An 88th-minute strike by Victor Anichebe looked to have led Everton to a triumph over refereeing incompetence at Goodison Park, but for the second time after coming on as a half-time substitute, Demba Ba would profit from sloppy defending to peg the Blues back and earn Newcastle an undeserved point.
David Moyes's side were denied not one but two legitimate goals in the second half as they sought to overcome the frustration of letting slip the well-earned lead they had carried into the interval; Marouane Fellaini's calmly-taken shot was ruled out for non-existent offside and Anichebe's headed goal was missed by the same linesman as it crossed the line before being hacked away by a Magpies defender.
Undeterred, Anichebe would grab what should have been the winner with a crisp left-footed drive following Steven Pienaar's incisive pass but when Shola Ameobi chested on a launched ball by Steven Harper, Ba got enough contact to steer it past Tim Howard in the dying seconds of regulation time.
The Goodison faithful were put through the proverbial wringer during a frenetic game that had drama almost from the first whistle. Nikica Jelavic had the ball in the net inside two minutes after Harper had spilled Fellaini's close-range shot off Kevin Mirallas' cross but, correctly, the "goal" was chalked off for offside.
The Croatian suffered what looked to ba a game-ending injury when he collided with the post at the end of the move but he managed to run it off, before a clash of boots in his own area shortly before half-time eventually forced him off amid much concern from the home fans.
In between, Everton dominated and appeared destined to repeat their attacking exploits at Villa Park at the end of last month. An probing 11th-minute move down the left that saw Leighton Baines jink his way to the byline was a sign of things to come and a more composed finish by Steven Pienaar from the fullback-s cut-back from the byline might have yielded the first goal. The South African sliced his effort badly wide, though.
Four minutes later, though, with the roles reversed, Baines put the Blues ahead in style. A lovely interchange on the edge of the box saw Pienaar backheel smartly into Baines' path and the England international surged into the box before driving hard and low past Harper.
Everton were all business, with Pienaar pulling the strings down the left, Fellaini in typically bombastic mood behind Jelavic and Mirallas hell-bent on marking his full Premier League debut in the same way he did against Leyton Orient last month. He came close with two carbon-copy efforts after cutting in from the left in the 19th and 20th minutes, the second swerving agonisingly past the post, missing by an inch.
And Phil Jagielka almost smashed home his first of the season after playing his own one-two with Jelavic but his effort whistled past Harper's other upright as the Blues threatened to extend their lead.
Alarm bells for the defensive weakness that would scupper them in the second half were there to be heeded in the first half, though. Phil Neville set the tone in the 27th minute for what was, in truth, a shocking personal performance in the middle of the park by heading poorly straight to Papisse Cisse in his own area but the striker, thankfully, smashed his volley across the face of goal.
10 minutes later, Anita thought he had leveled matters when typically incisive work by Hatem Ben Arfa set the midfielder up in front of goal but Baines somehow managed to clear the ball off the goalline and Everton escaped.
Back down the Park End, with two minutes left of the first half, Pienaar really should have put the Blues into a commanding 2-0 half-time lead but, having robbed James Perch, he spurned the gilt-edged chance by curling wide 18 yards.
Having seen his side improve in the 15 minutes before half time, Alan Pardew decided to introduce Ba at the beginning of the second half and his decision had reaped dividends with less than five minutes on the clock after the restart. Leon Osman made a mess of possession in the middle of the park by over-running the ball and then losing it to Yohan Cabaya and the Frenchman made him pay with a perfectly-weighted throughball that put Ba in the clear behind the home defence.
Howard advanced, Ba took his shot earlier than the American expected and left him embarrassibgly flat-footed as the ball rolled into the empty net.
1-1 and Newcastle started to sense blood as the nerves started to jangle in the stands and referee Mike Jones' officiating became increasingly fussy and erratic, with bemusing decision after bemusing decision going the visitors' way. Nevertheless, despite having ceded the majority of the possession to Newcastle by this point, it was Everton who were creating the better chances.
Osman ballooned a decent one high into the Gwladys Street but Fellaini made no mistake in finishing off another lovely move that ended with Pienaar slipping the Belgian in level with the last defender. The referee's assistant, of course, saw things differently and the goal was disallowed.
Not to be outdone, though, Perch sprung Everton's own offside trap with a terrific ball over the top that Ba side-footed first time over the stranded Howard but his effort dropped into the top of the crossbar and bounced behind to safety leaving the teams deadlocked once more.
With a steady rain now falling and the pitch playing like grease in many areas, the game opened up even more, as evidenced when Harper's neat footwork well outside his area ended with a long ball forward that Ba again controlled well with his first touch but Sylvain Distin hacked the ball clear before it could threaten the goal.
Still Everton came forward as the minutes ticked by and Osman side-footed another superb chance a yard wide of the post when he should have at least tested the goalkeeper, before Anichebe connected with a cross from the right and his header cannoned off the underside of the bar and over the line. Again, the assistant was having none of it and play continued despite incredulity among the Blues' players.
The back door remained wide open at times, though, and were it not for excellent work by Howard, Ben Arfa would have scored what might have proved to be a cruel winner in the 86th minute. Another through-ball carved open the home defence with Jagielka skinned for pace by the French winger but Howard stopped his shot as he tried to slide it under the American's body and Jagielka did enough to clear the danger.
Two minutes later, redemption appeared to have arrived, both for Everton and the officials. Pienaar picked out Anichebe and he rolled his marker impressively to make space for the shot that he would despatch past Harper and then it was just a case of protecting what we had.
Unfortunately, the trio at the last line of defence were found wanting again on another desperate long ball forward by Harper, Distin being out-muscled by Ameobi, Jagielka losing Ba and Howard executing an ill-advised pre-emptive jump trying to stop a lob that never came. Instead, the ball bobbled underneath and over the line to make it 2-2. Four minutes of stoppage time action couldn't separate the two sides and Moyes had to be content with a point.
In the afermath, it was one of those draws that felt like a defeat. When you score a late goal at home, particularly at the end of such a hectic encounter, you feel like you should go and win the game. But having seen two perfectly good goals wiped out by abysmal officiating, these two dropped points were especially hard to take.
And yet, with better defending it wouldn't have mattered. Credit should go to Pardew who acknowledged the freedom with which Everton were playing in the first half having nullified the limited threat posed by Cisse as the loan striker because the Blues struggled to cope with Ba all second half. But as Moyes tries to square the circle of perming two from Jagielka, Distin and Johnny Heitinga, you can't help but wonder after tonight and the West Brom game if last season's Player fo the Year might not bring a bit more cohesion at the back.
Central midfield, too, continues to be a worry, with Neville doing his cause for continued deployment in that role no favours with what was, to these eyes, as poor a performance as he's had in a Royal Blue jersey. Osman was bright and purposeful going forward but was wasteful in front of goal and crucially sloppy in his own half for the first goal. More weight to the argument, perhaps, that Fellaini should drop back to his natural position, although any absence through injury for Jelavic would complicate that issue further.
Despite all of that, though, there was still so much to admire about Everton going forward. During that opening half-hour of near ceaseless domination, they played some sublime stuff and even when the conditions got more slippery, they continued to carve out good chances that would have won the game with better-sighted officials.
Mirallas was enterprising and positive but betrayed a little unfamiliarity with the speed and physicality of the Premier League which he will, of course, develop over time. Fellaini was combative and dangerous, Pienaar a little mercurial but still a thorn in Newcastle's side all nighth, and Anichebe took his chances well after replacing Jelavic.
So, a setback but certainly nothing to get too discouraged about unless the injuries start to pile up. The hope is, of course, that Jelavic is able to shake off his injury in time to repeat his goalscoring heroics at the Liberty Stadium in the early Saturday kick-off against Swansea. Let's cross that bridge when we come to it.
The footballing gods can be cruel masters. They certainly seem intent on slapping down any rampant optimism among Evertonians lest we get ahead of ourselves.
An unexpectedly successful transfer window and back-to-back wins to start the 2012-13 season had success-starved Blues feeling like this could finally be the season where we break back into the top four — an echelon that has proven untouchable beyond the proverbial glass ceiling since David Moyes steered his unfancied team to the Champions League qualifers in 2005.
An inelegant stumble at The Hawthorns, the loss to injury of Darron Gibson, the refusal by FIFA to sanction the loan of Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe, and the premature horizon-gazing from Marouane Fellaini later and a stiff dose of reality has been delivered forth in to keep expectations in check at Goodison Park.
It provides yet more challenges for a manager still operating with one of the shallowest squads in the Premier League but then Moyes has spent almost all of his 10-and-a-half years at Everton battling against adversity and overcoming the odds. These are just the latest in a line of setbacks and it's unlikely he will be fazed as he sets about dealing with them.
In his favour, of course, is the fact that despite the frustration of the Ofoe situation and having to do without Gibson until the middle of October, Moyes still has the best squad he's had to date at his disposal. And in another televised Monday-night occasion under the lights at Goodison, he and his side have the opportunity to ratchet the optimism right back up again if they can beat Newcastle United.
Not only would a victory represent a nine-point haul from the first 12 available, it would catapult Everton into joint-second place in the table, back amongst the early pace-setters.
Thankfully, Gibson is Moyes's only injury concern ahead of the Blues' first game since 1st September — all of Everton's internationals returned unscatched from their duties abroad. And only Bryan Oviedo's ineligibility will keep him out of contention as the Costa Rican has only just finalised his visa.
That leaves central midfield as the manager's biggest conundrum. Does he opt for the less-than-dynamic Phil Neville in central midfield alongside Leon Osman — a partnership that looked suspect at West Brom. Or, as would seem more prudent given the fact that he made his name in England playing in the middle, does he pull Fellaini back in the centre and play either Kevin Mirallas, Steven Naismith or Victor Anichebe behind Nikica Jelavic?
Fellaini proved to an unmanageable handful in a more forward role against Manchester United on the opening day and was instrumental in the dismantling of Aston Villa the following week, but Moyes will have to weigh up his attacking threat against a weaker midfield.
Mirallas tore Leyton Orient to shreds on his home debut when he was half fit three weeks ago and he will be itching to show what he can do with the extra training and time to gel with his new teammates. And Anicheb, too, has plenty prove so it'll be interesting to see which way Moyes goes with his team selection.
After proving to be the surprise package of last season, Newcastle have made an iffy start to the new campaign and Alan Pardew will be without goalkeeper Tim Krul, his captain Fabricio Coloccini, Cheick Tiote, Danny Simpson, and Ryan Taylor.
With a really good record over the Magpies in recent seasons — indeed, they beat them handsomely in May on the last day of season season — and memories of that stirring win over United hopefully still fresh in the memory, the Blues will know that they have everything it takes to get three points and get their season back on the rails immediately after the defeat against WBA.
|Premier League Scores|
|Premier League Table|
|2012-13 Reports Index|
|Cabaye (Bigirimana 90')|
|Marveaux (Ba 46')|
|Cisss (Ameobi 80' )|
|Subs not used|
|6||West Bromwich Albion||7|
|8||West Ham United||7|
|18||Queens Park Rangers||2|