JOHN CARVER admitted Newcastle United's lack of a cutting edge was the key factor in last night's 3-0 home defeat to Everton.
For the second home game in succession, the Magpies struggled to pose a threat in front of goal, but whereas Papiss Cisse's stoppage-time winner enabled them to squeeze past Crystal Palace on Saturday, they never looked like beating an Everton side who remain in contention for the final Champions League place.
Ross Barkley's sensational solo effort enabled the visitors to claim a half-time lead at St James' Park, before second-half strikes from Romelu Lukaku and Leon Osman put the game conclusively out of Newcastle's reach.
The hosts' best chance came to nothing when Vurnon Anita failed to find the target with 12 minutes left, and with Cisse and Yoan Gouffran also failing to trouble Tim Howard with a series of half-chances, there was never really a chance of Newcastle staging a comeback.
“The quality of the finishing was the difference,” admitted Carver, who was holding the reins as Alan Pardew served the final game of his three-match stadium ban. “They were clinical.
“We started the game and had two or three good early chances, but they were so clinical in their finishing, and we weren't again.
“They have to take a lot of credit for that, and we came up against a really good side, with some good players. The way the manager has them playing – attractive football with pace, power and strength – is a credit to him. We matched them for 45 minutes, but a bit of sheer genius undid us.”
That 'genius' came from Barkley, who picked up the ball in his own half before driving past three Newcastle defenders and rifling the ball into the roof of the net.
The 20-year-old has been compared to Paul Gascoigne on a number of occasions this season, and the goal was more than a little reminiscent of Gazza in his pomp.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Carver, who was on Newcastle's books when Gascoigne was coming through the ranks, bridles at such comparisons. However, he readily admits that Everton have an emerging talent who could be a regular in the England side for years to come.
“Is he like Gazza? I think that's a lot of pressure to put on the lad,” said Carver, “But I think he's a class act. I'm sure their manager will nurture him in the right way and he's got good people around him.
“He's got a bright future – we've just got to be careful that we don't build him up too soon. I think he's a Ross Barkley not a Paul Gascoigne, but as long as they manage him right and we as a country manage him right, I think he's got a bright future.”
Everton boss Roberto Martinez has been attempting to play down the hype that is building around Barkley for most of the season. Many more goals like last night's, however, and that will be an impossible task.
“He’s got such a variety of strengths and he can do things only top players can do,” said Martinez. “I don’t think he’s a like for like, but sometimes he does things that only Michael Ballack can remind you of, sometimes it’s Paul Gascoigne. Sometimes, it’s a uniqueness about his play.
“Technically, he’s as gifted as you’re going to see - right and left you don’t see a difference. What shocks you is the physicality that goes with it. Then on top of it is the character.”
Last night's game marked the end of Pardew's stadium ban, and while he will not be allowed in the dug-out for Newcastle's next four matches, at least he will be inside St Mary's when the Magpies travel to Southampton on Saturday.
“It will be great having Alan back because he is the manager,” said Carver. “He knows his role, and I know mine. It'll be better for him just being in and around the dressing room.
“He has different ideas at times from me and we bounce ideas off each other. I've done that with Steve Stone, but in all honesty, the manager has a lot more experience than Steve, who hasn't been coaching that long. It will be nice to have him back.”