It was bound to happen in the end. Newcastle United could not fight through their exhaustion any longer, buckling in the final 10 minutes against Everton and eventually falling apart. For 80 minutes they held their own, soaking up pressure and still creating enough chances to feel they could win but in the end, they had nothing left in the tank.
With back-up defenders and academy kids on the bench, Eddie Howe could not change things and the 11 players who have played almost every minute of the last four games, were finally unable to ignore their fatigue.
In one of the more remarkable stats from the season, Newcastle’s substitutes have played a combined total of 25 minutes (only 18 of which was by outfield players) in the games against Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United and Everton. That is clearly unsustainable in the medium, let alone the long term.
The fact Kieran Trippier was at fault for two goals, giving the ball away deep in his half under pressure, was damning evidence of their tired minds and shattered bodies.
So too were the mistakes that littered their attacking play. Anthony Gordon and Miguel Almirón were poor. Alexander Isak too. In midfield, Everton looked sharper and were able to hustle and harass them all evening.
When you have 11 players missing through injury, there is only so long you can compete at the level to which you aspire. There is no rotation, no surprises for opposition managers to unpick, either tactically or personnel. They are more predictable and no longer as relentless in their pressing or movement off the ball.
The worry is this has come at the most hectic stage of the season, with so many games and so little time to recover. They travel to Tottenham on Sunday and there is no sign of anyone returning.
Asked if this performance was inevitable at some point, Howe did his best not to agree but could not hide his frustration either.
“I am in a difficult position to really agree,” he said. “Because if I do, what stops that happening again and again? There are reasons behind every performance and we have struggled to change our plans and have the attacking options we want to change the game. That’s not there for us. We are missing some outstanding players and some big personalities too, who add so much to the group when they are around
“You can potentially do it for a short period of time but the longer it goes, the harder it gets but it’s not impossible. That’s why I’m disappointed, we had them penned in their own half for long periods and it’s a missed opportunity to get a win as far as I’m concerned.”
Many managers would be all too willing to look for excuses after a defeat like this. It says everything about Howe that he is more interested in avoiding them. Things are not going to get any easier any time soon though.