Dull game doesn’t help EPL’s cause: Neil Humphreys
Newcastle's win over Everton cannot rescue boring contest as lockdown looms
Just a day after a second national lockdown was announced in England, a tepid affair at St James' Park almost felt like an existential experiment for the English Premier League.
What is the point of games like this?
As sceptics wonder if the EPL should continue during a national lockdown, both sides appeared to be advocating a temporary shutdown last night.
|(Callum Wilson 56-pen, 84)||(Dominic Calvert-Lewin 90+2)|
Newcastle United would obviously disagree, after Callum Wilson's brace ensured a 2-1 win against Everton, but this was a 90-minute trudge with a mild flurry of activity in stoppage time.
Everton lacked the creative resources to push for a win and Newcastle were set up not to lose. No one seriously expected a glut of goals, but this really was uninspiring stuff for a so-called break from reality.
The argument for the EPL playing on is a valid one. Wealthy clubs can maintain their clinical bubbles, with minimal risk to themselves and the public, while offering an invaluable service.
They entertain. They distract. But the Toffees and Magpies rarely did either.
There were mitigating circumstances. Everton were without the injured Seamus Coleman and James Rodriguez and the suspended Richarlison and Lucas Digne, which robbed Carlo Ancelotti of his attacking thrust.
While Newcastle's Steve Bruce threaded five defenders in a line and effectively allowed Everton to play around the centre circle and leave Dominic Calvert-Lewin isolated.
Bruce could hardly be faulted for his conservative approach. It worked.
The contest briefly woke from its comatose state when Allan Saint-Maximin forced a smart save from Everton goalkeeper Robin Olsen. The clock read 31 minutes. It was the only chance of the half.
Olsen also produced a stunning stop to deny Sean Longstaff just before the hour mark and give Ancelotti a selection headache.
The Everton manager had opted to "rest" Jordan Pickford and promised to bring back the England goalkeeper for the next game against Manchester United.
But Olsen distributed well, made a couple of fine saves and exuded an air of dependability that often eludes Pickford, whose concentration frequently takes a leave of absence.
Either side of Olsen's saves, though, Newcastle took the lead.
In keeping with the lacklustre, slightly amateurish proceedings, Andre Gomes failed to see Wilson on his blind side and promptly booted the Newcastle forward up the backside.
It was one of the few occasions that anyone found an attacking target.
Wilson tucked away the subsequent penalty in the 56th minute, which wasn't really against the run of play as there was very little play in the first place.
Ancelotti swiftly introduced Bernard and Cenk Tosun for Gomes and the ineffective Niels Nkounkou, but the lack of squad depth hinted at Everton's initial overachieving.
A victory might have sent the Toffees top of the table, which is a testament to astute transfer purchases and Ancelotti's settled formation.
But a few injuries and suspensions revealed a softer underbelly against defensive opposition. Rodriguez and the effervescent Richarlison cannot return soon enough.
Newcastle's drilled defence must be credited for a thoroughly disciplined performance and they probably deserved their second goal on the counter.
In the 84th minute, substitute Ryan Fraser's deflected cross presented Wilson with an easy tap-in at the far post.
Calvert-Lewin's 92nd-minute consolation ensured more action in the final five minutes than the previous 90, but this was not an advert for the Beautiful Game.
As infection rates rise, businesses close and families face the prospect of not seeing loved ones before Christmas, the EPL will come under increasing pressure to justify its continued existence.
Games like this will not help its cause.
LAST NIGHT'S OTHER RESULT
- Aston Villa 3 Southampton 4