Everton expose Newcastle United’s paper-thin squad

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IT wasn’t the first time Mikel Arteta had run the show against Newcastle United.

And, in all honesty, it might not be the last.

But that didn’t make it any easier to take at the final whistle for all but the 2,750 jubilant Everton fans inside St James’s Park on Saturday.

With Newcastle having back- to-back home games, manager Alan Pardew had sensed an opportunity to make an “impact” on the Premier League’s top 10 a couple of weeks back.

After all, why just survive, when you can thrive?

However, maybe Pardew hadn’t reckoned with a paper-thin squad, and a lengthening injury list.

And the team which ended yesterday’s game was an eye opener.

Up front were Shefki Kuqi and Mike Williamson, and despite some nervous moments in the latter stages, United didn’t have the guile the break down a resilient visiting defence.

Guile is one thing Arteta does possess, and after forcing a fine save from goalkeeper Steve Harper in the 17th minute, the midfielder – up against makeshift right back Steven Taylor on the left side – went from strength to strength.

Newcastle did take the lead through Leon Best in the 23rd minute, the striker having the simplest of headers after a Kevin Nolan shot was parried by Tim Howard.

As against Bolton Wanderers seven days earlier, United were ahead at home, but the lead would prove to be just as fragile, despite some more Newcastle pressure after their goal.

Arteta waltzed inside with half an hour gone and found Leon Osman, who smartly directed the ball into the far corner.

It got worse. Arteta was brought down by Cheik Tiote on the left flank in the 36th minute, and Leighton Baines swung in a deep free kick which was met at the far post by Phil Jagielka.

Pardew was unhappy with Howard Webb’s decision to award a free-kick, but he’ll have been just as unhappy with his team’s marking, Enrique having seemingly let Jagielka go.

The sight of Enrique limping off with a hamstring problem before the interval was just as troubling, given his previous spells out with such problems.

Pardew, having initially asked teenage left-back Shane Ferguson to get ready, sent on Shola Ameobi, and there were more round pegs in square holes.

Peter Lovenkrands was on the right side of midfield, and Danny Simpson was switched to left-back.

United famously scored four times against Arsenal in the second half a few weeks earlier kicking down the bank towards the Gallowgate, but they couldn’t conjure up a goal as they attacked the Leazes End this time.

David Moyes’s side defended deeply, and in numbers, when needed, and they had chances of their own, as well.

While United have enough of a cushion above the drop zone – six points – not to be overly concerned with relegation, the last two games have again underlined the frailties in the squad.

Had Pardew had Joey Barton in the side, things might have turned out differently, such has been his importance to the team.

High on spirit, but low on numbers, Newcastle are already punching above their weight in the division.