This was a massive chance for Newcastle. Against a Leicester side who had endured a quite brutal week, Eddie Howe’s side were fancied in some quarters.
So often their back line has been criticised, and though the 4-0 scoreline points to a defensive shambles, this was more to do with a complete lack of bite in promising positions in the opposition half.
Looking at their next four games, the defeat looks even worse. They face Liverpool (A), Man City (H), Man Utd (H) and then Everton (A) before the new year.
Unless Southampton get drawn into the relegation fight – with their form, it’s not impossible – it’s looking like a four-horse race for one survival position.
The Hornets have Burnley (A), Palace (H), Wolves (A) and West Ham (H). It’s not inconceivable that Newcastle could be half a dozen points adrift by the new year, having barely hit a dozen points themselves with half of the season gone.
The average points tally needed to survive over the past five years has been 37; to reach that, Newcastle need 27 points from their remaining 22 games, at 1.22 points per game. Given they’ve registered 0.625 points per game so far, a figure which will undoubtedly drop by January 1 with their run-in, it’s looking ominous.
By that measure, Newcastle need to be twice as clinical and twice as tight in the second half of the season, and though January is around the corner, St James’ Park still doesn’t have much of a pull.
There is a feeling that Newcastle may have to take a step back before taking many, expensive steps forward, but a year is a long time for any player. A year in the Championship is even longer.
By all accounts, Everton should have gone into Sunday’s game at Crystal Palace full of confidence and zip. They had stopped a winless run of seven games with a super comeback against Arsenal on Monday.
Rafa Benitez’s side travelled to a Crystal Palace side who had lost their last three Premier League games. The stats were on their side too – Everton were unbeaten against Palace in 13 league meetings and had not lost in their previous 10 visits to Selhurst Park, stretching back to October 1994.
But far from brimming with a match-winning confidence, it was a disappointingly lethargic and passive Everton performance. Despite the form pendulum swinging in their favour in the last matchweek, they looked like a side devoid of ideas and hoping to nick a victory on the counter-attack.
There were errors littered across the pitch as Palace turned on the style in front of their home fans. One standout moment saw Richarlison unhappy at being substituted early in the second half, watching on from the bench as his replacement Salomon Rondon scored the reply for Everton.
Benitez confirmed after the game that Richarlison was carrying a calf injury, and it showed in a mostly anonymous performance. It also begs the question why he was risked from the start in the first place.
Admittedly, once they had scored, there was a greater sense of urgency about Everton – Anthony Gordon going close during an impressive substitute appearance – but the damage had already been done.
Sky Sports’ Graeme Souness said after the game: “That first 45 minutes here, almost an hour, they were so negative and so passive… They were a shadow of a team in the first half.
“We saw Rafa’s approach of football is quite unique and different to lots of coaches, we saw that at Newcastle, he likes to play counter-attack football and tries to steal games.
“I don’t think Evertonians will accept that. The whole idea was to take Everton to the next level, and it hasn’t happened. They should have approached this game on the front foot. They’ve been so negative.”
Within a week, the two sides of Everton have been on full display and it begs the question – just which one is the real Everton and in which direction is Benitez heading in? There’s no doubt the fans will want those questions answered sooner rather than later.
🎙️ “The last goal – that feeling is incredible.”
🎙️ “I love it. Them just singing my name right now is a great feeling for me. They give me confidence which is amazing for a player.”
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) December 12, 2021
With the new year just a few weeks away, Conor Gallagher can look back on a breakout 2021.
His summer loan move to Crystal Palace has continued to bring out the best of the midfield. Those who have followed his career at Chelsea or in temporary spells at Charlton Athletic, Swansea and then West Brom on loan will not be overly surprised.
The 21-year-old has shined in most games for Palace, but he was the standout star against Everton, rightly winning the man of the match award.
Gallagher’s two goals were simply sensational. His first was an emphatic finish from Jordan Ayew’s squared cross. The second was a goal of the season contender as he rifled home from the top of the area in the 93rd minute to seal a deserved win for the Eagles.
He topped the charts in almost every stats category too – shots (7), shots on target (3), touches in the opposition box (8). He also won possession a joint-team high six times, one of which led to his second goal as he nicked the ball from Andre Gomes.
Palace manager Patrick Vieira told Sky Sports: “There’s still a lot to come from him. He’ll need to manage his strength and find out the best way to manage his energy. He’s a fantastic player to have. He gave everything to the team and he can score goals. To have a midfielder who can score 10-15 goals is important.
“What’s extraordinary is we were talking about the 90th minute he’s been running all over, to find the energy to score. That goal took a lot.”
While Vieira remained fairly coy about any potential future at Palace for Gallagher, those at Chelsea and England must be sitting up and taking note. But is he ready to compete in those sides packed full of talent?
“He’s not there now [for Chelsea]”, Sky Sports’ Graeme Souness said. “There are 21-year-olds who look like the finished article, I think he’s a young 21-year-old who has a bit of filling out to do.
“He’s got all the technique you need, he has a fabulous attitude, just stick with that, avoid injuries, and you’ll be a star.”
Former Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew added: “Gareth [Southgate] was up at Burnley today, he should have taken himself back down home to Palace and seen Gallagher. He’s knocking on the England door.”
For now though, the focus will be firmly on improving further under Vieira at Palace, but Gallagher is a star for the future.
The emergence of Aaron Ramsdale has meant Nick Pope’s quiet season for Burnley has seen him fall down the England pecking order. However, Pope, who has missed out on the last two England squads, will have impressed the watching Gareth Southgate in the stands against West Ham. He became just the third goalkeeper in the last 19 Premier League games to grab a clean sheet against the Hammers, who usually find a way to goal. Pope was unbeatable though.
This was a day for a goalkeeper to take the pressure off his defenders in such windy conditions, especially against a team with such a strong set-piece record like West Ham. Such was his dominance of his box, West Ham only truly created one chance from their 14 corners. That chance fell to Issa Diop but his header was brilliantly stopped by the Burnley goalkeeper. It was one of three saves he was called upon to make. Pope has now kept 29 Premier League clean sheets since the start of the 19/20 season – only Ederson (42) & Alisson (31) have more. His costly mistake in the defeat at Newcastle is all-but forgotten about now.
Sean Dyche said: “The top level keeper that he is, he will be pleased he has made the saves but they are ones you would fancy him to make. The defensive unit was strong again.
“I thought it was a good game for him, a solid game.”
If Burnley are to start turning draws into wins – this was their eighth stalemate of the season – then Pope’s form is going to be crucial.