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Ba changes game after "crazy" omission
Final Score: Everton 2 Newcastle United 2
WHEN Alan Pardew left Demba Ba out of Newcastle's starting line-up at Everton, the striker's brother, Hamady, tweeted his disgust, claiming: “I think this guy is crazy”.
Crazy or just keeping his powder dry? Either way, Pardew's half-time decision to promote Ba from the substitutes' bench was the key to the Magpies claiming a point after a pulsating finish at Goodison Park.
Ba rifled in an equaliser within four minutes of coming on to the field, notching Newcastle's 1,000th Premier League goal as he cancelled out Leighton Baines' 15th-minute opener.
But the best was still to come as the Senegal international swooped again in the 90th minute, bundling the ball past Tim Howard just two minutes after Victor Anichebe looked to have secured Everton all three points.
The striker's double ensured Newcastle finished on level terms despite being comprehensively outplayed in the first half, and the visitors deserve considerable credit for the way in which they rallied during a hectic second period.
They were indebted to referee Mike Jones, who somehow failed to spot that Anichebe's 78th-minute header was half-a-foot over the line before it was hacked clear by Mike Williamson and disallowed a goal from Marouane Fellaini that should have stood, but any suggestion of a lack of spirit will surely have been quashed by Newcastle's refusal to concede defeat.
Their commitment could not be questioned, unlike some of their early defending which left a lot to be desired.
With four senior players ruled out because of injury, the Magpies were a mess early on, and Everton thought they had exploited some uncertainty in the second minute, only for an offside flag to correctly rule out Nikica Jelavic's close-range strike.
Crisp and confident from the off, Everton's players picked up where they had left off in the final game of last season, a 3-1 victory that dashed any lingering hopes Newcastle had of finishing in the top four.
David Moyes' side beat Manchester United in their previous home game, and their early enterprise was rewarded with a deserved opener in the 15th minute.
Baines started and finished it, embarking on a slick one-two with Steven Pienaar before drilling a fierce low strike past Steve Harper from the edge of the area.
The England international has developed into one of the best left-backs in the Premier League in the last couple of seasons, and his rampaging overlapping runs caused Perch serious problems in the first half, with Sylvain Marveaux, surprisingly promoted to the starting line-up ahead of Ba, providing scant protection.
Newcastle were second best, and Kevin Mirallas whistled a 25-yard strike narrowly past the left-hand post before Phil Jagielka grazed the outside of the post with a swerving long-range strike that had Harper beaten.
Initially, Newcastle's attacking was restricted by their limited possession. Yohan Cabaye's impact in the hole behind Papiss Cisse was negligible, while even Hatem Ben Arfa, so influential in the opening weeks of the season, struggled to get hold of the ball.
Yet for all that they were penned into their own half for long periods, the visitors should still have been level at the break.
When Phil Neville misdirected a header straight to Cisse in the 27th minute, the Magpies marksman looked certain to score. Last season, he almost certainly would have done. This term, though, he has been a shadow of his former self, and he snatched at a volley that flew harmlessly wide of the target.
At least the opportunity hinted at a resurgence, and Baines was forced into a last-ditch rescue to prevent the ball crossing the line after Vurnon Anita and Leon Osman combined to propel Ben Arfa's low cross towards goal.
Pardew's half-time reshuffle was an admission his starting selection had failed to fire, with Ba replacing the ineffectual Marveaux and Anita sparing Perch's blushes by reverting to right-back.
Ba had outperformed Cisse in the opening three league games, and it took the African just four minutes to fashion an equaliser.
Cabaye's through ball sent him scampering outside Jagielka, and with a composure that was lacking in his fellow striker before the break, he angled a crisp low drive across Tim Howard and into the bottom corner.
As well as introducing Ba, Pardew also changed his side's formation at the break, switching to 4-4-2 and pushing Perch into midfield to provide some bite.
The ploy worked, although Everton had every right to feel aggrieved when Fellaini slotted home Pienaar's 60th-minute through ball, only to see his effort ruled out for offside when he appeared to be level with the last defender.
Osman side-footed narrowly wide of the upright after another slick move involving Fellaini and Pienaar, but with Ba and Cisse linking effectively, Newcastle pushed every bit as hard in the closing stages. The game's most controversial incident came with 12 minutes left. Harper turned Anichebe's close-range header against the underside of the crossbar, but the ball had clearly crossed the line before Williamson hacked it clear.
No goal was given, igniting the age-old debate about goalline technology, but perhaps spurring Anichebe into the strike that looked to have won it for Everton with two minutes left.
Pienaar played the ball into the Nigerian's feet, and he spun away from Steven Taylor before firing past Harper.
Game over? Not a bit of it. Newcastle swept downfield in the 90th minute, and after Shola Ameobi flicked the ball on, Ba bundled it past the advancing Howard.
Crazy manager, crazy game, crazy night. But for Newcastle, also the hints of a welcome return to form after a stuttering start to the season.