A completely underwhelming performance by Everton saw them lose at home for the fourth time this season and cast serious questions about their ambition to gain qualification for Europe next season as a brace from Callum Wilson saw Newcastle complete a league double.
The games keep coming, thick and fast, and Saturday saw Steve Bruce and his struggling Newcastle United arrive at Goodison for the early televised kick-off.
The Toon are on a run of five straight defeats and Everton under Carlo Ancelotti were keen to add to their woes and avenge the loss at St.James’s Park back at the beginning of November. Having drawn against Leicester in midweek without Abdoulaye Doucoure, the Frenchman returned to the side however, of more interest to many Blues fans was whether the manager would stick with Jordan Pickford in goal after his error against the Foxes. Ancelotti wouldn’t be drawn upon his team selection when questioned by the media on Friday, only noting that with a lot of games to be played in quick succession, Pickford like the rest of the squad was liable for rotation.
Concentrating on the game ahead he commented, “We have to pay attention to this game, every game is really difficult and unpredictable, it is an important game for both teams for different reasons. For us, it is really important because we have a possibility to go up in the table… it can be good motivation for the second part of the season. Newcastle have difficulties in this moment and will come here with all their energy and motivation.”
Asked about the way his side had defended deep against Leicester he noted, “The lesson I learned [from Wednesday] is we can compete with everyone in the Premier League. Leicester is one of the best teams and from two games we had four points, which is really good. The fact we are in a good position in the table was not because we played fantastic football, it was because we defended well and with the quality we have in front, we score goals. We score a lot of goals on set-pieces, because we have fantastic headers and players who can deliver the ball really well. We have to use the qualities we have.”
With a chance to go fifth in the table with a victory, he named four changes to the starting eleven: Pickford, Coleman (c), Mina, Keane, Digne, Doucoure, Iwobi, Sigurdsson, Rodriguez, Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin.
Newcastle have struggled since New Year and the pressure on Steve Bruce to somehow turn things around is surely building. With only two points from their last nine league games and looking to avoid a sixth consecutive loss, Bruce had fitness concerns, players with a loss of form and disciplinary issues to contend with. Record signing Joelinton, a striker signed for £40 million from Hoffenheim, has just one goal all season and broke Covid restrictions to post a photo of himself getting a haircut – what a plonker.
Aside from this, Bruce has had concerns over Fabian Schar, Ciaran Clark and Paul Dummett, and was certain to be without Federico Fernandez. He was boosted though that winger Allan Saint-Maximin was available having missed a number of games with Covid.
The Geordies boss commented, “We’re getting there. The big thing has been not just injuries, but getting over illness – that’s the biggest thing we’ve had to cope with. With the illness, the one thing they’ve been told to do is just be idle, so (for) people like (Jamaal) Lascelles and Allan in particular, it’s just been complete rest for the best part of eight weeks. Getting him up to speed’s going to be difficult but Allan got another half an hour the other night and we’ve seen what a difference he makes to us, so let’s hope we can stay well. We’re looking a lot healthier than we were six weeks ago, that’s for sure.”
Bruce took heart from his side having beaten Everton earlier in the season when he added, “We played very, very well. We had a very decent start – we won five of our first ten or 11 games. We know we’re capable, and to be capable we need everyone fit and healthy and we’re edging towards that now. Let’s hope we can improve – we will improve, we will get better, I’m convinced of that.”
He submitted his team sheet with a starting eleven reading: Darlow, Hayden, Lascelles (c), Schar, Lewis, Manquillo, Shelvey, Hendrick, Almiron, Fraser and Wilson.
At a very cool Goodison, Stuart Attwell was our referee.
The visitors won an early corner that came to nothing and Everton looked to break quickly before slowing things down and Pickford sending a long ball for DCL to chase and bump into Darlow who was quick off his line to head clear.
Lascelles saw yellow inside four minutes for a crude challenge on Richarlison as he broke down the left flank, the free kick leading to an excellent cross from Rodriguez that Mina got to under pressure from Darlow, the header going just over the bar. Digne with the next cross was too strong for DCL, Darlow again quick off his line to clear the ball into touch.
Another cross from Digne to the near post saw Darlow concede a corner under pressure from DCL, Wilson with a clearing header from the set piece. A lively opening to the game with the Blues looking to get forward at every opportunity.
Wilson and Hendrick exchanged passes for the former to see his shot deflect out for a corner off Mina, Richarlison with a good defensive header to clear from the set piece. Digne brought down Manquillo to give the Magpies a free kick on their right, Mina again up high to clear the ball. Shelvey with a foul on Iwobi saw the Blues earn a free kick on the right, Rodriguez crossing and a slight deflection off Lascelles meant the header from Mina was slightly mistimed and it went over the bar.
Rodriguez with a great ball sent Richarlison away with Digne in support, the cross when it came was disappointing and an easy claim for Darlow. Newcastle won a third corner that Fraser too, and again it was Richarlison doing the good defensive work with another clearing header. Shelvey with another snidey foul, his third of the game, on Rodriguez was rightly booked on the twenty minute mark. Everton kept on coming and Richarlison picked up a loose ball to step inside and fire a good shot that Darlow parried, Digne clipping Hayden in the race to the loose ball.
Mina with a telling deflection on a shot from Shelvey saw the visitors earn another corner, Keane with the clearing header this time leading to a flailing arm from Wilson catching Mina in the face. At the midway point of the half the game was nicely poised, Everton looking to use width to work openings for crosses but, Newcastle were not being overwhelmed and were growing in confidence.
Digne conceded another corner and Pickford did very well to fingertip a powerful header from Wilson over and off the crossbar at the expense of another corner that was easily cleared. A flowing Newcastle attack was halted by Sigurdsson fouling Wilson on the edge of the area and getting booked for his troubles. Shelvey fired the free kick over the bar so no harm done but, Everton needed to wrestle back the momentum and they did with a quick break that saw DCL backheel the ball into the path of Rodriguez, Darlow with a smart save to deny the Colombian. Everton came again with another flowing move, Iwobi finding Doucoure to set up Richarlison for a shot that curled the wrong side of the post.
Hayden was very lucky not to be booked for yet another poor challenge on Rodriguez, the Colombian probably feeling he was being targeted by the opposition. A 50-50 challenge between Sigurdsson and Lascelles saw the Icelander limp away and a free kick given against him, Newcastle unable to make anything of it. A stupid ball from Coleman played Rodriguez into trouble, Everton had to adjust quickly to get a block on a shot from Hayden.
In the dying seconds of normal time, Sigurdsson completely wasted a free kick and three added minutes were indicated. The last chance of the half went the Blues way as Doucoure fed Richarlison and with Digne waiting for a chance to cross, the Brazilian blazed a shot high and wide. Nil-nil at the break and Steve Bruce would probably be the happier manager.
Half Time: 0-0
Neither manager made a change for the second half with Everton really needing to up the tempo and play with some more intensity in their game if they were going to break down a Newcastle midfield and defence that were looking surprisingly resolute considering their recent form.
Digne with a long ball picked out Richarlison who chested down for DCL, Lewis getting there quickly to deny him a shot even though the offside flag had been raised against Richarlison. Everton were patient, bordering on ponderous, in their build-up play until Rodriguez fed Digne and he played DCL into the channel to win a corner that disappointingly, came to nothing. Newcastle counted quickly and worked another dangerous moment asFraser slid a good ball through for Wilson who swept his effort wide across the face of goal.
Lascelles went down and and slowly walked off to be replaced by Ciaran Clark.
Richarlison driving forward fed DCL on his left hand side and his curling effort was palmed away by Darlow for a corner that was played too deep. Clark blocked a Mina effort as Everton got the ball back into the area. Sigurdsson took a kick on the ankle ahead of a Newcastle free kick that eventually was claimed by Pickford. Shelvey cut between Doucoure and Sigurdsson like a knife through hot butter to feed Lewis who was shepherded well by Iwobi but, Everton really needed to grasp the initiative as the game hit the hour mark with Mina conceding another corner, and Michael Keane saw yellow. Fraser’s corner saw Schar go down theatrically and out for another corner that Pickford punched clear while Shelvey claimed handball against Doucoure in vain.
Carlo Ancelotti finally made a change on 63 minutes, Andre Gomes replacing Alex Iwobi hopefully to add some offensive purpose for the Blues. Gomes picking up a loose ball after a Rodriguez cross won a corner that Almiron cleared far too easily – set pieces from both sides having been dreadful to this point in the game.
A second change for the visitors saw Saint-Maximin replace Fraser in the 67th minute, Steve Bruce clearly feeling that the game was there to be won. Lewis won yet another corner off Coleman, their ninth of the game, Shelvey only finding the head of DCL and the Blues clearing easily.
Into the final twenty minutes and the big question was which of these two sides actually had the self belief to commit to winning the game?
Another corner was conceded at the Park End and would you believe it, Shelvey picked out Wilson and his firm header was perfectly directed beyond the outstretched diving Jordan Pickford to give the visitors a lead they probably never expected but, was difficult to deny them on the day.
From the restart, DCL got down the left channel to win a corner off Manquillo that again produced nothing. Less than fifteen minutes to play and Coleman played into pace down the right by Mina failed to find Doucoure with his ball into the Newcastle area. Rodriguez was booked for a foul on Almiron after he’d lost control and a touch of frustration came into play. A cross from Digne was played too long and easily claimed by Darlow as Everton continued to underwhelm.
Digne won a corner off Hayden as we approached ‘now or never’ time, Darlow with a decent punch finding Digne who blazed over with his first time shot. The Newcastle keeper was booked for time-wasting but, could you blame him. Almiron teased Keane into conceding another corner as we hit the 85-minute mark, DCL with the clearing header before Hayden blazed high and wide.
Everton were lucky not to concede a second as a dreadful ball from Coleman was picked off by Shelvey and he threaded the ball through to Wilson who rounded Pickford only to see his shot hit the post and go behind for a corner off Mina.
Hendrick was booked for a poor challenge on Richarlison as time ebbed away before five added minutes offered Everton a late lifeline – could they grasp it?
Shelvey bent a free kick over an Everton wall but just too high and Digne got forward to win a corner that Keane couldn’t get on the end of, Newcastle broke away for Wilson to coolly slot his and their second goal of the game to seal the points.
A dreadful showing from Everton that needs a number of players to take a serious look at themselves and their effort.