LIVERPOOL: A wounded animal is the most dangerous of beasts — and Newcastle United were taught that very lesson at Goodison Park last night.
With the relegation zone staring them right in the face, and unfairly a man down, Frank Lampard’s men did the unthinkable to nick a late, late winner and send Newcastle on their way to a warm weather training camp in Dubai with their tail very firmly between their legs.
Nothing about this one was pretty, near the bottom of the Premier League things rarely are. A long second half delay due to a pitch invader would also have consequences on the result.
And with so much at stake, particularly for the hosts, the tension on the blue half of Merseyside was near palpable as flags waved and emotions stirred in the run-up to kickoff.
While tension and strife were the overriding emotions pre-game, it was jubilation and disbelief after it, as Alex Iwobi unexpectedly netted his second goal of the campaign, to claim only Lampard’s second win as boss, eight-and-a-half minutes into injury time, and against the odds, after Allan was red-carded following a VAR review.
“Very disappointing,” said Howe of Newcastle’s second defeat on the bounce.
“First half we were the better team. We didn’t really come out of the traps, I don’t know why that second half was just lacking in that bit of quality from our perspective.
“Even (against) 10 men, we didn’t really show the dominance you’d expect with the extra man.
“I don’t think we deserved to lose the game, and from our perspective it was our game to win — but we didn’t take that opportunity.”
Having switched to a 5-4-1 at Chelsea due to injury and illness in the squad, Howe reverted back to a 4-3-3 with the return to fitness of Joelinton and Joe Willock. Jamaal Lascelles and Sean Longstaff were both very unfortunate to drop out.
Elsewhere, Emil Krafth came back in for Javier Manquillo and Jacob Murphy was replaced by Ryan Fraser.
Pundit and former Liverpool hero Jamie Carragher described this match as the biggest in the last 20 years for the Toffees and Lampard’s men started like they understood the gravity of their situation.
Some 100-kilometer-per-hour stuff, full of blood and thunder ensued in the opening 10, but it was a storm Newcastle easily weathered. And as they settled into the game, the influence of Bruno Guimaraes really began to tell. He was a calming influence in a chaotic opening stanza.
What the half lacked in quality it did not lack in commitment. When a rare moment of brilliance was sparked, it mostly came from the boot of Fraser.
His two crosses on to the head of Chris Wood were perfect but both headers, one wildly over the top, were weak and lacking conviction.
After the break, the momentum of the game was to-ing and fro-ing, the hosts looked more and more nervy with the relegation zone peering just over their shoulder, and Newcastle allowed the pace and intensity of their game to drop.
One player who can inject some pace into this United side is Almiron — and he did just that with 20 to go as his lung-busting burst down the right put Ben Godfrey in a world of pain, before squaring for Bruno — but the Brazilian’s low effort was scuffed goalwards and was easily saved by Begovic.
As Howe threw caution to the wind and brought on potential match-winner Allan Saint-Maximin, so too did Lampard with England hitman Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
Both had a telling impact on the game — and for very different reasons. We’ll come to that in a moment.
Anthony Gordon tested Martin Dubravka from distance, while Richarlison’s low cross came within inches of finding the boot of sub Calvert-Lewin in the area.
Then came the flashpoint. Saint-Maximin’s break from deep was cut short, cynically, by Allan. Referee Craig Pawson reached for his yellow card — and all looked to be well with the world.
However, when asked to take a second look over at the VAR screens, he changed his mind — and lost it slightly — to hand the midfielder an undeserved red.
What this did was have the adverse effect, though, as it lit a fire of defiance among the Toffees players and fans alike, as well as turning up the volume a notch or two to boot.
And with Newcastle looking to score in the ninth of 14 added minutes, Saint-Maximin was dispossessed on halfway, the ball finding its way to former Arsenal man Iwobi, whose ball into Calvert-Lewin saw him burst past the striker, be fed a perfectly-weighted return and fire low past a helpless, and largely redundant Martin Dubravka to send Everton three points clear of the top flight bottom three.
A disappointed Howe continued: “I think we said all along this was a very difficult run for us — a lot of away games in succession. Sometimes that is difficult.
“We suffered a late defeat at Chelsea, and a late defeat here. It is small margins.
“In both games we haven’t conceded a lot of chances against us, we have maybe just lacked the quality you would expect.
“We will have to (rest up and take stock). It is disappointing to do that off the back of two defeats but we have to accept that. It is what it is and we need to come back firing.”
Three games in eight days, all away from home, four in 13. It was never going to be an easy period to navigate for United — and they head into the international break battered and bruised from their trips to the blue halves of London and Liverpool.
Missing some key players, and having done a lot of the groundwork already to secure their Premier League status, some perspective is maybe needed, as tough as this loss was to take for Howe and his players.