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Venue: St James's Park, Newcastle
Premier League
 Saturday 26 December 2015; 5:30pm
0 1
Half Time: 0-0
Cleverley 90' + 3
Attendance: 51,682
Fixture 18
Referee: Lee Mason

Match Report

This is how it was supposed to feel after Bournemouth. The elation of a last-minute winner; three vital away points and a psychological platform on which to build after a tough run of fixtures over the first quarter of the season.

That game at Vitality Stadium marked, of course, the first of four matches which Everton absolutely should have won but just couldn't get themselves over the line, leaving the club in the bottom half of the table at kick-off for the late afternoon game in the northeast. This one looked to be the heading towards the same frustrating conclusion of a draw until Tom Cleverley intervened with the last meaningful touch of the game.

True to recent form, the Blues' territorial superiority and dominance of possession had largely dissipated by the final 20 minutes of the contest and it was anyone's game at that point. That had allowed Newcastle a shot at winning a match in which they had mostly been second best for long periods.

Steve McClaren's strategy of allowing Everton the ball and hoping to catch the visitors on the counter attack hadn't proved successful in the first half and the only time they really threatened Tim Howard's goal was when Daryl Janmaat a player who benefitted from referee Lee Mason's lenience when he escaped a cast iron second yellow card crossed for Aleksander Mitrovic but the Serbian couldn't make a proper connection with his head.

At other end, Everton's attractive football and purposeful movement lent them an air of complete control over proceedings but they struggled to fashion clear-cut opportunities. Neat control by Kevin Mirallas, handed a starting berth in place of Arouna Kone, saw him bring down an early cross and force the first of a number of saves by Rob Elliot from a tight angle.

The Belgian's second effort from a more central position 18 yards from goal was more routine but the Newcastle goalkeeper had to be alert to beat away a low drive from Romelu Lukaku shortly after the striker appeared to have earned a clear penalty when he was dragged down in the six-yard box by Fabricio Coloccini. Not surprisingly, Mason had either not seen the incident or chose not to award a spot kick.

The pattern established in the first period continued into the second where it was Everton who continued to carry the greater threat. John Stones and Ramiro Funes Mori were comfortable in defence and were even afforded license to roam forward from time to time, while Seamus Coleman was able to regularly raid down the right in support of Aaron Lennon who had been preferred to Gerard Deulofeu.

In midfield, Gareth Barry continued to be the age-defying mobile linchpin that he has been for so much of the season, ably assisted by Cleverley's energy and Ross Barkley's mercurial probing from deep behind Mirallas and Lukaku. The latter Belgian was searching for the goal that would have matched Bill Dean's record of scoring in nine successive games in all competitions and he looked a good bet to do so when he rolled Chancel Mbemba impressively and drove on Elliot's goal but, once again, the 'keeper was equal to it and made an excellent save with his leg.

Lennon, too, was foiled by Elliot who denied him with a one-handed save as the Blues continued to press for a winner that didn't look like it was going to come. The former Spurs winger made way for Deulofeu shortly afterwards, with Barkley being replaced, somewhat surprisingly, by Muhamed Besic but neither substitution prevented the relative parity in the two team's respective performances heading into the final 20 minutes of the game.

Ayoze Perez dragged a shot narrowly wide from 18 yards, Georginio Wijnaldum might have scored were it not for excellent positioning from Howard who parried his shot on the line, and Mitrovic probably should have scored but somehow headed wide from the Dutch midfielder's chipped centre.

At the other end, Ramiro Funes Mori's downward header was batted away off his goal line by Elliot and Coleman flashed a left-footer wide as the Blues pushed for a late winner but the two sides seemed destined to share the spoils from an entertaining but goalless draw until Everton sprang away from their own penalty area on the break.

Lukaku was fed the ball in the middle of the park and some distance from goal but, defying the heavy pitch which had taken a visible toll on the players by this stage of proccedings, he surged into the Magpies' box, was able to drag it away from Paul Dummett's challenge but was denied at the last by a superb covering tackle by Mbemba.

Deulofeu swung in the resulting corner, Elliot made arguably his first and most costly error of the game by punching straight to Cleverley and the midfielder sent the ball back into the top corner from 16 yards with a looping header to spark jubilation on the pitch and high in the stands among the travelling Evertonians. Finally, justice in terms of the balance of play had been done and Everton had handed their fans a nice Christmas present.

If the Bournemouth draw bore the hallmarks of the kind of result that Martinez might have referred back to at the end of the season as a psychological blow from which his players never recovered, the manner in which his charges won this game will hopefully feel like redemption and a new lease on life in terms of morale. A victory now over a much-improved Stoke side which looks to be gelling well after initial teething problems with Mark Hughes's new signings would dramatically improve the Blues' prospects and optimism heading into the New Year.

Lyndon Lloyd

Match Preview

Having enjoyed the last three Boxing Days at home, Everton have been handed a trip back to the northeast for this year's post-Christmas fixture to face improving Newcastle United at St James's Park.

The Blues have been pit against the same two teams to close out the year as in 2014 but in reverse order, with Stoke City the visitors to Goodison Park on Monday.

Roberto Martinez will, of course, be hoping for a very different outcome this time around. Last year, the defeats to the Potters and the Magpies represented the middle of an awful run of four straight defeats over the festive period that represented the real examination of the Catalan's tenure. At the time, there were fears that Everton could get sucked into a relegation dogfight but the ship was eventually righted and Martinez steered his side to an eleventh-place finish.

This year, Martinez is facing another stern test of his managerial abilities; the goal drought and dysfunction in the attacking side of his squad has been addressed with better service to Romelu Lukaku the Belgian was dropped for this fixture last year and a welcome return to form from the striker but defensive frailties and an inability to press home their superiority means that the Blues are under-achieving now for different reasons.

A match-up with Newcastle would have been most welcome a month ago when Steve McClaren's side were a directionless shambles but having won two of their last three since being hammered 5-1 by Crystal Palace including wins at Tottenham and over Liverpool at home have lifted them out of the bottom three and eased the pressure on their manager.

Despite that growing confidence, though, they remain vulnerable at the back and have a propensity to crumble under pressure which is something that Everton can target with the kind of strong start they made at Norwich. The key then, of course, will be to finish the job off by remaining tight at the back and keeping the likes of Georginio Wijnaldum, Ayoze Perez and Aleksander Mitrovic quiet. The Serb is almost certain to start given that Papisse Cisse looks likely to be ruled out with a hamstring injury.

Martinez, meanwhile, will likely name a similar side to the one that lost at Leicester last week but he could also be open to some changes as he searches for the key to turning recent performances into wins. James McCarthy should be very close to being fit again following a hip injury but in the manager's pre-match press conference, he grouped the Irishman with a quartet of returning players he expects to see come back over the next three weeks.

That might be a hint that McCarthy is still not quite ready and that Tom Cleverley will continue in defensive midfield alongside Gareth Barry. Should McCarthy make it, however, Cleverley could be moved to attacking left midfield at the expense of Arouna Kone who has struggled to reach levels he reached earlier in the campaign and looks ripe to be replaced.

Kevin Mirallas, of course, is the other player who could be named in Kone's role playing off Lukaku, something the fans would be happy to see and the Belgian certainly helped his prospects of a recall by scoring the consolation second goal in the 3-2 defeat to Leicester. Martinez has been reluctant to play two wingers in recent months, though, so if Mirallas is to feature, it could be at the expense of Gerard Deulofeu who had a frustating game against the Foxes. The Spaniard could be just the player to prey on the Toon's frail back line, though, so the team selection for this one is not as straightforward as it has been recently.

As Watford and Crystal Palace have shown, any team that can string some results together can take great strides towards the top four and it's imperative that Everton start doing that now before the fixtures become, on paper, that much more difficult again in the New Year. Back-to-back wins to finish 2015 would provide an excellent shot in the arm before the visit of Tottenham so all to play for in the next three days.

Kick off: 5.30pm
Lee Mason
Predicted line-up:
Howard, Coleman, Stones, Funes Mori, Baines, Barry, Cleverley, Deulofeu, Barkley, Mirallas, Lukaku

Lyndon Lloyd

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Match Preview
Match Summary
Match Report
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  Janmaat booked
  Colback booked
  Perez (Thauvin 87')
  Subs not used
  De Jong

EVERTON (4-5-1)
  Funes Mori
  Barry booked
  Lennon (Besic 69')
  Barkley booked (Deulofeu 69')
  Mirallas (Osman 85')
  Subs not used
  Browning (injured)
  Jagielka (injured)
  McCarthy (injured)
  Oviedo (injured)
  Garbutt (loan)
  Junior (loan)

Premier League Scores
Aston Villa 1-1 West Ham
Bournemouth 0-0 C Palace
Chelsea 2-2 Watford
Liverpool 1-0 Leicester
Man City 4-1 Sunderland
Newcastle 0-1 Everton
So'hampton 4-0 Arsenal
Stoke City 2-0 Man United
Swansea 1-0 West Brom
Tottenham 3-0 Norwich

Team Pts
1 Leicester City 38
2 Arsenal 36
3 Manchester City 35
4 Tottenham Hotspur 32
5 Crystal Palace 30
6 Manchester United 29
7 Watford 29
8 Liverpool 27
9 Everton 26
10 West Ham United 26
11 Stoke City 26
12 Southampton 24
13 West Bromwich Albion 20
14 AFC Bournemouth 20
15 Chelsea 19
16 Swansea City 18
17 Norwich City 17
18 Newcastle United 17
19 Sunderland 12
20 Aston Villa 8


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