Late goals light up a dull affair

 

The name Ferguson may have been emblazoned across a thousand and one fading blue shirts but it was a dreaded day that finally dawned on Merseyside. There he was, the big man himself, trotting out to champion someone else's cause, in someone else's shirt.

The departure of Duncan Ferguson from Everton 16 months ago was a watershed in the club's chequered recent history for it precipitated not only necessary changes at boardroom level but, more significantly, a discernible change of emphasis and style on the pitch.

Having abandoned what was no more than a long-ball game dressed up as something more laudable, the Merseysiders have prospered and they entered yesterday's game unencumbered by thoughts of relegation.

However, with so little to play for between now and season's end, Everton are finding motivation a problem; they are going through the motions and the process is neither pretty nor entertaining.

By contrast, with an FA Cup semi-final on the horizon Newcastle United's campaign is still very much alive. In this match their football always boasted the greater sense of urgency, particularly in a first half that was witless and clueless.

Although the dovetailing of Ferguson and Alan Shearer was reasonably watchable, the game limped to half-time without offering even the semblance of a chance. It was unspeakably dull.

As the hour mark was reached there was a collective sharp intake of breath as Nolberto Solano steered a shot across the face of the Everton goal. It fell many yards wide but at least there was a whiff of enterprise about the effort.

The first shot on target was to go in and thus separated two sides whose afternoon-long ineptitude, despite the appearance of 20 full internationals, had been such that they did not deserve to be separated.

With 11 minutes remaining David Weir foolishly attempted to dribble his way out of trouble deep inside his own penalty area. It was a bold gamble and it went horribly wrong. As the Everton defender attempted to move the ball from one foot to the other he was dispossessed by Aaron Hughes, who clipped a firm shot just inside a post.

The game's one moment of genuine class came late on, the Newcastle substitute Kieron Dyer sprinting clear with three minutes remaining to score a marvellous solo goal to confirm Everton's first home league defeat of the season.

Newcastle boss Bobby Robson was delighted with the performance. "It's a big victory for us," he said. "Three points is a handsome result away from home.

"What we've achieved over the weeks of working is a kind of tenacity and resilience to weather storms when things are not going quite our way, and we've again done that today.

"They maybe had a little bit more possession and put a bit more pressure on us, but we weathered the storm, stood firm, didn't crack, didn't break and saw it through.

"With what we've got in the side when we get reasonable possession with the ball, we will score goals.

"It was a hard-earned, well-fought victory which finally came our way in the later stages of the game."

Everton: Gerrard, Unsworth, Weir, Gough, Xavier, S. Hughes (Ball 77), Pembridge, Collins, Barmby (Dunne 85), M Hughes, Moore (Cadamarteri 66). Subs Not Used: Myhre, Gemmill. Booked: Xavier, M Hughes.

Newcastle Utd: Given, Hughes, Dabizas, Howey, Barton, Gallacher (Domi 68), Speed, Lee, Solano (Dyer 77), Ferguson, Shearer. Subs Not Used: Goma, Harper, Ketsbaia. Booked: Speed, Ferguson, Howey. Goals: Hughes 79, Dyer 87.

Referee: G Barber (Tring, Herts).