Everton look fools at court of King Arfa

Everton 0, Newcastle United 1: Newcastle find new darling while Moyes' men produce little to admire
Click to follow
The Independent Football

The club that Sir Alex Ferguson pronounced a dark horse for this year's Premier League resemble nothing so much as Sariska, the elegant winner of last year's Oaks and Irish Oaks who was retired this month after twice refusing to leave leave her starting stall.

This season's campaign has yet to complete the first furlong but David Moyes' side, traditionally slow starters, are plodding behind the pack. The explosion of joy that engulfed Goodison after two injury-time goals snatched back a point from Manchester United, was replaced by a sullen anger. There were four minutes of stoppage time yesterday and but for a post that blocked Yakubu Aiyegbeni's shot, they would have found another equaliser, although this one would not have been merited.

"I would have booed after that performance," Moyes said. "The fans came expecting us to play and the players need to stand up and be counted. Newcastle deserved their victory; I have no qualms about it.

"The whole team failed to function and a lot of our good players didn't perform. It was lacklustre; we had no real chances until 90 minutes were done. Give Newcastle credit; they came, they stifled, they did their job."

Not since the start of the 1994-95 season have Everton failed to win any of their first five matches. Kevin Keegan's Newcastle began that campaign with six straight wins and by the time the season was done, Everton had won a trophy – the FA Cup – while Newcastle failed even to qualify for Europe.

The strangeness of football endures. Last Saturday, after Everton had overturned a 3-1 deficit against Manchester United in stoppage time, Newcastle had faced Blackpool at St James' Park and lost 2-0.

Their manager, Chris Hughton, admitted yesterday that under those circumstances Goodison Park, where Everton had not lost in the League since the Merseyside derby 10 months ago, was not a venue he looked forward to visiting with any real confidence. Newcastle responded with a display of enormous energy and spirit of the kind that they notably failed to deliver for their icon, Alan Shearer, as they slid towards relegation.

Newcastle crowds demand several things as the price of their love. They expect hard work but they relish the sort of skill displayed by Hatem Ben Arfa, a wayward child of French football, whose record of onfield brilliance and off-pitch indiscipline makes him a footballer born to play for Newcastle.

His goal, delivered from 25 yards, was emphatic enough to win any game of football. It struck the net beneath the Gwladys End, whose advertising hoardings displayed black and white engravings of the Everton team. They looked down like busts of dead Roman emperors on a scene of chaos.

Ben Arfa played with skill and increasing swagger; taking down Joey Barton's overhit free-kick when surrounded by blue shirts as if football were suddenly awarding marks for artistic merit.

Newcastle might have won more comfortably. Aside from a muscular header from Phil Jagielka that whistled past the post, Everton were hounded and harried almost until the final whistle and those like Everton's one-time midfield hero, Peter Reid, for whom the art of the tackle has been irredeemably lost, would have had their faith somewhat restored.

The tackle by Seamus Coleman on Kevin Nolan midway through the second half as he met Ben Arfa's pass was dreadfully timed and should have been answered by a penalty. It was not the only mistimed challenge.

In the first half, Jermaine Beckford, who might have joined Newcastle in the summer, slid in just as Steve Harper was preparing to make a clearance. The challenge was stupid and unnecessary rather than malicious and left Newcastle's goalkeeper with shoulder ligament damage.

His replacement was Tim Krul, whose career sums up the lot of reserve goalkeepers. He signed for Newcastle from Den Haag four years ago and this was his first Premier League game, though he had appeared against Palermo in the days when Newcastle appeared in the Uefa Cup and had performed minor heroics. Until he gathered Yakubu's rebound from the foot of the post in stoppage time, Krul was asked to do nothing risky, let alone heroic. And that surely was the measure of Everton's defeat.