"What became of your lamb, Clarice?"
I'd like to give a word of explanation before starting in on this match, because I don't think we've ever given the story about how our Reasonable Reaction Reviews came to be since we moved over to SBN. Here in Dallas, where RKW and I both live, the Dallas Cowboys are huge. You don't have to live here to know that, but I'm not sure that outsiders fully understand the mania. Consider what's currently happening on the DFW sports scene: The Dallas Mavericks are making a run through the regular season that has even the biggest of doubters (and I am among them) thinking that they can do something special this year. The Dallas Stars are right in the middle of one of the craziest races to the playoffs in recent memory. The Texas Rangers are coming off of their first-ever trip to the World Series and are the favorites to win the division again. Meanwhile, the NFL is on the verge of a lock-out and the Cowboys haven't been serious contenders in about 15 years. (Never mind that it's the offseason. Cowboy talk dominates any given month of the year here.) Do you think that matters to DFW media outlets? Not one bit. I'm told that Cowboys content on the Dallas Morning News website gets 10 times as many hits as content about any other team. During the Rangers' World Series run last fall, people called into sports talk radio stations to complain that the hosts were spending too much time on baseball and not enough time on the 1-7 Cowboys. One station spent a couple of hosts to Rangers Spring Training this week, and one of them spent half the show talking about the NFL Draft.
This place is crazy.
In an environment like this, it's easy to see why Cowboys' fans have the reputation that they do. When they lose, everybody turns into Chicken Little - even during a 13-3 season. When they win, everybody jumps on the Super Bowl train - even when the team is 2-7. It's no wonder, then, that one local sports talk "legend" dubbed Mondays during football season "Overreaction Mondays." Everybody is allowed to overreact for one day, and then for the rest of the week, it's time to be rational. That's the theory anyway. I'm not a huge fan of this particular guy, but it's one of the smartest observations about the Cowboys and their fanbase that I've encountered.
It doesn't just work for the Cowboys, of course. Every fanbase overreacts to some degree. We're guilty of it around here. Just two days ago I wondered aloud if this team was headed toward an "epic collapse." Sure, that looms as a possibility, but I was still stinging a bit from the loss and wasn't being as objective as I could have been. That's why these reviews are important. We want to put something up at the end of our games so that we can all discuss what just happened while it's fresh on our minds. At the same time, though, we want to revisit them a few days later so that we can get a handle on the state of the team moving forward. We don't promise to be perfect on this (true objectivity is never quite possible when writing about a team you root for), but we're going to try.
Be sure and follow the jump for this week's "Reasonable Reaction Review."
The first thing I want to do is give Everton more credit than I did initially. They hardly played a perfect game, but they were able to capitalize where Newcastle was not. Defensively, the Toffees were able to frustrate the Magpies even as they spent a lot of time on the outskirts of the 18 yard area. I don't want to get too "Death and Tactics" on you, especially because I'm planning on doing one sometime in the next two weeks, but this chalkboard showing Everton interceptions and Newcastle lost tackles will tell you all you need to know:
Even though much of the game (especially the second half) was spent in Everton's defensive third, the Toffees constantly harassed the Newcastle attackers with great effect. Part of this surely had to do with Newcastle' heavy left-handed formation. If you know where the ball is going to be, you can focus your defense a little better. Unfortunately, the Toon attack was just a little too predictable:
Of course, a major problem was injury. With Joey Barton out and replacement Stephen Ireland unable to go as well, Alan Pardew faced a quandry at right wing. Many thought he would turn to Steven Taylor or Danny Guthrie, but instead he sent Danny Simpson up to play the wing while Steven Taylor was inserted at right back. I was supportive of the experiment before the game, but it was immediately apparent that the combination would be ineffective, and Pardew failed to adjust. Simpson looked lost and Steven Taylor was destroyed by Mikel Arteta and Leighton Baines. The situation was compounded by Jose Enrique Sanchez's injury and all the ensuing substitutions.
Speaking of which: It's never a good thing when the substitutions become a major part of the game story. More often than not, it means that the manager has done an awful job making adjustments, and even two days later, I'm upset at Pardew about this. At one point during the proceedings, Newcastle were fielding a team of 3 defenders, 4 midfielders, and 3 forwards, and most of them didn't really seem to understand where they fit into the formation. No wonder they were unable to put more than three shots on target.
I said on Saturday that injuries were the big takeaway from the game. I still think that getting healthy before the next match against Stoke City is key, but my biggest disappointment from this game has to be from a lack of adjustments. It boggles my mind that the ineffective Peter Lovenkrands was allowed to play all 90 minutes, but there he was. I don't want to completely trash Alan Pardew over this, but if the same problems persist on March 19, I believe the Pardew-Toon Army honeymoon will be over.
As far as my previous overreactions go...I don't see the team plummeting toward the relegation zone, though as I said before, they're not knocking on the door of Europa either. After 29 games, I think we finally have a relatively clear picture of what this team is: A mid-table team with wild inconsistency. Nothing more, nothing less.
Let's get into the individual ratings:
Leon Best - 7. Scored that goal, but was otherwise not very effective. That he was the biggest threat to score again is not a good reflection on him as at was a bad reflection on the team.
Peter Lovenkrands - 4. His game has devolved. Content to make long, hopeful runs and have nothing to do with creativity in the passing game.
Jonás Gutiérrez - 7. Has really stepped up the last few weeks, but his crossing is still not as effective as it should be.
Cheik Tiote - 8. He's the best player on the team week in and week out. What else can be said?
Kevin Nolan - 7. Plays well even when he's not on, but it's concerning that he hasn't been a major presence the last couple of games.
Danny Simpson - 6. Ended up playing in three different spots, with varying degrees of effectiveness. Needs to play right back for consistency's sake.
Jose Enrique - 7. Continues to show prowess moving up the field, but had some defensive breakdowns before getting hurt.
Fabricio Coloccini - 6. Showed some hustle during the second half to keep the score from getting worse, but the first half was brutal.
Mike Williamson - 5. Is his new role as the target man on set pieces affecting his concentration on the defensive end? Seems that way.
Steven Taylor - 5. An obvious weak point. I'd almost rather see James Perch in the back 4.
Shola Ameobi (43') - 7. Showed creativity. Probably should have started.
Shane Ferguson (65') - 7. His performance makes me a tad bit less worried if he has to play for JE next week.
Shefki Kuqi (85') - INC. Didn't have time to make a difference. Still, it's not like his presence had Everton shaking in their boots.