Kevin Keegan might be resigned to a fate among the also-rans but Everton alone have given the Premier League aristocrats a run for their money this season and they were rewarded for that yesterday with the Uefa Cup place that Aston Villa had threaten to steal.
Keegan took an ironic swipe at those who have questioned his view of the Premier League's predictability – "I'm now convinced by so many people who know the game that I was wrong," he said. "I thought [it was all about] the same four teams. I'll have to check my record books."
However, he proclaimed Everton as the "inspiration" every side should look up to. "They have 30-odd thousand gates here, not a massive squad, good investment in the summer – they haven't not invested but they've invested wisely and I think [fifth] is a terrific situation."
Money does make a difference, of course. The £11.25m David Moyes paid out for Yakubu has, along with assiduous man-management of the striker, delivered 21 goals – Yakubu's highest tally in a season. The Nigerian yesterday became Everton's first 20-a-season man since Peter Beardsley, 16 years ago.
There had been no penalties in Yakubu's tally until Stephen Taylor tripped Leon Osman late on here and the first League spot-kick awarded to Everton this season delivered their sign-off goal. "Yak's had his dips but how important were those 21 goals?" Moyes asked.
The afternoon was also a statement about what modest financial means can deliver. Keegan justifiably listed Joleon Lescott, another pre-season acquisition by the Goodison club, as a reason why Everton should be admired and the defender's left-foot tap-in from one of many exquisite crosses from Manuel Fernandes took his season's tally to 10 – a target the shrewd Moyes had set him.
Though the route through to Europe seemed set fair early on, Everton cruising into a 1-0 lead through Yakubu's thumping header from Fernandes' cross, the storm clouds gathered in more ways than one after the break. Aston Villa went ahead at West Ham and 37 seconds after the restart Joseph Yobo body-checked Charles N'Zogbia. Michael Owen put his penalty under Tim Howard's body.
The decisive weapon was Fernandes, who delivered two impeccable crosses before furnishing Everton with a third which arrived at Lescott's feet via the top of Taylor's head. Taylor's clumsy challenge on Leon Osman which delivered Everton their penalty concluded a bad afternoon for him.
"I would rather have that... walking on the pitch with the cup," said Moyes, gesturing at television images coming in from Wigan. He said he was "relaxed" about a con-versation with his chairman, Bill Kenwright, probably on Thursday, which might tell him how much he has to spend. "Next year it will be different. There will be a lot of other clubs who will want to be fifth as well," he said.
Keegan's assertions about the meeting he had with Newcastle's owner, Mike Ashley, on Friday seemed less convincing. "You shouldn't doubt a chairman's statement. You know [the meeting] took place and you know it's very very good because a statement's been put out," he said.
Goals: Yakubu (27) 1-0; Owen pen (46), 1-1; Lescott (70) 2-1. Yakubu pen (81) 3-1.
Everton (4-4-2) Howard; Neville, Jagielka, Yobo (Baines, 84), Lescott; Fernandes, Carsley (Rodwell, 90), Osman, Pienaar; Anichebe (Gravesen, 84), Yakubu. Substitutes not used: Wessels (gk), Gosling.
Newcastle United (4-4-2): Harper; Beye, Taylor (Ramage, 90), Faye (Cacapa, 45) Enrique (Lua Lua, 78); Duff, Butt, Smith N'Zogbia; Owen, Carroll. Substitutes not used: Forster (gk), Tozer.
Referee: P Walton (Northamptonshire).
Bookings: Newcastle Duff, Smith
Man of the Match: Fernandes.