Football Features

Dwight McNeil shows “true quality” for Everton as Newcastle’s away struggles continue

By Harry Edwards

Published: 22:01, 7 December 2023

Dwight McNeil was once again on the scoresheet for Everton as they moved out of the relegation zone thanks to a 3-0 win over Newcastle United.

As one of the last teams to play in this midweek round of fixtures, Everton had the benefit of knowing that Luton had lost, opening up the opportunity for them to jump out of the bottom three. It’s a position Everton will believe they deserve to be in, having only dropped into the relegation zone due to their points deduction.

Everton’s six wins is the most in the bottom half and if they hadn’t had the 10 points deducted, the Toffees would currently sit in 10th, a difference of seven places. For a while, however, it looked as though win number six wouldn’t come.

As the game approached the final 15 minutes, Everton appeared to be suffering from their age-old problem: finishing. Everton had scored 15 goals, with only Sheffield United (11) and Crystal Palace (14) netting fewer. And it’s not like they weren’t creating chances.

Although they weren’t anywhere near the top, Everton were still placed 10th in the Premier League this season for xG, with a total of 23.51. For context this put them among the likes of Manchester United, Brighton and Tottenham. It didn’t take a master mathematician to work out that there is a big difference between 23.51 and 15, and Everton’s negative difference between xG and goals scored (-8.51) the worst in the league.

By the full-time whistle, Everton’s difference between xG and goals was the second-worst in the Premier League (-6.48), but that did not matter one jot.

That’s because, with just over 10 minutes left to play, McNeil struck. The Englishman robbed Kieran Trippier of the ball in the Newcastle half and drove towards goal. Although he had Dominic Calvert-Lewin alongside him, McNeil went for goal and why wouldn’t he.

It was a similar strike to the one that won Everton the game against Nottingham Forest at the weekend, his first goal of the season. Obviously boosted in confidence, McNeil’s finish was that of a player who was already in double figures, sending the Goodison faithful into raptures.

“He’s settled in really well since Sean Dyche has come to the club,” Leon Osman told Amazon Prime Sport of McNeil.

“Sean Dyche is asking him to do things he knows he’s good at, he’s very strong at. Under the previous management, I think Dwight McNeil was trying to drift into spaces, trying to pass it and move, and play on the half turns. I think now he’s just clear in what he wants.

“When you get the ball, try and create something. Get the ball, touch, cross it. If you’re not going to cross it, have a shot. If you’re not going to do that, be positive first ball forward. And I think it certainly suits Dwight McNeil.”

Sean Dyche added: “Since we became part of Everton, I think he’s been excellent. [We] took him back to basics, basic principles of what he knew when I gave him his debut many years ago. And I think he’s grown as a player.

“He’s got true quality. I think there’s still more to come, I think he’s a very talented player.”

The scoring wasn’t done there. Trippier was once again the Newcastle man caught out, giving the ball away to Jack Harrison whose pass was missed by McNeil but fell to Abdoulaye Doucoure, who finished coolly. It wasn’t a complete miss-kick by McNeil though, getting enough of a toe on it to record the assist for Doucoure’s strike.

Doucoure has now scored 10 goals for Everton in the Premier League this year, keeping his three-goal lead over McNeil as the Toffees’ top scorer. In 2023 as a whole, Everton have scored 39 goals, meaning Doucoure has netted just over a quarter of their league strikers, one of their most important players.

There was still time for Everton to score three, with Beto capping off a good move, the second time the Toffees have won 3-0 at Goodison Park this season.

But there is another side to the story. Although Newcastle have made St James’ Park a fortress this season, their form away from home remains extremely ropey. In the Premier League, Newcastle have now played seven games away from home this season, only winning one.

The sole victory came at Bramall Lane in the form of Newcastle’s 8-0 thrashing of Sheffield United back in September. Aside from that, Newcastle have lost four and drawn two, adding the defeat to Everton to losses against Man City, Brighton and Bournemouth.

Even when you look across all competitions things aren’t much better. In 11 away from home, Newcastle have managed two wins, adding a 3-0 EFL Cup victory over Man Utd at Old Trafford to the Sheffield United win. But there was also a Champions League defeat to Borussia Dortmund and draws against AC Milan and PSG.