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Usher: Reds defence key at Basel

Liverpool about an hour ago
Read
Dec 30, 2006

Defensive frailties exposed

Everton 3-0 Newcastle

Obafemi Martins, Kieron Dyer, James Milner, Scott Parker, Nicky Butt and Emre: with the usual caveat of 'outside the top four' applied, there are few better front sixes than Newcastle's or, with a combined cost of over £30 million, few who were more expensive. Yet the Magpies languish in 13th, and it hardly requires a great deal of investigation to discover why.

Firstly, there is a crippling injury list, so severe that Glenn Roeder suggested he has a stronger side on the treatment table than the pitch.

Secondly, there has been a remarkable refusal to contemplate signing defenders.

Only the free transfer Olivier Bernard arrived in the summer, and he is a reserve left-back who, somewhat inevitably, is among the sidelined. Even now, there have been suggestions, albeit ones that Roeder has denied, that Peter Crouch and Joey Barton top their January shopping list, yet the greatest need is not for reinforcements in midfield or even attack.

Finally, Roeder has hinted at a belated change of policy. It came after Peter Ramage had limped off against Everton. Newcastle ended with Butt in the centre of defence, surely a first in a career that has numbered 473 appearances so far. It was an indication of a lack of alternatives, but Roeder pronounced himself impressed.

'Fantastic,' he said. 'I think Nicky Butt showed why he has won so many things. Whatever you want him to do, he does without complaint. He gave a perfect demonstration of how to play centre back.'

He needed to. As Roeder explained: 'I've got four centre backs at the club and three are now injured, [Steven] Taylor is the only one left standing.'

Yet, since Jonathan Woodgate left 28 months ago, the need for both defensive solidity and greater options at the back have been apparent.

Everton boss David Moyes alluded to Newcastle's lack of defenders in his explanation of the Toffees' tactics. There was an emphasis on attacking and getting the ball as quickly as possible to wingers Andy van der Meyde and Mikel Arteta, both confronted by makeshift full backs.

Yet their 3-0 victory owed much to turning points, and the mess Newcastle made of them. Nor were the inexperienced defenders the main culprits. Instead, it was their biggest summer signing who was culpable.

Such is the tradition of questionable imports on Tyneside that it was easy to assume that Martins would be the latest name to add to a lengthy and undistinguished list. Another Albert Luque or a reminder of Marcelino, he is not.

However, he can be a microcosm of his new team: as inconsistent as Newcastle themselves. Rather than scoring a seventh goal in eight games, his contribution at Goodison Park only extended as far as a guaranteed place in the next DVD of footballing mishaps.

It was a horrific penalty. After Leon Osman tripped Kieron Dyer, Everton's protests were bitter, but rendered irrelevant by Martins' finish, which saw him balloon the ball way over the bar. There will be few worse penalties this season.

'He will take the next one,' insisted Roeder.

In a tale of two Nigerians, Everton triumphed courtesy of the cheaper and younger African. Victor Anichebe scored twice to treble his Premiership goal tally and provide two contenders for the tag of Everton's scruffiest goal of the season.

Both came from corners. For the opener, Joseph Yobo's header hit Paul Huntington. The 20-year-old defender was unable to clear and, while Anichebe reacted quickest, his shot was hit with so little velocity it rolled over the line, with Shay Given seemingly wrong-footed.

At least the second was a more emphatic finish. This time Andrew Johnson met the corner, diverting it into Anichebe's path. His header struck the bar and the covering Nolberto Solano on the line before the teenager supplied the finish himself.

It was soon followed by Everton's third goal and the second of two significant mis-hits. Unlike Martins, however, Phil Neville miscued his shot perfectly, looping over Given for his first Premiership goal since November 2002.

Moyes, tongue firmly in cheek, insisted: 'He caught it right out of the middle of his foot, sweet into the back of the net. It's probably the best goal he's ever scored, from the laces into the top corner.'

It was symptomatic of Newcastle, too, that when their clearest chance in open play arrived they contrived to deny themselves.

After Tim Howard had parried a fierce long-range strike from Milner, as Roeder said: 'It sums up our day when Obafemi Martins has a header to make it 1-1 and Steven Taylor appears from nowhere to knock him out of the way.'

It would have been a shock, but Martins had already showed Newcastle's self-destructive streak.

MAN OF THE MATCH:

Mikel Arteta - Even when Everton have struggled to score, the Spaniard has remained capable of crafting an opening. It was only fitting that he should be involved in their first two goals, and a reminder of his set-piece expertise.

EVERTON VERDICT: Infrequent as his appearances are, there can be little doubt that Everton are a better team when van der Meyde plays. He gave them greater balance and incision and, along with Arteta, a threat on either flank.

NEWCASTLE VERDICT: 'There's 3-0 drubbings and 3-0s that don't tell a full story,' said Roeder. While there were moments from Milner and Dyer to justify that, the manner of Everton's goals must be a concern. The personnel may change, but the defensive problems persist.

A RESOUNDING 'NO': Roeder was emphatic in his denial that Barton and Liverpool's Stephen Warnock are headed for Tyneside in January.


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