Nolan’s challenge takes Moyes to breaking point

Newcastle United 0 Everton 0
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David Moyes spoke in the minutes before kick-off of the opportunity to cut Arsenal’s five-point lead over Everton to two; but even before half-time the cuts concerning Moyes more were one to Victor Anichebe due to a violent tackle by Newcastle’s Kevin Nolan – for which Nolan was shown a straight red card – and another to Everton’s playmaker Mikel Arteta, who was carried off after only seven minutes with possible knee ligament damage. Thus Everton departed Tyneside scarred, and four points behind Arsenal.

Moyes said he will await results of scans on both Arteta and Anichebe but the early medical information made the Scot a subdued figure. He said he felt his squad had reached “breaking point” prior to these injuries, though Moyes added that Leon Osman and Steven Pienaar should return next week for West Bromwich at home, while Tim Cahill will be back from suspension.

But the loss of Arteta would be a serious disruption at a time of the season when Everton, as Moyes said, are chasing Arsenal in fifth place, and while they remain in the FA Cup.

They already have the unpromising evidence of life without Arteta. Against 10 men for an almost an hour, Everton lacked the guile to dissect a Newcastle United side itself patched-up due to injuries.

Newcastle’s ability to compete on equal terms was then undermined hugely by Nolan’s two-footed lunge at Anichebe. Having been booked 10 times already this season, Nolan now faces an automatic three-game ban and will miss trips to former club Bolton Wanderers on Sunday and then Hull City. In between Newcastle have Manchester United at home.

But having displayed the sense and sensitivity to apologise to Anichebe and Moyes instantly, Nolan removed some of the rancour that would have been present otherwise. “It was undoubtedly a red card and undoubtedly a bad tackle, but I don’t think Kevin Nolan is that type of player,” Moyes said.

Nolan’s dismissal shortly before half-time meant that Newcastle spent the second half in constant defence and tireless running. Sebastian Bassong, who arrived at St James’ Park as a pre-season triallist, has grown in stature as the months have passed and was commanding again yesterday.

Joe Kinnear, who was released on Saturday from hospital following his heart by-pass operation, has championed the French 22-year-old. Bassong has become someone to rely on in a tumultuous season.

Newcastle are still far from safe from relegation but the point lifted them above Portsmouth into 14th place. Supporters, who had gathered in significant numbers in the city centre to demonstrate their ongoing unease with Mike Ashley’s running of the club, will have feared defeat at Nolan’s sending off.

Yet Newcastle could argue that they had created the best chance of the first half, and of the game, when Peter Lovenkrands, a cost-nothing January recruit, was freed by clever passing from Shola Ameobi and Nolan. But, on the edge of the area and unmarked with Tim Howard exposed, Lovenkrands steered a careful shot a yard wide.

It was a chance Michael Owen would have taken. Newcastle confirmed that he has had “a minor groin repair” but hope Owen will be fit for Hull in 19 days’ time.

Newcastle United (4-4-2) Harper; S Taylor, Coloccini, Bassong, Enrique; R Taylor, Nolan, Butt, Duff (Gutierrez, h-t); Ameobi (Martins, 59), Lovenkrands (Smith, 77). Substitutes not used: Krul (gk), Cacapa, Geremi, Viduka.

Everton (4-4-2) Howard; Jagielka, Yobo, Lescott, Baines; Neville, Arteta (Castillo, 7) Rodwell, Gosling (Saha, 74); Anichebe (Fellaini, 45), Jo. Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Jacobsen, Van der Meyde, Wallace, Saha.

Referee: L Mason (Lancashire).

Booked: Everton Fellaini.

Sent off: Newcastle Nolan (44).

Man of the match: Bassong.

Attendance: 47,683.