Prior to the Newcastle game, had you known Everton were going to have seven shots on target from twenty attempts, and our opposition would register one attempt on target from ten shots, you could’ve been forgiven for thinking the inevitable 1-1 draw would result. Or worse still, a 1-0 defeat. Two wins in ten for the toffees- for very different reasons, both sides were desperate for some festive cheer on Boxing day…
A first league start for Kevin Mirallas since the opening day of the season against Watford. Mirallas came in for Kone- who had been increasingly looking in need of a rest, and another forgotten man: Aaron Lennon (having played just twenty seven minutes in our previous nine league outings) came in for Gerard Deulofeu, as the game marked the start of the busy festive period. Tom Cleverley continued in midfield, but look how advanced he was, given how deep Newcastle played. Cleverley was particularly good yesterday. He’s not a world beater by any means, he has no real outstanding attributes, but he keeps things moving in the middle of the park. He’s a thoughtful footballer which can be reflected in his three interceptions yesterday: only Funes Mori (who bounced back after a difficult game against Leicester with a very good performance) had more interceptions (4) across both teams than Cleverley. Only the excellent Gareth Barry (79) and John Stones (66) touched the ball more than Cleverley (54)- who found a teammate 91% of the time. A word on another superb performance from Gareth Barry: no player on the pitch made more tackles than Barry (5), which is quite the accomplishment given the 59% possession Everton had on the game. Consider that with the previous stat- his 79 touches: more than anyone else, and you understand his worth to the team. Breaking up play- sniffing out danger and then getting the side moving. Always intelligent in movement to make himself available for a pass, he gives life to this football team.
Given (at the time of writing) we play again tomorrow, I’m just going to keep this short and sweet. We were the better side. Newcastle ‘keeper Rob Elliott had a very good game, making six saves- a couple of which from Romelu Lukaku who will now look to begin another goal scoring streak against Stoke on Monday. Elliot did make a blunder for the dramatic Everton winner: punching poorly from the Deulofeu corner which Cleverley managed to loop back over him and into the net for the winner. Taking an absolute age to get there, defying physics in its agonising flight.
Despite playing well for most of the first half, we didn’t really make too many decent chances. There was a save from Elliott after work on the angle from Kevin Mirallas, but Newcastle created one of the best chances of the first half: Daryl Janmaat clipping a cross in for Aleksandar Mitrovic, only for his header to glance wide with Seamus Coleman tight to him. Lukaku forced a low save from Elliott after a quick counter from the toffees, but the game was finely poised.
Aaron Lennon was a nuisance to Newcastle down their left, our right. A player with a good work ethic and attitude, just perhaps lacking a touch of quality with his end product- but you couldn’t say that yesterday. His performance belied his lack of action. Finding a blue shirt a superb 97% of the time, he buzzed up and down the right hand side with the energetic Seamus Coleman. Lennon put five crosses into the box, most notably in the first half- which Mirallas glanced over after intelligent movement, and into the second when Janmaat managed to block Cleverley’s shot and force a corner. Obviously, Deulofeu is the main man out wide for Everton, but Lennon’s performance was very encouraging given how little action he’s seen since his move from Spurs.
Lennon forced another decent low save from Elliott, as well as Lukaku into the second half. The pace of the front three was a threat on the break and you always felt there was a chance of a winner: it just had a sense of occasion. Coming ten seconds from the end, a Christmas miracle. A clean sheet, a goal from a set piece, and someone else conceding the header. We’ve needed a result like this, and hopefully it can be a springboard now- especially as it seems nobody wants to break into the champions league places this year. Nobody has scored more goals in the league from 75 minutes on than Everton(10)- the team keeps fighting to the end- we have to keep fighting to the end of the season.
A final word for the Everton defence and ‘keeper… I’ve been plenty critical of both, they haven’t performed well enough. But if they can manage to keep a couple more clean sheets going forwards, we always have a goal in us. Mitrovic missed the best chance of the game- a header from a cross out wide, but we deserve our luck in the context of the season. Howard had a good game, making a good save at his front post from a Newcastle header, but he did well on crosses, and was a lot more assured yesterday. Stoke will provide a much sterner test on Monday, but we need no more motivation to get on a run than a glance at the league table. Up the toffees.