1322: Premiership preview: Newcastle
by : Colin Illingworth
Everton travel to Tyneside knowing victory over the under fire Toon boss Graeme Souness could see them climb to second in the Premiership, if only for a few hours.
The Toffees have defied the critics with their impressive start this season and there seems to be no let up in their battling performances. A Duncan Ferguson header helped them grind out a result at home to Fulham last week and the True Blue goes back to Newcastle hoping to pile the pressure on fellow Scot Souness’s head.
Newcastle fans were less then receptive when the former Liverpool great was appointed Sir Bobby Robson’s successor but he appeared to turn the tide when he guided the Magpies to ten games undefeated. You are only a few bad results away from the sack though and three defeats on the bounce against Bolton, Fulham, and Manchester United, saw the fans vent their anger at the Scotsman. Victory over Crystal Palace last weekend eased the pressure slightly but such is the pressure of Premiership football that defeat against Everton will see Souness reinstalled as public enemy number one.
Newcastle’s problems ultimately lay with their defence. They’ve have been breached 26 times, the same as bottom placed Blackburn, and Souness urgently needs reinforcements in that department when the January transfer window opens. At home they’ve shipped more goals than any other team in the league so Everton go into the game knowing that they are there for the taking. However Newcastle do possess the Premiership’s second highest goal scorers, also 26, so they will also pose Everton’s defence problems but they’ve been in sensational form this season. David Moyes has one of the best defences in the country and Shearer, Bellamy and Kluivert, will find it easier to get change out of an Aberdonian. However they will be buoyed by their European exploits in the UEFA cup knocking in four without reply against French side Sochaux.
Everton go into the clash full of confidence. Relegation certainties in August after a summer of discontent The Toffees could be surprise Champions League players come May. They have lost just three times this season, against clubs from the capital, and only one of those has come on the road, a 1-0 defeat to leaders Chelsea. They have picked up 16 points from a possible 21 in their seven away games, the same return as Arsenal and Chelsea. They have scored more away from Goodison Park and conceded less so Moyes definitely has his stall set up for a smash and grab. They aren’t the most prolific scorers in the league but their goals come from all over the team and with a solid back four they are third in the league on merit.
However St James hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for the Merseysiders in recent years and you have to go back four years for their last win in the North East when Kevin Campbell, only one of four survivors from that victory still at Goodison Park, scored in a close 1-0 win.
Last season Newcastle brushed past Moyes’s struggling side with an Alan Shearer brace helping them to a 4-2 win and two year earlier they thrashed them 6-2.
Alan Shearer needs just two more goals to set a new Premiership record of 250 league goals and you wouldn’t begrudge him that, though Stubbs, Hibbert, Pistone and Martyn will do their utmost to freeze the former England international out.
Neither side has an easy ride before Christmas with Everton playing Bolton and neighbours Liverpool while Newcastle face Chelsea, Portsmouth and Liverpool but they will both want the points on Sunday.
The game could be won or lost in the middle of the park with Thomas Gravesen lining up against Nicky Butt being a pivotal battle.
Everton don’t score much but Newcastle can’t defend to save their lives at the moment so if I had the money, which I don’t, I’d have to go for a 2-1 Everton win to pile the pressure on Souness.