Everton face another tough test on the road as they take on high-flying Newcastle at St James’ Park on Wednesday evening.
The Toffees head north looking to avoid a third successive defeat after Saturday’s 2-0 reverse at Tottenham. The game went pretty much as I expected it too. Everton were never going to be too expansive but needed to take their chances if they were to get anything.
So when Amadou Onana and Demarai Gray spurned decent opportunities in the first half, we all knew what was going to happen next. Dive or not, there was contact by Jordan Pickford on Harry Kane and a player of his experience was never not going to take advantage.
What was disappointing was the failure to even test Tottenham after they went ahead, though we all know our biggest weakness is going forward.
Having re-jigged the midfield and defence Everton under Frank Lampard are much more solid and hard to beat. But with Dominic Calvert-Lewin still inching his way back to fitness they are going to look short of goals.
Thankfully the progress shown from last season means the majority of fans are on board and will accept a few sticky results, though Saturday’s home game with Crystal Palace is already looking pretty important if they trip up here and want to avoid slipping back down among the Premier League strugglers.
After years treading water under Mike Ashley Newcastle are upwardly mobile again thanks to their takeover by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund.
That has sparked plenty of debate of course, and that debate is only going to get louder the more successful the get. There are parallels with Manchester City’s takeover in 2008, with the owners pledging to turn the Magpies into a dominant force.
Whether they can do so in this age of FFP and P&L rules remains to be seen, but their first year in charge has certainly delivered immense progress. After flirting with relegation at the turn of the year Newcastle are now sixth in the table having lost just once so far this campaign – away at Liverpool – and boasting the best defensive record in the division.
They welcome Everton to St James’ Park having lost just once at home in 14 Premier league games since the turn of the year. This is set to be another stern test of Everton’s progress.
Everton 1-0 Newcastle, March 17 2022
One of the most ludicrously bonkers matches of an incredible season. Ten-man Everton snatched victory in the 99th minutes courtesy of an Alex Iwobi strike, with the match having being held up by a protester attaching himself to the Gwladys Street goalpost at the start of the second half.
Frank Lampard has confirmed Mason Holgate is fit to return to the squad after recovering from a knee injury picked up at Brentford in August.
Anthony Gordon is also available after serving a one-match ban at Tottenham.
Yerry Mina is still sidelined after picking up a calf problem in training, but Dominic Calvert-Lewin has shown no ill-effects from his two recent substitute appearances as he continues his return from a knee problem.
What They Said
Everton manager Frank Lampard: “The players have to be robust and keep their confidence.
“We are stronger than we were last season. We’re different.
“At the moment, with the feeling we have, I don’t think we’ll be disrupted by the two defeats. Behind closed doors, can we analyse those games and be better? For sure. But we have to have belief in ourselves.
“Newcastle are a robust, hard-working team and I always admire those attributes in a team. We feel we have those [qualities] as well.
“We know we are steps behind of where they are, but there is a level of optimism around here because people see little shoots of improvement.
“This will be very tough match in front of us. It’s an evening game in front of a tough crowd.
“There will always be a big atmosphere, so let’s show some personality there.”
Newcastle boss Eddie Howe: “They’ve made progress. I’d say the games we had against them last season were both very tight, difficult games for both teams – [there was] not a lot in it. We anticipate a very similar test.
“I think they have improved. They’ve recruited well, and they’ve got a real physical edge to their side now.
“They’ll be threats on transitions, set plays, they’re a physical team, so we’re going to have to stand up to that physical test. But at home, with the crowd, I’d back us to do that.”
This is going to be a huge test against a resurgent side full of confidence in front of a boisterous crowd under the lights. But as Lampard said the green shoots of recovery are there so we should expect a more resilient outfit than we saw so often last season.