Everton fell to a sixth defeat in seven games in all competitions as Newcastle United continued their impressive start to the season with what was their seventh win of the campaign so far. That they could afford David Moyes's incohesive outfit the majority of the possession in the second half as they searched in vain for an equaliser and still hold onto all three points owed much to the Blues' lack of attacking threat but they also profited from typically poor refereeing by Andre Marriner.
Everton were a goal down early in the second half when Dan Gosling, a one-time hero on the Blue side of Merseyside, diverted Louis Saha's goalbound shot past the post with his arm, apparently out of the sight of both the referee and his assistant because no action was taken for denying the French striker the equaliser.
Had that shot crept inside Tim Krul's left-hand post or the Blues scored from a penalty, it would simultaneously have flattered them and been just reward for assuming the upper hand for long periods of this game against an unbeaten team lying third in the table at the start of play.
Moyes's side were constantly undone, however, by slack passing, a frustrating lack of movement, poor individual performances and that now achingly familiar combined lack of creativity and firepower in the final third of the field.
Of course, the real damage had been done before they'd really even settled into the game. A scrappy opening 12 minutes in which neither side seemed capable of taking charge of proceedings had seen Seamus Coleman squander the only clear chance when he bobbled Saha's flick-on across Krul's goal and well wide of the far post before calamity struck at the other end.
Danny Simpson whipped a wicked cross in from the Magpies' right flank, Tim Howard advanced off his line to claim it but apparently without giving John Heitinga a shout and the Dutch defender stuck out a leg to try and divert the ball behind but could only steer it into his own net. Given his lack of resources, keeping it tight and being hard to beat is a central tenet of Moyes's strategy these days but his team had shot themselves in the foot.
Everton response was slow but after another 12 minutes had elapsed, they did start to ask some questions at the right end of the field with Royston Drenthe, back in the starting line-up after missing the Manchester United defeat through suspension, finding Jack Rodwell with a left-footed cross and the young midfielder forcing the first meaningful save from Krul with a glancing header.
A minute later, Drenthe's trickery took him to the byline where he pulled the ball back to Leon Osman but he shot straight at the goalkeeper when the Dutchman's great work really deserved a better finish. And Saha had a couple of chances to improve on his recent scoring success, first when Phil Jagielka picked him out perfectly with a long ball over the top that left the striker in acres of space but he ballooned over with his weaker foot, and then when he dragged a poor shot wide from 20+ yards.
The Blues' hill became a mountain just before the half-hour mark when a wonder strike by Ryan Taylor doubled Newcastle's advantage. Rodwell'c clearing header off a corner went only as far as Taylor on the Magpies' left and with Drenthe slow to react and close him down, he had all the time he needed to unleash a dipping shot from the corner of the box that flew over Howard and into the far corner by way of the underside of the crossbar.
2-0 was so nearly 2-1, though, just three minutes later. Terrific work by Coleman, who had temporarily switched flanks with Drenthe, set up a shot for Phil Neville but when the captain's scuffed effort fell to Saha, he smacked a left-footer off the base of the post. Coleman collected the rebound and crossed low across the six-yard box the Drenthe but he drilled a shot into the side-netting.
Everton changed the complexion of the game significantly, though, in first half stoppage time when Tony Hibbert's attempted cross was deflected behind for a corner. Drenthe swung his kick into the danger zone where Rodwell had the fairly simple task of powering a header inside the post to make it 2-1 going into the interval.
The second half was set up, therefore, for the Blues to complete their comeback if they could just create something meaningful from the possession they were enjoying. Indeed, the home side barely had a shot on goal to trouble Howard in the entire second 45 minutes, which left Everton huffing, puffing, squandering possession and generally failing to carve open enough chances aside from Gosling's hand-of-God intervention in the 54th minute.
The absence of Marouane Fellaini, suspended for one game after picking up a fifth booking on the season last weekend, was keenly felt in the Everton midfield which looked a much poorer outfit with him there. Heitinga was mostly awful after moving out of defence five minutes before half time because of a reoccurrence of Neville's hamstring injury that and saw Sylvain Distin come into central defence and the Dutch international was rightly withdrawn after he was booked for a foul on Marveaux.
Tim Cahill replaced him and instantly provided gave Moyes's side a more potent look with some nice movement and decent passing and he forced a low save from Krul with his first shot on the hour mark. But there too many players in Blue putting in sub-par performances, with passes going astray all over the place and individual players making far too many poor decisions.
With no consistent partner down the left, Leighton Baines' form is visibly suffering and he had as bad a game as any this season. Rarely venturing forward and now regularly failing to beat the first man with his set-pieces, he is a depressingly diminished attacking threat.
Osman again offered next to nothing, improving slightly when he dropped back into central midfield later in the game, Coleman betrayed his lack of technical ability on the ball on a number of occasions and Drenthe was his now usual mix of offensive catalyst — but unable to carry the team on his own — and defensive liability.
Chasing the game with increasing desperation, Moyes had the option of throwing on Denis Stracqualursi, Ross Barkley or Diniyar Bilyaletdinov but instead he chose James McFadden, a player he sold four years ago for half as much as he paid for the Russian because he wasn't deemed good enough. It was no surprise that the Scot made no impact on the game at all save for a poorly-executed cross with four minutes to go that drifted harmlessly beyond the back post.
If this performance confirmed anything it was just how toothless this Everton side is. Most of it is now the legacy of the failings of the Bill Kenwright Board and the asset-stripping that the mounting debt has necessitated. But the manager's own tactics and player selection choices must also be factored in in any analysis of the malaise that is gripping this team.
A victory for Wolves tomorrow over Wigan would leave the Blues one place above the relegation zone and deepen the anxiety. Moyes will have a fortnight to ponder his next move before the home game against Wanderers but unless it involves some significant changes in approach or some shuffling of personnel, it's hard to see where the goals and the points are going to come from.
Player Ratings: Howard 5, Hibbert 6 (McFadden 5), Jagielka 6, Heitinga 4 (Cahill 7), Baines 5, Coleman 5, Rodwell 6, Neville 5 (Distin 6), Drenthe 6, Osman 5, Saha 6
With Marouane Fellaini suspended and Royston Drenthe returning from a ban of his own, there were no adventurous surprises in the selected team... with the possible exception of Heitinga preferred over the injured Sylvain Distin, who joined the injured Tim Cahill on the bench. These players were deemed not fit enough to start but fit enough to come on at a pinch, to change the game — in preference to the likes of Vellios and Gueye, who have now clearly been relegated to the Reserves while the talented young Barkley spends another game warming the bench.
Everton contained the Geordies well for the first five minutes but most of the possession was in the visitors' half until Newcastle won the first corner and Guthrie got in the first shot. Coleman was set up with a glorious chance off a Saha header that he messed up horribly.
Everton looked to be in easy control but then came moment of bizarre idiocy from Heitinga, scoring a horrific own-goal, flicking the ball needlessly away from the advancing Howard and into the Everton net... Utterly shocking incompetence!
Everton tried to regroup and took advantage of a very ragard stop-start game but some of the passing was Sunday League. A dreadful return ball from Drenthe almost let the Geordies in.
Suddenly, with a quarter of the game gone, Everton fashioned a nice chance with Drenthe putting in a great forward ball for a glancing header from Rodwell that forced a good save. Then Osman got a chance to shoot but at the keeper. At the other end, Ba was denied his first chance.
A tremendous ball over the back from Jagielka saw Saha beat the offside trap and, with the goal at his mercy, leathered it high, wide and hideous. A dreadful piece of shooting!. Another chance fell to the Frenchman and he screwed it well wide. Lots of chances but zero end product.
But off a poor Rodwell clearance, an unbelieable strike by Ryan Taylor flew in over Howard, an unstoppable shot, and Everton down two goals after actually playing better than a poor Newcastle team.
Coleman did well to create a layback for Rodwell but he set-up Neville for a hopeless shot into the mix, and a snapshot from Saha hit the post, Coleman driving the rebound across the face of goal where Drenthe coming in powered a poor shot into the side netting. It was setting up to be one of those games would do anything but score, while a Newcastle cross drifted over Howard and glanced off the bar!
To rub salt in the wounds, Dan Gosling then came on for a very rare Newcastle first-team appearance as Neville collapsed, holding his leg, after his left hamstring went as he over-stretched for a ball, and was replaced by Sylvain Distin.
Gutirez illegally won a dangerous free-kick but the Everton wall did its job and Everton looked to break but Coleman lost the ball into touch. Drenthe had a long conversation with Andre Mariner as Howard had to punch away a Taylor free-kick.
Everton's first corner in stoppage time was swung in brilliantly by Drenthe, and Rodwelll powered home an excellent header to make things a little more respectable at the break. The 600th goal of David Moyes's reign.
A very strange first half, where Everton should have dominated but pressed the self-destruct button, with Drenthe at once both brilliant and dreadful in equal measure.
The lack of composure continued from both sides into a scrappy start to the second half, Heitinga's hesitancy and then a stupid foul earning him a stupid yellow card.
Everton should have had a penalty when Gosling quite deliberately handled a Saha shot, pushing it wide of the Newcastle goal but Mariner was possibly unsighted. 56 minutes and Cahill replaced the shocking Heitinga, as the shocking passing continued to destroy any
Saha was having a nightmare, passes going nowhere, shots off target, and easily dispossessed by Gosling. A chance fell to Cahill off a long ball and he drilled a good shot that forced a decent save from Krul.
A free-kick on the corner of the Newcastle penalty area was swung in by Baines but defended away. Saha looked to have a chance but waited too long for the ball to drop. Baines incredibly was booked when he was kicked by Simpson, who collapsed under non-existent sniper fire.
The ball fell nicely for Drenthe to break but he took the wrong option, not releasing the ball for Coleman and a good chance was gone, as Everton struggled to withstand a growing aerial bombardment. For relief, Baines and Coleman advanced down the Everton left, Baines eventually crossing for Osman, all alone, to totally mess up his shot.
Cahill did well to win a ball that came to Coleman but he slipped horribly as he went to shoot. But a ridiculously lofted free-kick form out wide right by Drenthe summed up the at times abysmal quality of the football on show... followed an equally poor delivery from an excellent position by Leighton Baines.
With 10 mins of an increasingly dreadful game left, James McFadden made his second Everton debut, replacing Tony Hibbert as Moyes risked everything to secure the result. McFadden's first touch won a free-kick for handball. Then Drenthe finally went in the book for a poor foul borne of frustration.
Gosling went for glory down the middle but Osman did very well to put him off. Everton shaped to attack a little better with McFadden on, and won a corner that Cahill almost got onto, but McFadden's follow-up cross-cum-shot came to nothing as Saha wasted another half-chance.
Four minutes of added time but it was now all Newcastle, with Everton spent of ideas and unable to do the basics in terms of keeping possession until Mariner's whistle finally ended the misery. Newcastle, who are supposedly in a false position because they have still to play anybody of note this season, go second in the Premier League. Just shocking.
Sixth defeat in seven games for Everton. But the untouchable David Moyes will no doubt be pleased with what he saw... basic defensive errors notwithstanding.
With October out the way, Everton look to get their season back on the rails after five defeats in six with a potentially tricky trip to Newcastle United.
Alan Pardew's side are the surprise package of the Premier League so far as the occupants of third place going into this weekend's fixtures, having avoided defeat in their opening 10 matches. They're 12 points better off than the Blues, albeit having played one game more, and are riding a wave of confidence that should make them a tough proposition for an Everton side short on goals and self belief.
Indeed, while the Blues have shared their meagre tally of 10 for the campaign around eight players, Demba Ba, a player once strongly linked with a move to Goodison, has scored eight by himself for the Magpies.
Newcastle's success is being attributed to a hard work ethic and team spirit, characteristics that were at the heart of Everton's success under David Moyes prior to the last couple of seasons, but there's no question that what moves Pardew has been able to make in the transfer market are a lot more than his counterpart who was forced to make a number of changes to his team last weekend against Manchester United because of injury and suspension.
Those selection problems should ease considerably by the time Moyes comes to name his starting line-up, though. Royston Drenthe is eligible again after serving a one-match ban and injured trio Phil Neville, Tim Cahill and Sylvai Distin all have a decent chance of being fit. Marouane Fellaini is suspended, though, after picking up his fifth booking of the season in the defeat to United.
Given how anemic Everton were in attack against United, Drenthe could be the key man if Moyes decides to play him from the start. The Dutchman scored one and created the other two goals at Fulham a fortnight ago and though his dismissal in the cup against Chelsea arguably contributed to the Blues' defeat, he was still a consistent threat going forward while he was on the pitch. Moyes hinted, however, that his selection in that tie may have been a mistake so it remains to be seen whether Drenthe will get to start.
Assuming Neville is past fit, he is the likely candidate to replace Fellaini in central midfield alongside Jack Rodwell, although John Heitinga can fill in there too, and Cahill is almost certain to make his return behind Louis Saha if the Australian is deemed to have recovered from the knock that limited his effectiveness against Chelsea and ruled him out of the United game.
Though Newcastle's form has been impressive over the first quarter of the season, it's fair to say that with the exception of Arsenal on the opening day and their last game at Stoke, they haven't really yet faced a major test. And while they will regard the visit of Everton as a winnable game, they might have one eye on a three-match run against the two Manchester clubs and Chelsea that starts on the 19th.
For the Blues, they enter a more manageable part of their fixture calendar where Moyes will be looking to pick up the points that will pull his side away from the relegation dogfight but his biggest problem will be finding a regular source of goals.
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* Everton deducted 6 points for PSR breachView full table