortune that saw shots cannon back into play off the frame of the goal.
For the home side, when your luck is out, it’s really out and when Everton grabbed the lead through Rooney they must have deflated beyond belief.
This was another hard fought, workmanlike showing from the Blues with the three points most welcome as confidence and self-belief is rebuilt. Sam Allardyce will know though that Everton need to be quicker into the game, stronger in midfield and much more productive up front.