Sunday, February 22, 2009

Ten-man Newcastle Hold on

Ten-man Newcastle gave manager Joe Kinnear another tonic as they scrapped to a precious point against European contenders Everton.

Kinnear left hospital yesterday after undergoing a triple heart bypass, hoping a second successive Premier League victory would aid his recovery.

His hopes were dealt a serious blow when midfielder Kevin Nolan was sent off for a dreadful 43rd-minute challenge on Victor Anichebe, but he will have been delighted by the spirit his team showed to battle to a point.

Two first-half saves from goalkeeper Steve Harper ensured a first clean sheet in nine league games, and Peter Lovenkrands and substitute Jonas Gutierrez might even have snatched victory in a full-blooded contest.

The day had started with a protest against Mike Ashley's regime in the city centre, but it ended with a positive result which eased Newcastle slightly further away from the drop zone.

The draw extended Everton's recent run to one defeat in 14 games in all competitions, but they will feel two more points were theirs for the taking.

They arrived on Tyneside with a squad depleted by injury and suspension, and their woes deepened inside an eventful opening 45 minutes through a combination of misfortune and Nolan's rush of blood.

The game was only three minutes old when Mikel Arteta challenged Lovenkrands and landed awkwardly, grasping his knee in agony.

He was eventually carried off on a stretcher to join banned duo Tim Cahill and Tony Hibbert and the injured Leon Osman, Steven Pienaar and Ayegbeni Yakubu on the sidelines, and Anichebe's name was also added to the list.

The striker limped off after being caught by Nolan's two-footed tackle, which prompted an instant red card from referee Lee Mason.

Mr Mason was roundly booed by the home fans, although television replays revealed he had little choice.

The visitors were by far the sharper team during the early encounters and had two glorious opportunities to take a lead which would have been well deserved.

Sebastien Bassong needlessly conceded a 19th-minute corner, although he atoned for his error when, after Harper got a hand to Joseph Yobo's glancing header, he hacked the rebound off the line.

Harper then managed to block Jack Rodwell's 29th-minute effort at the far post with his legs as the Toffees threatened to blow their hosts away, just as Merseyside neighbours Liverpool had done in December.

However, the best chance of the first half came at the other end two minutes later when Shola Ameobi and Nolan combined to put Lovenkrands in on keeper Tim Howard.

The Dane steadied himself but pushed his left-foot shot wide of the post.

Ryan Taylor curled a free-kick just over five minutes later as the Magpies started to dominate, but it was then that Nolan's tenacity got the better of him and with Marouane Fellaini replacing Anichebe, Newcastle were under the cosh once again.

Damien Duff made way for Jonas Gutierrez at the break, but it was the visitors who started strongly once again with Yobo blazing a shot inches over the bar within three minutes of the restart.

In their current predicament the Magpies knew they could not afford to sit back and settle for a draw, and Howard was called into action once again to punch away Ryan Taylor's driven 51st-minute free-kick.

David Moyes' side continued to dominate possession as lone striker Ameobi struggled to hold the ball up, and caretaker boss Chris Hughton made his move when he replaced him with Obafemi Martins, making his first appearance since December after undergoing hernia surgery.

Everton were making the most of their numerical advantage as they moved the ball quickly and confidently around the pitch, although they were not finding many holes in the Newcastle defence.

Substitute Louis Saha fired high over under extreme pressure from the impressive Bassong and Phil Jagielka blasted a free-kick well off target as time ran down, but the Magpies managed to hang on to gain some reward for a gutsy display.

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