Everton today clinched seventh place in the Premier League to finish above local rivals Liverpool, with a 3-1 win over Newcastle United. Liverpool’s loss away at Swansea leaves them four points short of their near neighbours.
The Blues were rampant in the first half, which settled down after a tight, end-to-end start. Using the space allowed by the poor Newcastle midfield, Everton were allowed to get the ball to the big front two of Nikica Jelavic and Marrouane Fellaini with ease.
After only 15 minutes, the fantastic Steven Pienaar used that time and space to fire a shot which took a wicked deflection off defender Michael Williamson and over the helpless Tim Krul.
Pienaar rattled the post from a centred Leighton Baines free kick, and a couple of minutes later, Krul was again helpless. Having brilliantly saved Nikica Jelavic’s shot, the Dutchman could do nothing about the striker’s composed volley from the penalty spot. It was another goal of class to add to Jelavic’s great half-season at Goodison, adapting his body around a tricky bounce with ease.
The Magpies’ frustration spilled over into a shameful act by Yohan Cabaye, who pushed a young Everton ball boy back into his seat just off the side of the pitch. His sincere apology to the young lad when the half-time whistle sounded would not be his last controversial involvement in the match.
After a double substitution from Alan Pardew, Newcastle came out with renewed vigour. Everton’s passing started to look less confident, and with goalkeeper Tim Howard down with a groin injury in the 60th minute they looked shaken.
But Howard battled on, and five minutes later player of the season John Heitinga rose unaccompanied to fire a powerful free header past fellow Dutchman Krul.
With 20 minutes left of the match, Newcastle were handed a lifeline as Tony Hibbert, who hasn’t yet scored in his 11-year Everton career, headed past his own ‘keeper and into the net.
But Everton would see out out the season with renewed flair. Darron Gibson, useful as always today, skidded a shot just wide of the goal before Pienaar, Fellaini and Leighton Baines tore the visitors’ defence to pieces to force a clearance from Coloccini, and Leon Osman hit the post after coolly promenading through the penalty area.
But during the last few seconds of the match, and indeed the season, Tim Cahill, on as a substitute for Phil Neville in the 73rd minute, changed the complexion once again. Reacting furiously to something said by Cabaye at the other end of the pitch, Cahill made a beeline for him after the final whistle and grabbed him by the throat. His consequent red card provided a bitter end to a patchy season for the Everton legend.
Earlier this week, Alan Pardew told journalists that Everton weren’t in the same league as Newcastle. But it would be the Everton faithful who had the last laugh, telling him: “Champions League? You’re having a laugh!”. Another strong performace caps off a great second half of the season, which Evertonians will hope they can build on for a higher finish next term.