Wednesday night ended Everton 1 Newcastle 1.
Newcastle taking a shock early lead against the run of play and reaching halfway with the scores then level following Richarlison’s 38th minute equaliser, after a bit of a battering first half.
The expected continuation of that never really happened after the break, with Newcastle even having a chance or two to win it at the end.
The Editor asked me beforehand to write about 3 positives and 3 negatives from the game, so here goes…
Benítez Knows Best
Rafa’s somewhat surprising decision to opt for ‘damage limitation mode’ and play the 5-4-1 usually reserved for encounters with the likes of Man City and Liverpool, shows just how highly he rates Marcos Silva’s ever-improving Everton.
So, he and his staff will obviously be delighted that the game plan worked and we dug deep to come away with a valuable point. It wasn’t pretty and our limitations were all too apparent but so too was our greatest strength.
Do we lack quality? Yes. Is our squad strong enough? Yes. Is Rafa getting the best from this group of players? Undoubtedly.
He’s still one of the best tacticians around and, more often than not, the diligent defensive work done on the training ground is there for all to see on matchdays. Long may we continue to reap the rewards of his hard work.
Time and again Everton launched crosses into our box and time and again, our defence stood firm. While there were a handful of nervy moments here and there, the entire back line shone tonight.
The central trio worked particularly hard – tracking runners, cutting out through-balls, blocking shots, heading out crosses and maintaining focus right up to the end. Heads could have dropped after Richarlison’s equaliser but all credit to our defence for holding out.
Particular praise needs to go to Fernández for his phenomenal last-ditch tackle and Dúbravka for his fantastic point-blank save in the first half. A point well earned.
The Mag recently ran an article that highlighted just how many of Newcastle’s midweek games over the last number of years had been away from home and it made for astonishing reading. Wednesday night’s trip to Goodison Park was Newcastle’s 56th midweek Premier League game (ie. Monday to Friday) since promotion in 2010 and an incredible 38 of those have now been away from home!
Yet, amazingly, the Toon Army’s lust for away trips remains undiminished. With little regard for cost or inconvenience, they still travel in their droves to offer their vocal and passionate support and they were in fine voice once again at Goodison. If only those inside St James’ Park on matchdays were as vociferous in their support (or dislike of our owner).
Blunt Up Front
With so much effort and concentration going into maintaining defensive solidity, Newcastle offered little going forward. On the rare occasions when The Magpies did carve out any chances, they didn’t get enough men into dangerous areas and those who did make it into the box, lacked conviction in their finishing. Here’s looking at you, Christian Atsu!
Although Salomón Rondón did get on the scoresheet, the Venezuelan front man was once again asked to focus more on being the first line of defence rather than leading the line in an attacking sense.
While Ritchie’s suspension and Kenedy’s surprising omission deprived us of our two usual wide men, the sad truth is that neither of them have been particularly impressive so far this season. So, with none of our wingers doing much to aid our cause, the time has surely come to try and inject a bit more creativity into the side by starting Ki and Shelvey together in the middle.
While it could well be argued that the end justifies the means, the very fact that Rafa saw fit to go to Everton and play 5-4-1 in the hope of nicking a result is a sad indictment of a club once affectionately known as ‘The Entertainers’.
We’re now a million miles off the ‘Big Six’ and I think we all recognise that containment is our best policy when facing most of those sides in pursuit of the Champions League places but we’re reaching a whole new level of desperation if we need to go ‘backs to the wall’ and cross our fingers for a result at Goodison Park.
We all need to hope and pray that a takeover happens soon because God only knows how low we’ll sink if we’re forced to live in austerity beyond this season. We really don’t demand a club that wins but how nice it would be to once again have a club that at least tries…
Goals from set-pieces
While we rode our luck at times, it would be difficult to argue that we didn’t deserve to come away from Merseyside with that hard-earned point. The boys kept their shape and their concentration and threw themselves in harm’s way to ensure that we didn’t leave empty-handed.
Indeed, they do the same every week but don’t always have anything to show for it – although Newcastle’s total of just nine goals conceded from open play does at least hint at a well-drilled side who have become fairly adept at withstanding opposition pressure.
Sadly, however, our defending of set pieces leaves a lot to be desired. Richarlison’s equaliser was the 7th goal that the Magpies have conceded from a set piece this season – the league’s joint-second highest, alongside Everton and Southampton and just one below Cardiff.
Stats from BBC Sport:
Everton 1 Newcastle 1
Newcastle: Rondon 19
Everton: Richarlison 38
Possession was Everton 76% Newcastle 24%
Total shots were Everton 19 Newcastle 8
Shots on target were Everton 3 Newcastle 5
Corners were Everton 14 Newcastle 2
Referee: Lee Mason
Dubravka, Yedlin, Schar, Fernandez, Lascelles, Manquillo, Diame, Ki, Murphy (Perez 64), Atsu, Rondon (Joselu 74)
Woodman, Shelvey, Clark, Longstaff, Muto
Crowd: 39,350 (Newcastle 1,700)
(Match ratings from Wednesday night for all NUFC players HERE)
(The instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to the 1-1 draw HERE)