Newcastle lined up in a 4-3-3 with Cisse through the middle, Ben Arfa high up the pitch and Marveaux deeper with more defensive responsibility to drop and support the right side to shut down Baines/Pienaar. Everton were pretty much as you’d expect with Neville in for Gibson and Mirallas starting in place of Naismith who had been on the periphery of the action in his first league starts.
The game again showcased the interplay between Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar; unquestionably the most lethal left side in the top flight. In total they made 33 combinations and created 7 chances with a goal and two assists. It was surprising that Pardew opened up in a 4-3-3 given that with our width we usually prosper against sides deploying a narrow 3 man midfield (our games vs Ancelloti’s Chelsea sides are a good example of this). It was doubly peculiar given that Perch was given an absolute chasing in the last game of the season here when Pardew had to take him out of the firing line at half time as happened again here.
With Gutierrez ball watching and his run not checked, Baines exploited the alley between fullback and centre half to lash home the game’s opening goal after a great one two with the South African schemer.
With Distin picking up Cisse, Jagielka was often left with no man to mark and with Gibson injured this was crucial. The centre back was able to step out of defence unmarked and distribute to the flanks in the way the former Man Utd man has made his trademark since joining the club. The below image shows this;
The thought at half time was that despite our dominance of the game, one goal wasn’t really much to show for it and wouldn’t be enough for three points given that Newcastle had carved us open a couple of times at the end of the half.
Newcastle 4-3-3 becomes 4-4-2
Pardew had by now seen the error of his ways and went 4-4-2 for the second half, sending on Ba and taking Perch (by now on a yellow card) out of the Bainaar firing line and into midfield with the more mobile Anita and Gutierrez in front of him tasked with shutting down our left side.
Whereas before with no real target man, Newcastle tried to play out from the back and were more often thwarted by our pressure high up field, with Ba on the pitch they had the option to play longer balls in behind which they did excessively – and very effectively – with 27% of their total passes going long. After the break their long balls attempted went up by 33% and crucially there was a 20% increase in those finding a man now they had someone capable of holding the ball up. It was the second most long balls attempted by a team in a top flight game this season.
This is by no means dismissing our visitors as a long ball side; they were the better team in the second half and the ‘out- ball’ of Ba enabled them to hold things up in our half and get more of a foot hold in the game. Whereas in the first period Jagielka was able to step out of defence he was now occupied with Ba pushed right up. With the service drying up, Baines and Pienaar created just 2 chances in the second period after 5 in the first 45 mins. The below shows how Newcastle’s switch to 2 strikers occupies both centre backs and forced Howard to go long more in the second half.
Newcastle’s first equaliser came about when Cabaye capitalised on a rare poor touch from Leon Osman to thread a superb pass to Ba who slotted past a strangely wrong footed Tim Howard who will feel he could have done a lot better. Although the volume of Baines forward forays had been reduced his mate Pienaar was still causing havoc and his lovely through pass was gleefully cushioned home by Fellaini in what the home side thought was a clear goal before being chalked off in the officials opening gambit of buffoonery.
Victor Anichebe had come on for Jelavic and in fairness he did everything that was asked of him to the best of his ability; he held the ball up ok and occupied Newcastle’s defence as much as he could and linked up with the wide forwards. Mirallas too showed he had plenty of graft to compliment the significant craft in his game. If anything his commitment was a tad too much and he made 7 fouls which was the most of any player on the pitch.
Anichebe should have got off the mark shortly after as he headed in from a set piece which following some aerial pin ball in the Newcastle box. Again the goal was chalked off for only going 1 yard over the line. To compound the official’s woes, the free kick which led to Anichebe’s ‘no-goal’ was also an incorrect decision. Jones had completely lost control of the game by this point and the way he pulled play back following Newcastle’s immediate break up field (which looked likely to yield a goal) was a clear admission of guilt for his calamitous actions that preceded it.
Unperturbed, the much maligned Anichebe kept his composure shortly after to slot a class strike past the static Harper, courtesy of another cute assist from the diminutive Pienaar’s back catalogue of impish brilliance. With the second goal the Blues had been relentlessly searching for finally in the bag our usually resolute defence again failed to deal with a long ball up field. Ameobi demonstrated superb chest touch to trap the ball in the air and supply Ba who slotted past Howard. In the build up to the stoppage time goal Fellaini had dropped deep into the DMC position and thus vacated his AMC role which meant there was no pressure on the ball up field. With Fellaini caught under the ball we were left two on two. You could perhaps point the finger at Jagielka for not challenging Ameobi or Distin’s lack of anticipation.
Against a major rival and with the significant personnel they had missing it was hard to look at the game as anything but two points lost. The display was excellent however and it’d be harsh to apportion blame in what was a committed display interspersed with some superb passing football by the Toffees against a very capable side.