Tonight’s match report comes from Matthew Philpotts in the away end at Goodison Park. 

Everton 1 Newcastle United 0, 

Goodison Park, 17/Mar/22, KO: 19:30, Att: 

Down in his cage underneath the Goodison Road stand, the T(ourettes)-Rex pawed at the bars. Half petulant toddler, half Triassic reptile, little Jordan couldn’t be trusted in a game of this magnitude. Unfortunately, neither could our best fit XI. In the unaccustomed situation of dominating possession against a desperately poor home side, a notable lack of quality up front left us open to a sucker-punch on the break. A collective set of defensive errors in a single move from Burn, Manquillo, and Dúbravka was enough to consign us to the most miserable of defeats.

In truth, this was a depressingly poor game, more notable for its bizarre interruptions than anything that happened on the pitch. When an Evertonian in an orange shirt attached himself to the Gwladys Street goalpost with a cable tie around his neck, the obvious thought was that Pickford was looking for a game and willing to do anything to get his way. Only at the end did we wish we had made the same gesture ourselves. Anything not to have to come back to this bitter God-forsaken corner of Liverpool. Eight minutes and a set of bolt cutters later and we were off again, only to stop for another six minutes as Allan’s two-footed chop on Saint-Maximin was referred to the infamous pitch-side monitor that had gathered dust at Stamford Bridge.

Instead of providing the opportunity for a winner, though, 14 minutes of injury time against ten men only offered Iwobi (of all people) the chance to beat a flat-footed Dúbravka. Suddenly, 30,000 mackem scousers remembered that cheering and singing (and winning) was actually allowed inside a football ground. Bless.

Willock’s return to the Jo-Joe-Jonjo (must we?) midfield had been widely trailed, wor Jow’s rather less so. The result was the midfield three we had been waiting to see for so long, with Bruno taking the Shelvey role, only with added running. Understandably, Fraser returned on the left; more puzzling Miggy held on to position on the right-hand side of the front three. Take your pick – endless running and pressing without any tangible threat and any capacity to kick a football constructively; or selfish dribbling and a sporadic goal threat at the expense of all team play and shape. Therein lies the ASM dilemma. Tonight only discredited both options in our attacking Hobson’s choice, though it’s notable that we’ve been considerably poorer for the introduction of our (non) talismanic Frenchman in our last two defeats.

Arriving at the Bullens Lane stand in good time, it turned out that 3,000 away fans spread across at least six turnstiles were being funnelled into a 10 foot space between crowd control barriers. As well as the obvious crush and anxiety, the set-up only gave the opportunity for the more intellectually challenged elements in our support to question who had stolen their stereo. Back in the 1980s, the laziest of Liverpudlian stereotypes turned in their collective graves. Meanwhile, the rest of us wondered how police tactics had regressed thirty years to the same moment. Good to see the lessons from Elland Road have been learnt.

Happily for those of us struggling to get in, the first ten minutes were less than memorable. Gradually we grew into the game, almost entirely through Fraser down the left. A series of corners offered hope. But it was hope unrequited. When, with five minutes to go in the first half, Everton won a throw-in in our half, the ground erupted. That was simultaneously a comment on the utter paucity of their display and the control we were exercising. Alas, our pressure had led only to the inevitable headers wide and into Begovic’s arms by Wood. Only one team was going to win this.

Except that we just never got going in the second half. Maybe it was the interruptions. Maybe it was tiredness. Maybe it was an inspired half-time team-talk from Tory Boy for the Blues. Yeah, right. Most likely it was just because we aren’t actually all that good. A well-drilled set of competent professionals had enjoyed the rub of the green and some generous fixtures over the last six weeks, but we were never world-beaters. Above all, we lack a cutting-edge in the absence of Trippier’s free kicks, Bruno’s miracles, and Wilson’s delicate hamstrings.

Guimarães was our best player by a distance. Always ready to receive and move the ball on, he was the unceasing heartbeat of our play. But his contribution is not primarily in the final third and never will be. Sadly, he was unable to dip into his magic hat and conjure a winner. Instead, we had to put up with the antics of his compatriot Richarlison – “just a shit Joelinton”, indeed. Alas, also a rolling, diving, moaning cheat who tried his best to get every United player booked before indulging in a ludicrous run around the ground to celebrate the winner, which was matched in the cringe stakes only by Lampard’s broken hand. Well, I guess they don’t get the chance much.

So, a reality check ahead of our lengthy forthcoming break. Ignore the doom-mongers on social media. We’re safe. A couple of positive results will confirm that, hopefully with Trippier and Wilson (please, God) returning. But tonight also confirmed the extent of the remodelling needed on our squad in the summer. Willing triers will only get us so far. That’s not to over-react to the mistakes for the goal – Burn’s third in three games. He’s a canny lad and will have a role to play, but he was never Franco Baresi any more than Matt Targett is Paolo Maldini incarnate. Genuine quality is needed, and it will come.

Meanwhile, somewhere deep in the ruins of the long-lost School of Science, the cage must have rattled in vain celebration for five minutes before the sad specimen was medicated again. A dinosaur in Stanley Park’s lost world. When we next visit, the world will be ours.

Matthew Philpotts @mjp19731