It is the measure of the brouhaha surrounding Eric Cantona that the League leaders playing the FA Cup holders could be relegated to a warm- up act. No matter, Newcastle United may have taken second billing yesterday but they reinforced their first place in the Premiership.
Goals from Les Ferdinand, Robert Lee and Paul Kitson ensured that even Old Trafford's enfant terrible could not entirely obliterate Newcastle from the attention. Indeed there was plenty to suggest that Manchester United, along with the other championship contenders, will find that a recurring problem.
Certainly Everton could not live with them yesterday. Last season the Merseysiders defeated Newcastle twice at Goodison but, apart from a 90- second spell early in the first half when they could have scored three times, they were inferior. Even their goal, scored by Anders Limpar, had consolation (not to mention offside) stamped right through it.
"They are a terrific side," Joe Royle, the Everton manager, said, "and if they maintain that form, particularly away from home, they have every chance of winning the title. Ferdinand is the difference. He not only scores but he wins everything in the air."
Everton's chance to win their first League match in four outings came and went in the eighth and ninth minutes. Tony Grant hit the bar with a chip and Paul Rideout forced Shaka Hislop to tip a fierce drive over but the opportunity that will linger in Royle's nightmares was the free header that Dave Watson had from the resulting corner. He rose on his own but headed over from six yards.
The price for such profligacy became apparent within two minutes. Ferdinand, who gave a colossal performance, collected the ball 40 yards out, swept past Dave Watson and then beat Neville Southall with a low shot from 20 yards as David Unsworth and Earl Barrett backed away.
That was Ferdinand's 100th goal of his career and after 25 minutes he should have made it 101 when David Ginola, filling Peter Beardsley's giver- and-taker role, set him free. He swerved round Southall and then stalled as he turned to score, tripping over the ball instead of turning it into the net.
Any suggestion that Everton, whose line-up was more appropriate for defending a lead than chasing it, would be reprieved disappeared after 59 minutes. Ginola chested down a loose ball and as he advanced into the area he was bundled over by a combination of Unsworth and Barrett. Lee sent Southall the wrong way with the penalty.
When Kitson made it -0, bundling in Warren Barton's cross after 65 minutes, the situation seemed ripe for the rout of Everton but as Newcastle relaxed, blue began to gain parity with black and white and with nine minutes remaining Limpar scored after first shooting against Hislop.
''We looked like a team that believes we can win things," Kevin Keegan, the Newcastle manager, said. "Last year we looked like a team that never thought we would."
Everton (4-4-2): Southall; Barrett, Watson, Unsworth, Hinchcliffe; Ebbrell, Parkinson (Limpar, h-t), Horne, Grant; Stuart, Rideout. Substitutes not used: Kearton (gk), Short.
Newcastle United (4-4-2): Hislop; Barton, Peacock, Howey, Beresford; Gillespie (Watson, 77), Lee, Clark, Sellars; Ferdinand, Ginola (Kitson, 64). Substitute not used: Srnicek (gk).
Referee: K Cooper (Pontypridd).