December 27, 2014

Though Romelu Lukaku keeps scoring, Everton grow more agitated as wins remain hard to come by.

Newcastle United, meanwhile, haven't been this pleased with their form in more than a year.

Mired in a season-high four-match Premier League winless stretch, Lukaku and the Toffees try to keep Newcastle from extending their unbeaten run to four in this Boxing Day fixture at St. James' Park.

Tied for second in the league with 13 goals and two back of Leicester City's Jamie Vardy, Lukaku has scored nine times during a career-high eight-game goal streak over all competitions.

"I think I'm growing as a player," said the 22-year-old striker, who has recorded 29 goals for Everton and Belgium in 47 overall matches during the 2015 calendar year. "I think I'm almost close to being a complete player."

Lukaku netted an equaliser in the 32nd minute last Saturday at Goodison Park, but Everton (5-8-4) fell 3-2 to league-leading Leicester.

While that was the Toffees' first defeat in seven league matches, they're 0-3-1 since winning 4-0 over last-place Aston Villa on Nov. 21.

"We need to become better in affecting the margins that allow you to (have) those good performances and good scorelines," said Everton manager Roberto Martinez, whose side last went winless in five straight league games from Feb. 7-March 4.

The Toffees possessed the ball 60 percent of the time against Leicester, but Riyad Mahrez converted two penalty kicks for the Foxes.

"It was very disappointing and very frustrating," Martinez told the club's official website. "We can't just allow the opposition with so little threat going forward (in the game) to score three goals. That's the difference between being able to win a game and not. That's where the frustration is with all of us."

Everton's drawn three consecutive road matches and are 0-3-1 away from Merseyside since winning 3-2 at West Bromwich Albion on Sept. 28.

Currently 10th in the Premier League table, Everton have taken four of five from Newcastle (4-5-8) but that lone defeat came at St. James, 3-2 on Dec. 28. Lukaku did not score in that contest but converted from the spot and had an assist in the Toffees' 3-0 rematch victory at Goodison in March.

Things don't expect to be easy Saturday against the Magpies, who are two points clear of relegation thanks to their 2-1-0 stretch that included a 2-0 home win over Liverpool on Dec. 6 and a 2-1 triumph at Spurs a week later.

"Everybody is beating everybody else and you should show no disrespect to anyone else," Newcastle manager Steve McClaren said after last Saturday's 1-all draw with Villa. "No matter how many points they've got because it is so tight and it's not a given to win any game."

The Magpies haven't gone four straight without a loss since their 5-1-0 run Oct. 18-Nov. 22, 2014.

"We are growing, we are getting better, we continue the run, we would have taken seven from nine, and we move on to Everton," McClaren said of the progress his team has made after being outscored 8-1 in back-to-back losses to Leicester and Crystal Palace.

This is the first time both sides will meet on Boxing Day.

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