In the last two seasons, Everton have required dramatic results in the run-in to extricate themselves from the relegation zone. Now they can gaze at the table in December and derive particular satisfaction from it. They are already out of the bottom three, despite being deducted 10 points. Another way of interpreting it is that, but for their controversial punishment for breaching Financial Fair Play regulations, they would be in the top half.
But they have had a terrific week, twin wins, with Dwight McNeil on target against both Nottingham Forest and Newcastle, cancelling out the majority of the biggest points deduction in Premier League history and serving as proof of the spirit in Sean Dyche’s team. McNeil, Abdoulaye Doucoure and Beto condemned Newcastle to their heaviest defeat of the season as Everton surged to 17th.
Certainly it ranked as a fine time to face Newcastle, who showed signs of exhaustion after herculean efforts against Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United, but a game still required winning. And while Everton showed their now characteristic profligacy at Goodison Park, they hammered away until, for the second time in five days, McNeil proved a difference maker.
If many an Everton goal is made in Dyche’s Burnley, there was a twist to their first two. Kieran Trippier, architect of Newcastle’s triumph over Manchester United and a player who improved dramatically at Turf Moor, lost the ball twice. First McNeil robbed him, drove forwards and rifled a shot past Martin Dubravka. Then Jack Harrison capitalised and, while McNeil missed his kick as he attempted to convert the winger’s low cutback, the onrushing Doucoure showed an altogether surer touch.
It brought an eighth victory in 12 games in all competitions for Everton, a run rendered all the more remarkable by their travails in the last two seasons. While they had kicked off as the lowest scorers at home in the Premier League and Dyche may never earn a reputation as one of the game’s great adventurers, his workmanlike team have shown a regular capacity to create a host of chances. They ended up with 21 shots, their persistence rescuing them when a frustrating stalemate beckoned.
Six of those opportunities fell to Calvert-Lewin, whose inability to convert any in part reflected on the one man brought into an otherwise unchanged Newcastle team. Even that alteration was enforced as Eddie Howe began life without Nick Pope, the start of a spell that will last several months. For now, talk of David de Gea or Aaron Ramsdale is just that: Pope’s understudy got his audition for a bigger part in Newcastle’s season.
Dubravka, charged with replacing arguably the outstanding goalkeeper in the Champions League this season, saved twice in swift succession from Calvert-Lewin, holding a header, diving to his right to parry a shot. There were further reprieves when Calvert-Lewin volleyed over from six yards and when he headed over from still closer range. But Dubravka’s night ended with him being nutmegged as Beto scored his first Premier League goal.
By then, Newcastle were wilting. After their full-blooded assault on Manchester United, they were more subdued than usual from the start; perhaps a gameplan was a product of fatigue. Perhaps there are only so many times even this group can go to the well. Howe made two 90th-minute changes but the same 10 outfield players have completed at least 80 minutes in each of four games in 12 days.
In the process, however, Newcastle lost the spark, the dynamism that had propelled them, trying to hang on to parity and pinch a goal. They had a handful of opportunities to rue. Picked out by Joelinton, Miguel Almiron only mustered a tame shot at Jordan Pickford. Alexander Isak headed wastefully wide from six yards, with Trippier almost getting the right kind of assist. At 1-0, Almiron headed on to the roof of the net.
Before then, came a moment that threatened a particular cruelty to Everton. Anthony Gordon latched on to a James Tarkowski error but shot straight at Pickford. The boyhood Evertonian was back and booed, starting at Goodison Park for the first time since refusing to train as he forced a move to Newcastle.
Against him, Dyche deployed two right-backs with a combined age of 73, Ashley Young slotting in ahead of Seamus Coleman as part of a rejig because both James Garner and Amadou Onana were out. Harrison moved to play as a No 10, setting up two chances for Calvert-Lewin and one for McNeil, when the winger shot just wide. Coleman came off before any of the goals were scored but ended his evening beating his chest in front of the Gwladys Street End.
There have been euphoric scenes when Everton escaped the drop zone before, but they have never had to do it in such circumstances.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies