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Enigmatic Everton Turn the Tables on Newcastle

By Lyndon Lloyd :  05/03/2011 :  Comments (17) :

The enigma that is Everton rolled into the northeast this afternoon, threatened to follow the midweek cup humilation at the hands of Reading with another defeat after falling behind to a confident Newcastle and then promptly turned the match on its head to claim a priceless victory, one that moves them within four points of sixth place.

Blues fans are accustomed to frustration and inconsistency but the current team has got to be the most schizophrenic of any that has played under David Moyes over the past nine years. Starting the game with a line-up featuring a number of personnel and positional changes, a first victory at St James' Park in 10 years looked, to be a tall order for Everton and yet with more composure in front of goal in the second half, they could have killed the Magpies off handily and saved the traveling faithful a nervy finish.

Given what he'd witness on Tuesday, it was no surprise that Moyes elected to change things up, hoping to shore up central midfield by moving Phil Neville into the holding role, pushing Mikel Arteta out to left midfield and Leon Osman out to the right. Seamus Coleman, who has been looking a little jaded of late, dropped back to the bench giving Tony Hibbert a rare run-out at right back and Jermaine Beckford replaced Diniyar Bilyaletdinov to form a two-pronged attack with Louis Saha.

Despite the two-striker formation, it was a starting XI that looked short on creativity but it would become apparent very quickly that Arteta, relieved of his more defensive midfield duties, would take up the challenge of crafting this victory with zeal. It was he who interrupted some early Newcastle pressure with a terrific run at the end of an Everton counter-attack in the 17th minute that ended with him cutting inside onto his right foot and unloading a powerful shot from 18 yards that Steven Harper palmed away superbly for a corner.

Three minutes later, though, it was the now familiar defensive failings that threatened to condemn Moyes's team to defeat. Neville's brief was presumably to shackle Kevin Nolan but no one was tight enough to him when he picked up neat a pass by Williamson on the left side of the area, giving him the time he need to deliver a cross to the back post that Leon Best stooped to head, unmarked, into the empty net.

1-0 to Newcastle and it looked like it was going to be a long afternoon, particularly when Best planted a free header just wide from a cross from the left wing on the half hour.

In the next minute, though, in a scenario that would play out several more times in the second half, Everton counter-attacked purposefully with Osman leading the charge and he fed Arteta down the left channel. The Spaniard stabbed a square ball back to Osman and the diminutive midfielder had the composure to take one touch before passing it into the net.

Five minutes later, it was 2-1! Arteta won a free kick wide on the left and Leighton Baines stepped up to whip a wicked ball behind the home defence that was tracked all the way by Phil Jagielka and he steered a high bounce home off the underside of the crossbar.

The Barcodes were stunned and didn't really muster a response until the fourth minute of first-half stoppage time when, with the Everton defence unable to get the ball clear, Gutierrez hammered the ball across the area to Williamson at the back post but he prodded the wrong side of the post from his perspective and the Blues escaped to the dressing room with their lead intact.

Moyes must have been expecting a more sustained assault from Newcastle in the second half, particularly when his captain and midfield anchor, Neville, hobbled out of the action just seven minutes after the restart with what looked to be a hamstring strain. Coupled with another display of shocking profligacy of possession by his replacement, John Heitinga, and the ingredients were there for a disappointing second 45 minutes.

It was all the more surprising, then, that the eventual disappointment would come from the number of opportunities missed by the visitors and not from precious points being thrown away at the other end, although the first to arrive owed everything to an excellent one-handed stop by Harper to deny Beckford. Arteta made good progress down the right side before finding Osman who stabbed it into the path of Beckford. The striker took one touch past his marker before firing a shot that was destined for the far corner until the 'keeper deflected it past the far post for a corner.

Two minutes later, it really should have been 3-1. Arteta, surging without impediment all the way down the left this time, clipped a perfect ball across into the path of Saha but the Frenchman inexplicably despatched a free header high over the bar.

Though Beckford had looked sharp in front of goal, not least when he picked up Saha's knockdown and half-volleyed crisply, albeit too close to Harper who caught the shor comfortably, his overall performance was undermined by some truly abysmal hold-up play. Either unwilling or unable to challenge for any of the high balls aimed his way, he was beaten in the air at almost every turn and a succession of sloppy layoffs and clumsy first-touches were probably the deciding factor in his withdrawal on the hour in favour of Victor Anichebe.

And in his first real involvement, the controversial Nigerian international almost played a part in a third goal for the Blues. Osman charged out of defence and carried the ball all the way into the Newcastle half before playing in Anichebe on the left wing who returned the pass square to Osman who exchanged passes with Arteta before dinking a clever ball forward into the area for the Spaniard. Arteta nodded the ball ahead of a defender and knocked it across the six yard box into the path of Saha but it just eluded the French striker's boot by an inch and the home side survived.

The inevitable handbags between Nolan and Anichebe flared up the following minute with both players picking up bookings before Best had the ball in the net for a second time, only to have his goal ruled out for a clear push on Jagielka.

That set up a back-and-forth final 10 to 15 minutes, including five minutes of stoppage time, in which Alan Pardew's men tried to force something from the game but desperately lacked the quality to exploit the gaping holes in the Everton midfield that opened up between Heitinga, Rodwell and the left flank. Pushing forward, Newcastle were vulnerable to the counter-attack but with fatigure clearly starting to take its toll on the likes of Arteta and Osman, three separate opportunities ended up going begging. The best of them fell to Coleman after Saha and Anichebe had combined well but the final ball didn't have enough pace for the Irishman to get there in time to flick it over Harper and the 'keeper smothered his shot well.

So a valuable win for the Blues that moves them up to 10th place, level on points with Newcastle, and, with their game in hand against Birmingham City coming up in midweek, have a great opportunity to be right onto the heels of the clubs chasing sixth place by the time Fulham come to town next Saturday.

Unbelievably, with four of their next five matches at home, Everton could yet find a way back into Europe on the back of this rollercoaster season if they can put a consistent run of results together and the right things fall their way in terms of the number of Europa League places made available to Englsish clubs.

The concern, as ever at this stage of the campaign, is the toll that injuries and tiredness will play on such a small squad. But the spirit is still in evidence and, for now at least, the momentum is upwards.

Player Ratings: Howard 6, Hibbert 6, Jagielka 8, Distin 7, Baines 7, Osman 8 (Coleman 7), Neville 6 (Heitinga 4), Rodwell 6, Arteta 8*, Beckford 5 (Anichebe 6), Saha 6

Reader Comments

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Paul Olsen
1   Posted 05/03/2011 at 22:13:14

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Best thing, Arteta was back at his fabulous best at the left wing. Great game from the Spaniard, long may it continue.
Dave Wilson
2   Posted 05/03/2011 at 22:09:06

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Yep, pretty much the way I saw it, Lyndon, but I think you`re being really stingy with your mark for Tony Hibbert...

Tony`s Tony, you`ll never get dazzling wing play, but the Geordies were trying to come down his flank all afternoon, he was defiance personified: 8/9.
Jim Hourigan
3   Posted 05/03/2011 at 22:27:37

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Dave, Hibbert was poor in terms of his positional play and his complete lack of contribution. It almost seems that people feel they need to defend him irrespective of his ability and his performance.

Where was he when they scored? Caught out of position chasing a ball. I do accept that Osman didn't offer him a great deal of support defensively but, nonetheless, he was poor to average and no more. I for one was relieved when the full back went off because it seemed to me that they had decided to target our right-hand side in the first half

Jamie Barlow
4   Posted 05/03/2011 at 22:27:25

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I too thought Tony Hibbert played well today. He obviously faded towards the end of the game, probably lack of game time. He was also booked after 25 minutes (undeserved). He's a defender and he did his job well today imo. Apart from that, pretty much what I seen.
Ryan Holroyd
5   Posted 05/03/2011 at 22:50:39

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I thought Hibbert was steady and no more. And, Jim, it was Baines's fault for the goal as he should have been covering the centre-half, Distin.
Mike Gaynes
6   Posted 05/03/2011 at 23:17:21

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Lyndon, Best's goal wasn't off a cross from Nolan. It was a rebound off a Nolan shot. Your player marks, however, are pretty much spot on -- with one huge exception. In my view, Anichebe bungled his way through an absolutely embarrassing 20 minutes before finally making a few adequate passes at the end. He gets no more than a 3 from me.
David Hallwood
7   Posted 05/03/2011 at 23:24:24

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Enigmatic: is that an anagram of fuckin baffling. Yet again we don't know what Everton's going to turn up. Lyndon was spot on with Arteta, take him out of CM and he is our creative hub. Same again for Wednesday ? but then again.
Thomas Williams
8   Posted 06/03/2011 at 00:59:45

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Summing up today, Arteta should never play in centre midfield again, not good enough or disciplined enough, bit like SG across the park. I have questioned him for a while now, but fair dues his recent performances have improved, leave him on the wing, either side.
I thought Hibbert was poor today, and Jagielka as well, the amount of times Distin covers for the other 3 defenders is alarming.

Beckford cannot play with his back to goal, get him facing the goal and he has good potential, he is suffering the same fate as Beattie, AJ, Anichebe? none of them can play with their back to goal, and that is why they struggle, with our style of play we need a striker who can play with his back to goal, Bendtner? swap for Jagielka?

Those that say Rodwell did nothing, were not watching the game, just the ball, he was shadowing Nolan, and kept him rather quiet overall.

Johnny, oh dear, looks like he will get a run now, as Pip will be out for a month I reckon with hamstring snappage, cue a flurry of both colour cards for JH.

We must give the lads and the manager credit today for bouncing back, doesn't erase Reading, but kudos for coming back from a goal down away, long time since that happened I would think.

Mike Green
9   Posted 06/03/2011 at 01:20:06

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Not sure how to put this as a bit shitted in the face but:

Arteta's been shit all season.

Arteta played like a world beater for the first time this season. Awesome.

Fellaini's out for the season.

I love then both but that can't be a coincidence? I'm sure Mikey think he's boss but they obviously can't play together.

We'll be fine now though. My prayers were answered. Apart from the blow job thing but reckon we'll be ok with that too. Fingers crossed.
David Hallwood
10   Posted 06/03/2011 at 02:18:19

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Another twist to this weird season is, if we win against Brum & Fulham ? and I know it's a big 'if' ? we could go 6th.
Phil Rodgers
11   Posted 06/03/2011 at 07:57:29

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For me, Arteta always played his best football out wide. Gives him the opportunity to beat a man which is one of his best attributes. I assumed his injury had lost him some pace but on yesterday's evidence he seemed much sharper than usual.

The midfield actually looked pretty balanced to me particularly in first half. Hopefully this is a platform for us to really kick on because we have some very winnable games coming up. Birmingham then Fulham. Should be 6 points...

Stephen Kenny
12   Posted 06/03/2011 at 10:18:52

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IMO Hibbert got rinsed today and looked very rusty.
David Thomas
13   Posted 06/03/2011 at 13:03:46

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"IMO Hibbert got rinsed today and looked very rusty."

Walking out of St James Park yesterday, the talk seemed to be Hibbert had a good game, especially seeing as though he has not played much recently.

Strange how people can watch the same game but see completely different things.
Dave Wilson
14   Posted 06/03/2011 at 15:48:14

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Indeed it is, David, I always think the matchgoer reacts to what he sees, wonder why they were chanting Hibbo's name?

On the local radio station, the Geordies were moaning like fuck that they didn't get around the back of us all afternoon. Usually when I see a "It's all Hibbo`s fault" post, I think it's a joke... sometimes I`m not sure though.
Jay Harris
15   Posted 06/03/2011 at 18:59:53

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Its' about time people got off Hibbo's and Ossie's backs. They are 2 honest players who give their all for EFC and while they will never be world class are at least solid squad players that we should be grateful for.

I thought Hibbo had a good game yesterday especially considering he's been ot for a while.

Lyndon, I can't disagree with any of your match report, saw it pretty much the same way. I just hope we maintain the same spirit and luck against Birmingham and Fulham.
Ian Smitham
16   Posted 06/03/2011 at 21:22:04

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Jay ? Quite right.
Ryan Holroyd
17   Posted 07/03/2011 at 10:28:36

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Well said Jay.

I'd much rather have Hibbert and Osman than Billy and Heitinga.

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