A Bridges too far for Everton

FOOTBALL
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The Independent Online
As soon as Duncan Ferguson began to warm up on the touchline, the odds were on a second-half substitution deciding a so-far undistinguished match.

So it did, but it was Sunderland's Michael Bridges, just 18 and without a Premiership goal to his credit, who swung the game. They have massive hopes for Bridges at Roker Park and he looked cool and comfortable as soon as he came on, with the scores locked at 1-1.

Within three minutes, he had met a cross from the left and although the ball looped up off a defender and was followed into the net by the Sunderland captain, Kevin Ball, the goal was credited to the young striker.

There was no dispute about his second. With Everton throwing everyone forward in an increasingly desperate search for an equaliser, both Steve Agnew and Michael Gray - second-half substitutes themselves - had shots blocked by Neville Southall, before Bridges followed up to make sure of an unlikely three points.

Peter Reid's Sunderland were indisputably good value in their victory over the club for which he played with such distinction. Everton's supporters gave Reid and his assistant, fellow ex-Blue, Paul Bracewell, a generous welcome back to Goodison. But that was when they expected to beat them with some ease. By half-time, most of them realised that things were going badly awry.

For much of this match, Sunderland had little to contain; whenever Everton progressed as far as a ball into the box, Sunderland's French goalkeeper, Lionel Perez, handled everything with assurance. They also had the best of the few clear chances, Southall having to block efforts from Ball and Alex Rae.

Seconds after half-time, Everton were given the perfect opportunity to take control. Andy Hinchcliffe put the ball into the area and Martin Scott was ruled to have impeded Graham Stuart. It was a debatable decision, but Perez rendered it academic by throwing himself to his left to save Stuart's spot-kick, Joe Parkinson's follow-up header going wide.

Nothing Everton had done thus far justified the decision to start the game without Ferguson and he was duly introduced after 54 minutes. But it was Sunderland who scored, Rae doing well to get over a cross and Craig Russell heading down firmly into the net.

A second Everton substitute, Michael Branch, had a shot deflected on to the top of the crossbar from his first touch after replacing the ineffective Andrei Kanchelskis, but then Ferguson marked his arrival in the way the script had anticipated. He met Hinchcliffe's corner with a header that was too powerful for Perez, and even Reid admitted that the equaliser hinted strongly at an Everton salvage operation.

But Reid brought on Bridges for Russell seven minutes later and his tactical move worked like a dream. "Sometimes these things come off and sometimes they don't," he said. "He's a fine prospect and he has the knack of putting the ball in he net. I thought it gave us a well- deserved three points."

Even Joe Royle could not disagree with that assessment. "I wouldn't argue with the result," he said. "They played very well and we had a collective off day. We've had a great run and what we've got to do now is pick ourselves up."

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