5 Things We Learned: Newcastle

by Mike Taylor

Sam Allardyce’s brilliant start as Everton manager continued with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Newcastle United on Wednesday night.

The victory - the Blues’ first on the road this season - extends their unbeaten run to five games, with four clean sheets recorded in that period.

We take a look at five talking points from the trip to St James’ Park.

1. The Art Of Winning Ugly
Everton may have rode their luck at times - namely when Matt Ritchie and Mikel Merino both struck the woodwork in the first half - but once Wayne Rooney put the Blues in front, this was another masterclass in how to defend a lead.

Even the most optimistic Evertonian could not have envisaged their side going on to record four clean sheets from the next five games after a soul-crushing 4-1 defeat at Southampton just over a fortnight ago.

But that’s exactly what has happened.

Led by an unchanged back five of Jordan Pickford in goal, shielded by Ashley Williams, Mason Holgate, Jonjoe Kenny and Cuco Martina, the Blues have shown the necessary blend of skill, grit, organisation and determination to record those shut-outs.

More of the same will be needed if Everton are to climb further up the Premier League table, after consolidating their place in 10th in the Premier League table.

2. Williams’ Resurgence Continues
One of the key reasons for the Blues’ solidity in recent weeks is Williams, whose confidence continues to grow under the stewardship of Allardyce.

By his own admission, the Wales captain struggled to find his best form in the opening months of the season.

But his performances have steadily improved under the new regime and his showing at St James’ Park was arguably his best yet in a royal blue shirt.

In an unchanged back four that consisted of youngsters Jonjoe Kenny and Mason Holgate, and Cuco Martina playing in a slightly more unfamiliar role of left-back, Williams organised the defence perfectly and led by example throughout.

He was desperately unlucky not to cap his performance with a goal, too, as he connected with Gylfi Sigurdsson’s inviting free-kick late on, forcing an excellent reaction save from goalkeeper Karl Darlow.

3. Rooney Not Just Icing Cakes
Wayne Rooney celebrated his 100th Everton appearance by hitting double figures for the season against Newcastle.

Some of Rooney’s goals since returning to his boyhood Blues last summer have been sensational, as Arsenal and West Ham fans will vividly remember, but his 10th goal of the campaign showed his predatory instincts come to the fore.

Indeed, England’s all-time leading goalscorer was on hand to prod home the only goal of the night after Darlow had spilled Aaron Lennon’s initial header.

Rooney’s goals have won an astonishing 13 points across the Premier League and Europa League this season.

He continues to excel in his slightly deeper role, with his nous and ability to pick out a pinpoint pass vital to Everton’s counter-attacking game in the past two outings.

4. Calvert-Lewin Becoming Increasingly Street-Wise
While few clear-cut chances fell his way on a bitterly cold evening in the north east, Dominic Calvert-Lewin showed yet further signs of maturing into a well-rounded Premier League striker.

Calvert-Lewin’s stature and athleticism have always allowed him to be an outlet for teammates, but he is now becoming increasingly street-wise in the tough, unforgiving environment of England’s top-flight.

His hold-up play is ever-improving and the ability to link up with teammates - most notably Rooney and Gylfi Sigurdsson - is paying dividends.

It is easy to forget Calvert-Lewin is still only 20 years of age.

5. Vlasic Shows Signs Of Promise
There was still a vital half an hour to be played when Allardyce introduced Nikola Vlasic at St James’.

It was, perhaps, a sign that Allardyce’s first impressions of the Croatian winger have been positive.

And while he lacked a slice of luck at times, he let nobody down here, either.

The 20-year-old was a livewire when he entered the fray against Rafael Benitez’s side, with his pace a constant threat and willingness to fight for every ball boosting the Blues.

Vlasic enjoyed a promising start to his Goodison career after sealing a switch from hometown club Hajduk Split in the summer and after a spell out of the side, he could now be forcing his way into new boss Allardyce’s plans.

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