The last time Everton won at St James' Park, on Boxing Day 1986, they went on to lift the championship. For 74 minutes last night, Joe Royle could feel the lifting of the managerial noose which has tightened around his neck of late.
Then, in 16 agonising minutes, the Everton manager saw his team snatch an unlikely defeat from the jaws of what ought to have been a comfortable victory. Newcastle, booed off at half-time, scored four times and Royle was left with the sudden reality of a sixth successive Premiership defeat, equalling the worst losing run in Everton's history.
It was the cruellest of defeats, too, as the Everton manager lamented. "It certainly wasn't a 4-1," he said. "But that's the way things have been going for us."
Things went so much Everton's way in the first half that the home players were booed off at the break. With Neville Southall dropped, for the first time in 14 years, and Nick Barmby also on bench duty, Everton took the lead in the third minute. Gary Speed struck a 20-yard free-kick past Shaka Hislop and Newcastle's play was so ponderous, from back to front, Royle's men should have won with goals to spare.
As it was, Duncan Ferguson missed three clear chances and Faustino Asprilla was summoned from the substitutes' bench to spark Newcastle to life. The Colombian played no part in the equaliser, a 10-yard shot by Les Ferdinand after 74 minutes, but inspired the wave of attacking creativity that swept Kenny Dalglish's side to victory.
He crossed from the right for Robert Lee to volley Newcastle's second goal, with 10 minutes left, then earned the 84th-minute penalty - drawing a foul from Claus Thomsen - that Alan Shearer converted for his 20th goal of the season. Robbie Elliott made it 4-1 with a scrambled effort in injury time.
Thus Royle returned to Merseyside contemplating a high pressure afternoon when Stuart Pearce brings his Nottingham Forest team to Goodison on Saturday.
"The scoreline probably flattered us," Dalglish conceded, "but I'm very grateful for it." More than anything else, the Newcastle manager had reason to be grateful to Asprilla. It was the South American's first appearance since Metz were beaten in the Uefa Cup at St James' two months ago. He performed a similar rescue act that night and can be sure of figuring in Dalglish's plans.
Newcastle United (4-4-1): Hislop; S Watson, Peacock, Albert, Elliott; Gillespie (Barton, 86), Batty, Lee, Beardsley (Asprilla, 57); Ferdinand, Shearer. Substitutes not used: Clark, Ginola, Srnicek (gk).
Everton (3-5-1-1): Gerrard; D Watson, Unsworth, Short (Grant, 27; Rideout, 81); Barrett, Thomsen, Parkinson, Speed, Phelan; Stuart; Ferguson. Substitutes not used: Barmby, Allen, Southall (gk).
Referee: M Riley (Leeds).Reuse content