If there was some comfort after the last-minute shock of what transpired at Anfield on Sunday it was that Everton had a quick opportunity to banish the memory of Jordan Pickford’s error and the pain of another derby defeat by getting straight back to action at home in a very winnable game.
In the end, tonight’s meeting with Newcastle looked like it had come too soon for some jaded-looking players and the reassurance that Marco Silva’s men were good enough to collect six points against the Toon and then Watford on Monday melted away thanks to a massively underwhelming and lacklustre performance that afflicted almost the entire Blues team.
It was one of those evenings where a number of players seemed to have an “off” night. Passes were over-hit, balls routinely mis-controlled and wires frequently crossed as Everton huffed and puffed their way through 90 frustrating minutes. Whether affected by the collective malaise or not, a couple of squad members handed a chance to impress weren’t able to stake much of a claim for further inclusion in the starting XI, further highlighting the need for further magic from Marcel Brands in the upcoming transfer window if the Blues are to sustain a top-six challenge.
Overall there wasn’t much to take in terms of positives apart from the fact that the Blues recovered from conceding another counter-attack goal to at least earn a point. It should have been more than that because Richarlison’s equaliser, his seventh Premier League goal of the season, arrived seven minutes before half-time which gave Silva’s men more than a half to pick their way through a dogged Newcastle back line that made things incredibly difficult, particularly for an Everton side so lacking in imagination or the ability to find a blue shirt with countless deliveries from wide.
Gylfi Sigurdsson, lauded prior to the Liverpool game for his impressive goals return and for generally stepping up as the influential figure Silva needs him to be, endured another anonymous evening and was substituted with 20 minutes to go.
Lucas Digne, perhaps the most consistent performer in the whole team so far this season, had what was easily his worst game since joining the club over the summer. He deserves credit for never shirking responsibility or showing for the ball but time and time again his delivery from crosses and set-pieces — and Everton had a lot of them, including 14 corners — was dreadful.
Richarlison scored the goal that cancelled out Salomon Rondon’s 19th-minute equaliser but he, too, was below his usual level, constantly trying to do too much and running into defenders and giving up possession cheaply in advanced areas.
Cenk Tosun, selected to start a game for the first time in two months, was wholly ineffective apart from one instance in the first half where he was foiled at point-blank range. Ademola Lookman, meanwhile, showed glimpses of the player who has looked so exciting when coming off the bench but in his 78 minutes on the field he wasn’t able to produce the magic to dismantle Newcastle’s entrenched defence.
Once again, if there was a pick of the bunch for Everton, apart from Kurt Zouma who made a solid return to the starting XI after a three-game absence, it was André Gomes who controlled the game and was head and shoulders above everyone else around him for long periods of the contest.
Yet you felt that with a player of his individual talent and skill on the ball, he might have been pushed further forward in the closing stages where he could perhaps pick a killer pass instead of sitting deeper and spreading the ball from side to side and out to the wings where the delivery from the likes of Lookman, Seamus Coleman, Digne and later Bernard was too often found wanting.
With all that said, the first half was fairly typical of a team that has been quite slow to get going at times. Tosun had an early shot from the edge of the box that deflected behind and he headed a decent Digne cross well over with around a quarter of an hour gone before and Richarlison went closer than anyone to opening the scoring to that point but was denied by Fabian Schär’s block.
If there is a vulnerability in Everton under Silva, though, it’s being caught on the counter-attack having committed men forward. Referee Lee Mason refused to blow for a foul on Lookman in Newcastle’s half and the visitors quickly fed it to Jacob Murphy who accelerated down the left, crossed to Rondon in the centre who had made his run between Yerry Mina and Digne and was able to steer a first-time shot home with the Frenchman two yards behind.
It was the Barcodes’ first real attack which seemed to make it all the more typical of the Toffees and while they responded immediately with a chance for Richarlison that goalkeeper Dubravka comfortably gathered, Rondon almost walked through the back door a second time when Christian Atsu threaded him with a pass but the striker dragged his shot wide.
On another night, Sigurdsson might have shaken himself out of his personal torpor with a goal but Federico Fernandes denied him with what was, admittedly, a brilliant lunging block and the Icelandic international had another effort from a similar position also deflected wide.
Having proven to be so ineffective from set-pieces this season, it was somewhat surprising that the Blues goal, when it arrived, came from that corner, the first Everton goal from a corner in 93 attempts. Mina’s presence was enough to ensure that no Newcastle player was able to head the dead-ball delivery away and it dropped at Richarlison’s feet at the back post where he managed to fire it high into the goal from close range and level the scores.
And Everton might have gone ahead before the interval when perhaps Digne’s best cross of the night flew into the six-yard box and was met by Tosun’s out-stretched boot but it hit the keeper and the chance was lost.
If the home fans were banking on Silva’s half-time pep talk rousing the Blues into a more typical level of performance, they would be disappointed because the second half was an exercise in mounting frustration and abysmal execution, both from set-pieces and shooting opportunities from distance.
Things picked up marginally when Theo Walcott replaced Sigurdsson and Bernard came on for Lookman, the former injecting some direct running into the proceedings but spurning one excellent opening by mis-controlling Pickford’s accurate ball over the top. The latter, when he wasn’t slipping over, tried to make things happen from a more central role than he has been used to so far but he, too, was too profligate in possession to hurt Newcastle.
In actual fact, it was Rafa Benitez’s team who had the better chances to win the game in the second half and had it not been for Pickford who made a smart, one-handed save to deny Atsu, and then tame finishing from the ex-Everton winger himself a few minutes later, they might well have done.
As it was, the spoils were shared and there’s no way to look at it from the Everton point of view other than as two points lost in the context of their recent home form and their top-six aspirations.
From the more optimistic, longer-term perspective, this was another learning opportunity for Silva in determining where he still needs to strengthen his side and which players he will feel might better serve him in terms of incoming transfer funds than being retained simply on the fringes of the first team.
It was also another game under the belt for the likes of Mina, Gomes and Bernard, the three of which are at varying stages of settling into their new surroundings. Because, ultimately, this is a season of transition and taking a real crack at breaking into the very top echelons of the Premier League was never going to be all that realistic this season.
Next season could be a different story depending on recruitment over the next two transfer windows but for now, capitalising on Manchester United’s inconsistencies and aiming for a run to Wembley in the FA Cup could be the summit of Everton’s ambitions. And while the new manager and his Director of Football are still implementing their vision, that’s fine.