Ultimately, this was another blue Monday for Newcastle United. In spite of a stirring second half fight-back, inconsistency stills threatens Alan Pardew’s new order.
In front of the dynamic duo of Mike Ashley and the suddenly interested director of football Joe Kinnear, manager Alan Pardew rolled the dice and – whatever happened in the second period – lost. Three down by half-time, his bold selection calls were made an irrelevance by a 45-minute performance that dipped well below the acceptable level for a group donning black and white.
How Pardew must be ruing that pitiful first-half display because in the second period – buoyed by Yohan Cabaye – they looked like genuine contenders. Had the game gone on for another ten minutes, United would have fancied their chances of pulling off one of the great recoveries in black-and-white history.
It would also have made the trigger-happy bookies who slashed Pardew’s odds of being the next man to lose his job look like incorrigibles. As it is, the second half recovery buys Pardew time but Cardiff is crucial. They cannot afford to replicate any elements of their awful first-half effort if Pardew is to relieve the pressure that is once again building on him.
The team’s inconsistency is more than just a quirk of fate. It cuts to the heart of Pardew’s efforts to re-invigorate this team – with legitimate questions about whether he can encourage them to play to their potential for a sustained period of time. Watching on from the stands, Kinnear and Ashley must recognise their part in the problem. Everton, too, run a prudent ship that has been criticised by their own supporters for frugality.
But they were deft players in the transfer market: importing strength and class in Romelu Lukaku, experience in Gareth Barry and a dash of creativity in James McCarthy. Newcastle’s blundering efforts were led by Kinnear, who had a kitty and a list of recommendations but couldn’t close the deals. When Everton did their business in the final hours of the window, United’s erstwhile director of football had already written off the chances of adding to the squad.
There comes a point where the attention must be trained elsewhere, though. That United were capable of delivering such diverging performances either side of the interval rather undermines the suggestions that this is simply a question of resources.
The revitalised second-half display suggests that these players are good enough and savvy enough to put teams like Everton under pressure. So why did it take a first-half shellacking and a Pardew reshuffle to bring it out of them?
The first 45 minutes were like an unwanted sequel to the opening day horror show at the Etihad. Cabaye wasn’t involved then either but this time it was Pardew’s choice to leave the France midfielder out of his starting line-up as he reacted to the variable form of his most dynamic player by benching him. Papiss Cisse was given similar treatment as Pardew flexed his managerial muscles.
Whatever the composition of the team, Newcastle will not succeed this season if the players on the pitch fail to deliver the basic spirit, application and tenacity that is required of them. With every player below par for 45 minutes, Everton tore into them with an intensity that blew the visitors away.
Their effort was spearheaded by the tremendous Lukaku, mystifyingly loaned out by Chelsea on the final day of the transfer window. Much is made of his physical presence but his fleet feet were equally troubling to Fabricio Coloccini in a first half where the Newcastle skipper just couldn’t get near the Everton new-boy.
He had the ball in the net within seconds of Phil Dowd whistling the start of the match, only to be denied by a correct offside call. Two minutes later he did open his account after Coloccini’s weak back header gave Kevin Mirallas licence to run and cross for the Belgian to apply a confident finish. Questions will surround the contribution of three internationals in the run up to the goal, with Davide Santon, Coloccini and Tim Krul all culpable for the strike.
It set the tone for a porous first-half defensive performance. It has either been a famine or a feast for opposition strikers this season but their back-to-back Premier League clean sheets were a distant memory as Lukaku and the precocious 19-year-old Ross Barkley tore into the Newcastle defence.
Barkley fired Everton’s second after a smart pass from his strike partner but again there were issues surrounding the work of Coloccini and Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa in the centre of Newcastle’s back four.
The third goal – plundered by Lukaku after Tim Howard’s raking long ball bypassed the Newcastle back four – was equally as depressing from a black-and white-perspective.
Half-time brought news that several major bookmakers were slashing the odds on Pardew to be the next Premier League manager to be axed. A combination of the presence of Kinnear and Ashley and United’s capitulation seemed to be bringing the manager’s future back into focus and he desperately needed a response.
Drastic measures were employed with a recall for Cabaye, who played like a man with a serious point to prove. Prompting, provoking and putting his foot into challenges, he was the catalyst for a second half performance that was everything this Newcastle team can be.
Crisp, controlling the possession and with pace and threat, they suddenly looked like equals of a team that expect to challenge for Europe again this season. Yoan Gouffran was freed by Vurnon Anita and clipped the post as Newcastle emerged re-energised. Hopes of a dramatic recovery were sparked when Cabaye unleashed a spectacular 25-yard drive that flew past Howard to give United a whiff of a wonderful comeback.
Everton wobbled and Newcastle pressed. Loic Remy half-volleyed over the crossbar after Cabaye teed up his compatriot and the Goodison Park buzz seemed to evaporate into thin air.
In the last minute, Remy nipped in to score again. He then went agonisingly close with a fizzing drive. Alas, it was too little, too late.