Miles Starforth’s analysis: Newcastle 0 Everton 1

Newcastle players are gutted by their late defeat to Everton
Newcastle players are gutted by their late defeat to Everton

If only it hadn’t stop raining.

St James’s Park’s pitch was soggy at kick-off time after a Christmas deluge on Tyneside.

In the second half they were magnificent. We stood toe-to-toe with a very good Everton team.

But unfortunately the surface wasn’t soggy enough to stop Everton playing.

Newcastle United, in Steve McClaren’s view, were “magnificent” after the break after surviving a first-half onslaught.

“They didn’t deserve that,” said the club’s head coach.

“They gave everything. In the second half they were magnificent. We stood toe-to-toe with a very good Everton team.

“That kind of performance ... bodes well for the future.”

They weren’t magnificent. Not even close.

And does it bode well for the future?

For now, it’s all about the present. The club is third-bottom of the league, and deep in relegation trouble.

Admittedly, Newcastle had a go in the second half.

And the team had enough character and spirit – two qualities they will need in the second half of the campaign – to come through some trying spells in the first half when they just couldn’t get the ball.

But had it not been for Rob Elliot, a player the club was ready to move on in the summer, Everton would have been out of sight well before Moussa Sissoko delivered a 72nd-minute telling cross for Aleksandar Mitrovic.

Mitrovic somehow missed the target from six yards, just as Siem de Jong had done a week earlier against Aston Villa at the same end of the pitch.

Roberto Martinez’s side, a team with which United should be competing in the table, were magnificent in spells. They deserved the win, which came courtesy of Tom Cleverley’s injury-time header. They had more of the ball, used it better and created more chances.

Everton had played like a home team, and Newcastle, set up to invite their visitors on and counter-attack, struggled to get over the halfway line for 45 minutes.

United were better after the break, and Georginio Wijnaldum forced a point-blank save from previously-untested Tim Howard minutes before Mitrovic’s miss.

McClaren’s players were applauded off the pitch.

The crowd had appreciated the honest endeavour from the team on a difficult and sodden pitch, but Newcastle will need more than that it they are to stay up.

McClaren has talked a lot about “progress” over the past few months – and the job he took on is undoubtedly a challenging one for many different reasons – but his team is roughly where it deserves to be this season.

And that’s the worrying part.

Up to now, United simply haven’t been good enough.

The pace of the progress under McClaren must quicken if the club is to stay in the Premier League.

When Newcastle were last relegated in the 2008-09 season, two late equalisers conceded by the club in the first half of the campaign would prove costly.

Remember the 89th-minute goal scored by Titus Bramble for Wigan Athletic in November? Or a 90th-minute strike from Stoke City’s Abdoulaye Faye?

Had United kept out just one of those goals, they wouldn’t have gone down.

Cleverley’s winner could yet prove costly, as could the misses from Mitrovic and de Jong. Newcastle, sooner rather than later, need to start taking their chances.

In the second half, McClaren, stood in his technical area, urged Mitrovic – who had been recovered from an ankle problem in time to face Everton – to “run”.

The problem for McClaren is that he doesn’t have any experienced alternatives to Mitrovic up front with Papiss Cisse, his fellow striker, sidelined for the next few weeks with the groin problem he suffered against Villa.

McClaren has steadfastly refused to talk about next month’s transfer window up to now. Ludicrously, he hasn’t even acknowledged the need to strengthen a squad which is still weak in places.

Unlike his Premier League counterparts, McClaren actually has a place on the club’s board.

Yet the 54-year-old, unlike them, is seemingly unable to speak his mind on transfers in public.

Owner Mike Ashley “relinquished” his place on the board in the summer in the wake of McClaren’s appointment. But some fans are understandably sceptical about the new structure, headed up by managing director Lee Charnley, who chose McClaren as Alan Pardew’s permanent successor.

Does McClaren really have an input into the club’s recruitment?

If he does, why can’t he acknowledge the obvious need for at least one signing? And what does McClaren’s reluctance to say anything about the need to invest in public say about the private conversations at St James’s Park?

McClaren spoke well after taking charge.

Supporters, after hearing about his footballing vision, were willing to give him time, but patience is running out.

And his keenness to stay on-message at a club is irritating many of those same fans.

Tyneside brightened up yesterday after the heavy rain of the previous 48 hours. The danger is that McClaren and his team will be left high and dry.

What happens at Newcastle – on and off the pitch – next month will have a huge bearing on the club’s fate this season.