The final game of a mixed 2011/12 season has finally arrived, as Champions League chasing Newcastle United are the final visitors to Goodison Park on Sunday afternoon (kick off 15:00 BST).
Despite wasting a number of chances in recent weeks to cement 7th place and finish above Liverpool for only the 4th time in the past 40 seasons, Everton know a win will ensure that they match last season’s Premier League placing.
The task for Everton will not be easy, as this season’s surprise package Newcastle arrive at Goodison in 5th place knowing they must win and hope results go in their favour to secure either a 3rd or 4th place position in the league table to secure a possible Champions League placing.
Should Newcastle fail to achieve this, at least they can be satisfied with securing at least a top six finish and a place in next seasons Europa League, just two seasons after winning promotion from the Championship.
After losing key players from the promotion team such as Andy Carroll, Kevin Nolan, Joey Barton and Jose Enrique, few people expected Newcastle to feature in the top half of the table this season, with some people even tipping the Toon Army to face a relegation battle.
It is to the credit of manager Alan Pardew and clubs chief scout Graham Carr, that Newcastle have rebuilt their team following astute player recruitment, dipping in to the French, Dutch and German leagues to find relatively unknown players such as Cheick Tioté, Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa and Papiss Cissé, in addition to adding the likes of more established names such as Demba Ba and Davide Santon for a fraction of the of the money recovered from the sale of Carroll Et Al last year.
Pardew has managed to blend his new recruits, with the solid foundations built by previous manager Chris Hughton and players such as Tim Krul, Fabricio Coloccini, Jonás Gutiérrez and Danny Simpson have stepped up this season to take them within touching distance of next seasons Champions League.
The undoubted stars for Newcastle this season have been Senegal International Strikers Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse.
Demba Ba was prolific in the first few months of the season and made an immediate impact following his free transfer move from West Ham United, scoring 15 goals before January, which included two hat-tricks versus Blackburn and Stoke in the early months of the season.
Ba has managed just one goal since returning from the African Nations Cup in February; however this is largely due to him adopting a wider role in Newcastle’s team to accommodate International team mate Papiss Cisse.
Cisse joined Newcastle for a fee of £8m from German side SC Freiburg in January, however due to his participation in the African Nations Cup did not make his debut until February. The Senegalese International made an instant impact, scoring the winner on his debut versus Aston Villa and has simply continued scoring for fun in the Premier League.
In 13 games, Cisse has scored 13 goals and it’s not just his lethal finishing that has grabbed the headlines and plaudits since arriving in the North East, but also the quality of the goals scored that has made Newcastle’s number 9 stand out as a player with World Class technique and ability.
An exquisite goal versus Swansea over Easter was trumped by the goal of the season in the recent 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge.
There are rumors that Cisse has a £15m buyout clause in his Newcastle contract, so it will be interesting to see if the Magpies will be able to keep hold of their prized asset beyond this summer, with the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Inter Milan on the continent and both Manchester clubs closer to home rumored to be ready to pounce.
One thing for certain this Sunday is that Everton’s back-line is going to face a far sterner test than it faced in the previous fixture at Wolves, which was typical end of season fair.
David Moyes will surely be kicking himself that the Toffees failed to take the opportunity to secure their 7th place in the league table by failing to defeat or score past a woeful Wolves side that had not won at home since December or kept a clean sheet at Molineux since August.
Everton will need to be on top of their game on Sunday and will hope that some of their injured players will be in contention for a return for the final game of the season. It was evident in the lethargic display against Wolves, that the Toffees fit players were starting to look jaded after a long season, with perhaps the run of matches in March and April finally taking their toll. Moyes will hope Darron Gibson and Leighton Baines will be available to freshen things up.
Newcastle have almost a fully fit squad to choose from, with only Danny Simpson (Ankle injury) and long term absentee Steven Taylor (Achilles) likely to be missing for the Magpies on Sunday afternoon.
The game itself on paper should be an entertaining clash, with Newcastle having to push for a win that will give them a chance of European qualification. On a number of occasions this season, the Magpies have been handed a server beating when pressing for a victory away from home, for example a 0-5 defeat at Tottenham in February and recently in a 0-4 defeat at Wigan in April. Therefore Everton will hope to create ample opportunities to expose what can be an inconsistent Newcastle back-line.
The question will be, what Everton will turn up at Goodison Park on Sunday? Will it be the one that defeated Sunderland and Fulham convincingly in their past two home matches or the limp side that lined up at Wolves last week?
Everton do have an excellent recent home record for their last game of the season at Goodison, winning seven of their final home games over the past ten years, including two wins against Newcastle in May 2005 (which secured our own Champions League qualification place) and in May 2008 (3-1), which was also our last victory against the Geordies at Goodison.
Given the importance of this game, I can see there being goals at either end, with the game having the potential to be quite a pulsating clash to close the season. Therefore for my final prediction of the season, I’m going to go for a bold high score draw.
Everton 3 Newcastle United 3
Finally this is my final article of the season and hopefully you have enjoyed reading these as much as I’ve wrote them (and laughed at how wrong my predictions have been). Thanks for taking the time to read these during the course of the season. Have a safe and happy summer.
Nil Satis Nisi Optimum.