A Tom Cleverley header with almost the last touch of the game earned Everton a dramatic 1-0 win over Newcastle United in the Premier League on Saturday.
Magpies goalkeeper Rob Elliot and his Everton counterpart Tim Howard had been the central figures as both teams missed a host of presentable chances at St James’ Park.
And a share of the spoils would have been a fair outcome given the profligacy on display throughout, with the visitors’ Romelu Lukaku and Newcastle striker Aleksandar Mitrovic among the chief offenders.
Cleverley spared the blushes of his attacking colleagues, heading home after Elliot ought to have done better to break Newcastle hearts in the 94th minute, securing Everton a first league win in five attempts.
Newcastle meanwhile lost for the first time in four matches, a painful outcome for the strugglers, who have improved considerably of late but drop into the relegation zone.
A confident Everton dominated possession and chances during the first 25 minutes. Kevin Mirallas, Lukaku and Ross Barkley were all heavily involved, as Seamus Coleman’s overlapping runs down the right flank in particular caused the hosts plenty of problems.
Martinez’s men could not transform that control into clear-cut chances and were almost caught out on the break when Daryl Janmaat reached the byline and delivered a cross to the top of the six-yard box, where Mitrovic glanced a header wide.
The hosts had two narrow escapes in as many minutes approaching the half-hour mark.
Fabricio Coloccini could have given a penalty away for manhandling Lukaku metres out from the goal-line. The powerful Belgium striker was then played in one-on-one by Aaron Lennon, but goalkeeper Rob Elliot did well to remain upright and parry away his shot.
It was Newcastle’s turn to go close in the 31st minute, when Tim Howard had to race out and gather Mitrovic’s knockdown, denying Ayoze Perez what would have been a simple finish.
A tight start to the second half initially produced few chances. Lukaku tested Elliot at the goalkeeper’s near post in the 56th minute and, three minutes later, Lennon drew another save from the Irishman.
With 19 minutes to go, Perez collected a long ball forward, turned and fired just wide. Two minutes later, Mitrovic missed the best chance of the match so far, powering a header wide from close range after rising to meet Moussa Sissoko’s chipped cross.
The Newcastle onslaught continued in the 76th minute, Georginio Wijnaldum heading Jack Colback’s cross to the back post straight at Howard.
A breathless match screamed on and one minute later it was Elliot’s turn to produce some heroics, reacting quickly to push Ramiro Funes Mori’s header from a corner clear of danger and Chancel Mbemba denied Lukaku in stoppage-time with a last-ditch tackle as the striker raced clear.
However, from the resulting corner, Elliot could only punch as far as Cleverley, who looped an instinctive header back over the goalkeeper and in to snatch the win.
Key Opta stats:
– Everton have lost just one of their last eight Premier League meetings with Newcastle United (W6 D1 L1).
– Tom Cleverley scored his first Premier League goal for Everton in his ninth appearance in the competition. He also scored his first league goal for Manchester United against Newcastle.
– Roberto Martinez’s men have scored a league-high 10 goals in the final 15 minutes of games this season.
– Everton have scored a joint league-high eight headed goals this season (level with West Brom).
– Romelu Lukaku failed to score in a competitive match for Everton for the first time since October 27, ending a run of scoring in eight successive matches for the club.
– The Magpies have kept just one clean sheet in their last six Premier League matches.