Everton's collective confound doubters and seal fourth

Everton 2 - Newcastle United 0
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The Independent Football

For Everton's players it is a familiar refrain. They turn up at away grounds and the home supporters break into "Champions' League, you're having a laugh". They hear it so often, they could be forgiven for thinking it is the new club song.

For Everton's players it is a familiar refrain. They turn up at away grounds and the home supporters break into "Champions' League, you're having a laugh". They hear it so often, they could be forgiven for thinking it is the new club song.

Today the laughs are hollow. Everton, the team everyone expected to plummet from fourth place, are in the Champions' League and the doubters have been confounded. Having lost their two best players, Wayne Rooney and Thomas Gravesen, it is an achievement on a par with Chelsea winning the Premiership and Liverpool getting within touching distance of the European Cup.

"We have been mocked up and down the country, but we have proved we've got good players here," Kevin Kilbane, a winger who epitomises Everton's transformation from journeymen, said. "We haven't done it the easy way. There have been a lot of times where if we'd won a game we'd have been x points clear and we didn't. But we've always felt we'll win the next game."

The theme of resilience was taken up by David Moyes, who ought to be manager of the season. He joined the lap of honour, noted it was the first time he had done the Goodison circle "without my face tripping me up" and then luxuriated in a massive improvement from last season. "To come from 17th to fourth is a big turnaround," he said. "When you are fourth in September and stay there when people are saying you're not good enough and your squad isn't big enough, it is an achievement."

If Moyes wants to show his grandchildren how his players made the most of relatively little, he could do worse than show them a tape of this match. Everton did not play well, could have been three down at half-time, yet won easily. It is like watching 11 escapologists, who repeatedly bound free from straitjackets you are certain are too secure.

Newcastle's Darren Ambrose, James Milner and Patrick Kluivert, who has announced he will be heading to one of a number of Spanish clubs who wish to sign him in the summer, squandered opportunities before David Weir put Everton ahead with a diving header two minutes before half-time.

Graeme Souness, the Newcastle manager, was furious that Barry Knight, the refereewho was also in charge when team-mates Kieron Dyer and Lee Bowyer fought each other last month, had awarded the free-kick that led to Weir's goal. "I felt that was a game we were going to win," he said. "My frustration is towards the referee. He has not been kind to us in the last two games and that is an understatement."

Maybe Jean Alain Boumsong was judged harshly when he brought down Marcus Bent, but Souness should also direct his anger towards his defenders who allowed Weir a free header at the back post. And, while he is doing his top, he could also turn his attention to Shola Ameobi, who added to Newcastle's miserable disciplinary record, by getting sent off for clipping Tim Cahill, who scored Everton's second goal soon afterwards, round the back of the head. "There are no superstars here," Weir, the captain, said. "We realise it's the collective effort that has got us where we are. You could pick five or six as players of the year in this team." Six players of the season? A case of go fourth and multiply if ever there was one.

Goals: Weir (43) 1-0; Cahill (59) 2-0.

Everton (4-4-2): Martyn; Hibbert, Weir, Yobo, Watson; Carsley, Cahill (Stubbs, 85), Arteta, Kilbane; Bent (McFadden, 74), Ferguson (Beattie, 62). Substitues not used: Wright (gk), Pistone.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Carr (Ramage, h-t), Boumsong, Bramble, Babayaro; Milner (Shearer, 83), Ambrose, Jenas, N'Zogbia; Ameobi, Kluivert. Substitutes not used: Harper (gk), O'Brien, Robert.

Referee: B Knight (Kent).

Bookings: Everton: Arteta, Cahill, Carsley. Newcastle: Kluivert.

Sent off: Newcastle: Ameobi (56).

Man of the match: Arteta.

Attendance: 40,438.

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