Everton suffered their first back to back defeats under Carlo Ancelotti as another disappointing, sub-par performance saw them fail to make any real impression upon a not particularly special Newcastle side who did exactly as Steve Bruce probably instructed them to do. Only a late consolation marker from Dominic Calvert-Lewin saw them spark into any kind of life.
The major talking point from this fixture though was not over the actual football but, the need for Everton and England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford to be rested by the Blues while he deals with the continued aftermath, over the top media reaction and scrutiny, criticism from fellow professionals and appalling social media death threats from moronic so-called supporters of another club.
Jordan Pickford is rumoured to be receiving counselling for the mental stress and bile he’s been subjected to since the derby and the unfortunate and accidental injury to Virgil van Dijk, and his family is reported to be receiving private protection too.
Injury and suspension hit Everton travelled to the barren north-east to take on Steve Bruce and the unable to attend Toon Army on Sunday, badly in need of a much improved performance than that of last Sunday when, quite frankly, we just didn’t turn up.
The Magpies themselves weren’t without injury concerns as influential baldy-head Jonjo Shelvey was out for some time having had surgery earlier this week to address a hernia problem. Captain Jamal Lascelles was a doubt during the week with a foot injury but, Bruce was hoping midfielder Isaac Hayden would return from a hamstring strain together with the Longstaff brothers, Sean and Matt.
Bruce commented on Friday, “Matty has now completed an under-23 game – he’s played a game and a half and trained all week again, and thankfully, touch wood, he looks like he’s over his injury. And Sean has recovered from a horrible bout of tonsillitis as well – he’s OK as well, so they’ll both come into the equation.”
The Newcastle manager admitted he’s a big fan of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and he paid the Blues number nine a huge compliment saying, “He’s arguably the best header of a ball in the Premier League, certainly forward-wise. You don’t see it very often these days but he certainly is terrific. I’m delighted for him, for his attitude, the way he works, the way he is, but we’ll have to be at our best to make sure that we defend well against him. But he’s one of the reasons, along with that midfield three in particular, why they’ve been successful, because of the form he’s in and the goals he’s scoring.”
To counter the threat of DCL, Steve Bruce named his starting line-up: Darlow, Murphy, Schaer, Lascelles (c), Fernandez, Lewis, S.Longstaff, Hendrick, Almiron, Wilson and Saint-Maximin.
From the Everton camp came the news that as expected, captain Seamus Coleman and midfield star James Rodriguez would miss the trip to Tyneside as well as the suspended Richarlison and Lucas Digne following their red card indiscretions in the previous two games.
Some brighter news was that Jarrad Branthwaite and Jonjoe Kenny were back to fitness and eligible for selection in a defence that was expected to feature Niels Nkounkou at left back. It was the midfield where Carlo Ancelotti had his biggest selection decisions to make and he suggested places were there to be claimed commenting, “Other players will get the chance to play, to show their quality and help the team to stay at the top [of the table].” Asked specifically about Anthony Gordon, the Don replied cagily, “Anthony Gordon has the same possibility to play as the other players in the squad. I have to nominate the first XI and I say to the players all the time, it is not important to be in the first XI. It is important to be involved, to play. It doesn’t matter if I play from the beginning or in the second half, the target is to help the team in the minutes I play.”
On the task ahead of whoever he selected, he said, “It is an important match, we want to stay at the top of the table, if this is possible. To play against Newcastle is always difficult, they had good results in the past few games. But we are focused, the spirit is good and we have confidence for the game. We have to be focused on the opposition team, of course, we have to try to find the weakness of the team. But, most of the time, we have to be focused on ourselves. We are preparing [with a mind to] avoid the mistakes we made against Southampton. After that, we will take into consideration that in their last game Newcastle played really well, they are really strong defensively and really well organised. We have to take care of this – but we are more focused on ourselves.”
In the full knowledge that Blues fans everywhere were desperate for the team to recover the form of earlier games, win and return to the top of the table, The Godfather gave Premier League debuts to Robin Olsen and Niels Nkounkou as he named his starting eleven: Olsen, Kenny, Mina, Keane, Nkounkou, Doucoure, Allan, Delph, Sigurdsson (c), Gomes and Calvert-Lewin.
Following a minutes silence for Nobby Stiles and ahead of Remembrance Sunday, in charge of proceedings at a cool St.James’s Park was referee Stuart Attwell.
A very steady opening to the game saw the Blues happy to pass the ball around looking to work openings rather than playing directly. A long ball down the right flank for Wilson saw him fire a shot over with Olsen untroubled. DCL put Darlow under pressure, the Magpies keeper somewhat fortunate not to get caught in possession. The home side too looked happy to pass the ball around but were finding the Blues midfield in better form that last weekend.
Sigurdsson latched onto a poor clearance by Darlow, the Newcastle defence getting back in time to prevent him getting a cross into the area, and as we reached the quarter hour mark, the game was very much in need of injections of creativity, pace and width.
As another move by the Blues broke down, Keane was quick to react to deny Wilson any chance of capitalising on a quick ball played through to him by Lewis. Nkounkou showed Murphy a clean pair of heels before Schaer stopped his promising break, and still the game hadn’t yet burst into any kind of life, both sides seemingly happy to cancel each other out. DCL with a layoff to Allan and his ball out to Kenny saw Almiron track back to win a goal kick – probably the right idea that no crowd was in the stadium, neither sets of fans would have had anything to cheer about.
Having had a good look at the Newcastle side and looking comfortable in possession, Everton really needed either Gomes or Sigurdsson to retain possession, take control of the midfield and look to drive the side forward with genuine purpose only for a lazy pass from Gomes to roll harmlessly into touch, clearly summing up the lack of intensity in his game right now.
From a Blues corner punched clear by Darlow, Gomes then got outworked by Almiron and Newcastle worked the ball forward through Wilson to Saint-Maximin and Robin Olsen made himself big to make his first save for the club. Niels Nkounkou picked up a yellow card mark his debut in the top flight ahead of Darlow hurriedly clearing as DCL chased a ball into the Newcastle area.
Good work by DCL on the end of a cross from Delph saw his find Doucoure but he couldn’t find a telling shot and the ball trickled easily through to Darlow. Allan went down clutching his right ankle but as okay to continue, the last thing Carlo Ancelotti needing was any more injuries. Doucoure conceded a corner on forty minutes, Olsen dropping smartly to smother a loose ball from the set piece.
After more decent work from DCL, the ball eventually came out to Delph but he blazed a 25-yard effort well wide of the target. DCL again took aim with Lascelles blocking his shot and Hendrick getting back to clear a follow-up cross from Gomes. With one added minute played in all honesty, the half time whistle brought merciful relief from arguably the most nondescript half of football seen anywhere this season.
Half Time: 0-0
No changes by either manager for the second half in which Everton would hope to maintain their recent good run of scoring form against the Magpies. A cross from the right from Kenny saw DCL rise and get caught in the face as he got the ball into a danger area for Sigurdsson but he couldn’t get a good enough contact and the home side cleared the danger. Newcastle responded with a couple of crosses of their own into the Everton penalty area, Nkounkou and Keane with clearing headers averted any danger from developing. Another cross from the right by Kenny saw Darlow quickly off his line to deny DCL in what was a slightly more enterprising start to the second session.
From a Newcastle corner, Gomes didn’t see and duly caught Wilson and referee Attwell gave the penalty that Wilson took, and scored to put the home side ahead in the 56th minute.
Having fallen behind, the Blues really needed to up their tempo and impose themselves on the game, but it was Olsen who kept them in the game as Newcastle got forward and Wilson fed Longstaff in the area to turn and shoot, the giant Swede doing enough to turn the ball over for a corner.
Doucoure and Gomes getting forward worked the ball to Sigurdsson for a long range effort that sailed over the bar, and that saw the end of the disappointing Andre Gomes for the afternoon, being substituted by Bernard just before the hour mark.
Everton made a second change on 68 minutes, Cenk Tosun returning to first team action at the expense of Niels Nkounkou. Mina saw yellow for a foul on Saint-Maximin and with twenty minutes remaining, the Blues were still waiting to register any kind of meaningful effort on the Newcastle goal.
Allan was the third Everton player to see a card brandished in his direction for a foul as Newcastle began to stretch the Blues ahead of Ryan Fraser replacing Saint-Maximin in the 74th minute. We were approaching now or never time yet still no player in Blue seemed capable of taking some responsibility, of taking the game by the scruff of the neck and producing something of any real quality. Tosun to Coucoure saw his shot blocked and when Allan found Kenny in space, Fernandez blocked his cross. Carlo Ancelotti made his final change, Alex Iwobi replacing Jonjoe Kenny with thirteen minutes left to play.
Into the final ten minutes and a cross from Iwobi was headed clear before Sigurdsson could get on the end of it and Newcastle replaced Almiron with Isaac Hayden. Sigurdsson took a throw-in from Delph to spin away from Lascelles and fire in a shot that Darlow dealt with and the game went south for the Blues as Newcastle countered with Fraser getting beyond Mina and his shot was deflected off Mina over the helpless Olsen with Wilson on hand to make sure the ball hit the back of the net for two-nil.
Iwobi fed DCL in the box and he got his shot away only to see it fly wide of the near post. Abdoulaye Doucoure became the fourth booking for Everton for a foul on Fraser and the final whistle just couldn’t come soon enough.
Incredibly, six added minutes were signalled and that gave the Blues a lifeline as Tosun fed Iwobi out on the right and his low cross was perfectly met by Dominic Calvert-Lewin to halve the deficit with a sweet finish. Everton threw themselves forward in the extra time, desperate to try and snatch a point and a chaotic moment saw a clearance from a free kick cannon back off Michael Keane with Darlow flot-footed as the ball went just wide. Bernard with a teasing mishit cross saw Darlow twist and leap to turn the ball over for a corner that saw Olsen get forward only for Darlow to claim the set piece.