Everton’s fifth league defeat in six games will do nothing to settle the growing sense of frustration at Goodison Park as they once again succumbed to a combination of slack defending and dull forward-play.
Johnny Heitinga’s horrendous attempt at clearing an ominous looking Danny Simpson cross in the 12th minute, made all the more agonising following Seamus Coleman’s miss-hit at the opposite end of the pitch moments before, set the tone for Everton’s day and epitomises their season thus far. Heitinga, who despite playing in a World Cup final for the Netherlands at centre-back, has never looked convincing in that position during his time in England and struggled to deal with the physical power of Newcastle’s Leon Best in the early stages of the game.
It was to get worse for Everton though, as Jack Rodwell’s clearance from a long Newcastle throw-in wasn’t followed out urgently enough, leaving boyhood Liverpool fan Ryan Taylor to fire home a beautiful effort from the edge of the Everton box on the half-hour mark.
Everton then responded by creating a number of chances as Osman and Rodwell both beat the offside trap but ultimately lacked the poise to truly test Newcastle’s Tim Krul, whilst Louis Saha will also have been left frustrated to see a decent effort hit the post shortly after.
In the dying embers of the first half Jack Rodwell’s conversion of a Royston Drenthe corner-kick gave Everton a psychological boost over Alan Pardew’s men at the break; however this was reversed when Newcastle’s Dan Gosling handled Louis Saha’s goal-bound effort inside the penalty area early in the second half. Referee Andre Mariner was possibly in a bad position to give the decision and instead awarded a corner-kick, though from this point Everton’s forward play became increasingly unimaginative and never looked like it could penetrate a stubborn Newcastle defence.
In addition, and perhaps most frustratingly for David Moyes, Everton’s back-four were a much more solid defensive unit with the presence of Sylvain Distin during the second half after Heitinga had moved into midfield to replace the injured Phil Neville just before the half-time break. The outcome of the game may have been different if Distin, returning from injury, was risked from the onset.
Following the match against Manchester United last weekend today’s result means that Everton are again left to rue another game in which lapses in concentration at the back and wastefulness in attack has cost them valuable points. Everton’s frustrating performances this season will leave Moyes desperate to strengthen his squad in January as the absence of a Mikel Arteta or Stephen Pienaar type figure, with the vision able to add a more rewarding attacking fluidity to their play, is becoming increasingly lamented at Goodison Park. This is emphasised by Everton’s goal-per-game rate in the league standing at an underwhelming 1.10 ratio (thanks statto.com!). In seasons past David Moyes’s consistently dependable defence could convert such a ratio into positive results more often than not, notably so in the 2004-05 season in which Everton’s 4th place finish owed much to the many 1-0 wins during that season. Times have changed however as Everton have failed to keep a clean-sheet now in eight consecutive league games, thus making their miss-firing forwards all the more significant.
In contrast, Alan Pardew’s Newcastle United side are going from strength to strength in a manner which is reminiscent of Everton’s over-achievement in 2004-05 and credit must go to both Pardew and his players as many, including myself, had backed them to struggle this season. Manchester City will certainly relish the visit of the Toon Army next week at Eastlands in what promises to be an interesting encounter in an increasingly exciting season.