Premier League | St James' Park | Tue 25 Mar | 7:45pm
The slow and unconvincing chase for Europe continues.
Newcastle’s last-gasp win over Crystal Palace on Saturday sent the locals home happy, but it won't have lifted the air of uncertainty hanging heavy over St James' Park. For a club sitting relatively pretty in 8th in the Premier League, and theoretically closer to the Champions League (16 points) than relegation (21 points), all is not well.
- Newcastle 1-0 Palace (Prem)
- Fulham 1-0 Newcastle (Prem)
- Hull 1-4 Newcastle (Prem)
- Newcastle 1-0 Aston Villa (Prem)
- Newcastle 0-4 Spurs (Prem)
- Everton 3-2 Swansea (Prem)
- Everton 2-1 Cardiff (Prem)
- Arsenal 4-1 Everton (FAC)
- Everton 1-0 West Ham (Prem)
- Chelsea 1-0 Everton (Prem)
Yes, European football is still a possibility, albeit in one of the back door Europa League berths that could stretch down to 7th place in the table. But there are more questions than answers around the Toon right now. The half-hearted surrender at Craven Cottage the previous weekend had many questioning the players' commitment – Papiss Cissé's 93rd-minute winner against Palace suggested the players haven’t yet given up on the season.
But with a summer of spectacular upheaval predicted – Loic Remy, Mathieu Debuchy, Tim Krul, Fabricio Coloccini, Steven Taylor, Davide Santon, Cheick Tioté, Papiss Cissé, Shola Ameobi and Luuk de Jong all supposedly on their way out – the future appears uncertain.
Mike Ashley's own commitment and ambition is again being questioned – is the owner content with mid-table mediocrity or is he willing to fund a team capable of consistently chasing Europe? Newcastle's 5th-place finish as recently as 2012 under Alan Pardew showed it can be achieved, but that appears more a happy blip than a statement of intent – Newcastle’s other two finishes since promotion in 2010 read 12th and 16th.
Everton are perhaps the model to aspire to. Their 3-2 win over Swansea took them a step closer to a European place of some kind, but we still don't know which. If they beat Newcastle they could close the gap on Arsenal to five points in the chase for that final Champions League spot. That's too large a chasm to bridge, you'd think, but who knows what effect the Gunners' savaging at Stamford Bridge will have on them? And they still have to visit Goodison.
Everton's first priority will be to leapfrog Tottenham, who stole into 5th place with their 3-2 win over Southampton. A win at St James' would see them swap positions again, but recent form suggests that's unlikely to happen. Roberto Martinez’s men haven't won on the road since beating Swansea last December and since the turn of the year they've taken just two points from 15 away from home.
Their success this season has been built on impressive home form – 18 points from the last 18 and beaten just once (by Sunderland) in the last 24 home games. But don't be fooled by such statistics – it's been a dull grind of late. On Saturday, a comfortable 3-1 lead – albeit against the run of play and without ever convincing – became a sphincter-tightening sweat once Ashley Williams' header pulled it back to 3-2 in the last minute.
That header meant that four of the last five goals Everton have conceded have come from dead-balls situations – their inability to defend against them could yet be their European kryptonite.
Even a team with no manager will have worked out that an aerial bombardment against a team who can’t jump may be its best hope of success, but where Newcastle are concerned, predicting scorelines is a dangerous business. Had they beaten Fulham a fortnight ago, Saturday’s win over Palace would have been their fourth on the bounce – but 'had' is almost as big a word as 'if' in the world of wild conjecture.
They lost to Fulham, just as they had to Sunderland, Chelsea and Spurs. In other words, no-one can say for certain which Toon will turn up, which is why their fans are so disgruntled.
Newcastle are likely to be unchanged from Saturday, with Davide Santon, Gabriel Obertan, Ryan Taylor, Mathieu Debuchy and top scorer Loic Remy all missing out. Everton captain Phil Jagielka could return but Steven Pienaar, Lacina Traore, Brian Oviedo, Darren Gibson and Arouna Kone are all expected to be absent.
Player to watch: Cheick Tioté (Newcastle)
Everything good Newcastle attempt goes through the Ivorian – that oversized forehead of his hides a dangerous, scheming brain. The stats against Crystal Palace are skewed by the fact that they parked up their bus and allowed Newcastle to dominate possession (73% to 27%), but even so, Tioté's 133 passes, 121 of them successful, speaks volume of his tireless influence. Add on his 5 attempts at goal in that game, 1 of which almost broke the crossbar, and you understand how best to nullify Newcastle.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Everton 3-2 N'castle (PL, Sep 13)
- N'castle 1-2 Everton (PL, Jan 13)
- Everton 2-2 N'castle (PL, Sep 12)
- Everton 3-1 N'castle (PL, May 12)
- N'castle 2-1 Everton (PL, Nov 11)
In his first season in a 'big' job, Martinez has steered Everton to the brink of European football with efficiency. But his team doesn't score enough and their inability to defend set-pieces has started to irk.
The Spaniard has spoken of preferring to score goals through open play, which is admirably blinkered in a league where the two top scorers, Manchester City and Liverpool, also top the set-piece statistics. As worrying is the fact Martinez asks his team to defend set-pieces by bringing every outfield player back and crowding the box.
"We need to change things from set-pieces because we keep conceding from them," shrugged Sylvain Distin after the Swansea win, but it's not known if his manager shares that view.
Alan Pardew will sit on his naughty step outside the stadium for the third and final time, after which he’ll begin his four-match touchline ban. So John Carver is again in charge of shouting and gesturing. Having masterminded home wins against Palace on Saturday, Norwich in 2012 and Blackburn in 2004, the gruff Geordie stand-in will be looking to continue his proud and perfect record at St James’.
TIPS & TRENDS
Facts and figures
- The last 6 meetings between these teams have all had at least 3 goals.
- Half of Newcastle’s last 12 games have had fewer than 2 goals.
- Newcastle have failed to win in their last 6 home games against teams placed 3rd-9th as they’ve scored only once.
- Everton have lost only 2 of 13 trips to middle-third sides since the start of last season.
- 10 of Everton’s 14 away matches this season have been goalless at half-time.
Best Bet: Everton by on goal @ 4.25
More FFT Stats Zone facts • Find the best odds with Bet Butler
Honours even, but we wouldn't bet the housekeeping on it. 1-1.