Monday, September 25, 2006

"Dear Barry, Merry Christmas, love Glenn"

Newcastle Utd 1 - 1 Everton

It could - and perhaps should - have been better but, for the fact that we managed to garner a point at all, we should be thankful to Barry Sygmuta.

After the horrible 2-1 defeat to Fulham a fortnight ago, we couldn't afford another poor loss at home, but a previously unbeaten Everton side certainly weren't going to make it easy.

Titus Bramble returned from injury to take his place alongside Craig Moore in central defence, with Peter Ramage reverting to left back in place of the suspended Celestine Babayaro. Meanwhile, an injury to Damien Duff meant that Charles N'Zogbia was also restored to the side in his favourite position on the left side of midfield.

We started well with N'Zogbia and James Milner threatening on the flanks and Scott Parker soon imposing himself in the middle of the park in front of the watching England boss Steve McClaren. All the same, our goal owed a great deal to extraordinarily benevolent refereeing.

Roeder later claimed "We obviously prepare and watch the opposition and I noticed that on a few games recently Everton came screaming out on wide free-kicks", but the fact of the matter is that, from Emre's 13th minute dead ball, they executed it perfectly - only for assistant referee Sygmuta to forget about the existence of the offside rule and leave Shola Ameobi to shoot past Tim Howard. It's a measure of quite how far offside Ameobi was that he had time to pause and turn to look for a flag before hitting the shot. In the absence of that flag, referee Steve Bennett had little option but to award a goal.

Ameobi's afternoon was curtailed by injury shortly afterwards, number 23 leaving the pitch to great applause in the 23rd minute to be replaced by Antoine Sibierski. What ensued was a fast-paced and fluent game of football, with both sides showing more attacking intent than defensive discipline. Joleon Lescott came closest for Everton with a header, while Scott Parker nearly rounded off a great bit of Toon interplay with a goal, bursting into the box only to see his lob tipped wide by Timmy Tourettes.

Parker was putting in another typically committed all-action display, but, as Lee Dixon pointed out later on 'Match Of The Day 2', when Everton's equaliser came four minutes before the break it was Parker who was at least partly culpable. Having partially cleared a corner, he then lost his bearings, allowing Mikael Arteta acres of space to cross onto the head of the unmarked Tim Cahill. Steve Harper may have been embarrassed by Xabi Alonso in midweek, but there was nothing he could have done about this.

That ended the scoring, but the second half was even more open and dynamic than the first. Obafemi Martins continued to look dangerous but just couldn't produce the finish, denied on one notable occasion by Howard's chest, and Milner terrified Nuno Valente down the right wing, but Sibierski was poor at best. Everton posed a significant threat on the break, and though Andrew Johnson had few sights of goal he did worry our back line every time he got the ball.

After a confident start Bramble was looking increasingly nervous, and it was he who received the game's first red card in the 75th minute. His name had already been taken when he stupidly lunged into a challenge on the edge of our penalty area, flattening Leon Osman. In many ways it was an act of kindness on Bennett's part - kind for Bramble himself and kind for us fans too. That said, we might have been left cursing Bramble's foolishness had Tony Hibbert not got his marching orders for two bookable offences just two minutes later.

Roeder had been readying Guiseppe Rossi to come on before Bramble's red and was then ready to throw Steven Taylor into the fray before Hibbert's dismissal convinced him to revert to his original plan. The on-loan striker took a while to get a touch but looked very lively, forcing a couple of half-decent saves from Howard, and though Everton also had one or two late openings through Osman (denied by Harper) we were probably the more disgruntled supporters at the final whistle.

So, six games in and we have seven points, a tally that is unlikely to rise with next weekend's match against Man Utd. Worringly, we took 13 points from the corresponding games last season. The Liverpool game aside, all the others are matches we would have been disappointed not to have won. And most worrying is the fact that our defence is once again sphincter-looseningly lax - just in time for the trip to the DevilBowl...

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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