Everton 0 Feyenoord 0
Feyenoord, the last team to knock Everton out of a European competition, went some way towards repeating their feat of 16 years ago last night when they left Goodison Park clutching a 0-0 draw.
There were eight goals when England met the Netherlands in the shape of Leeds and PSV Eindhoven on Tuesday, but last night there was never the remotest possibility of a second sitting at a feast. Instead, Everton became embroiled in a tactical battle that they looked increasingly likely to lose.
Their one consolation, the non-concession of a home goal, was secured only by Gary Ablett heading off his line from Rob Witschge's wonderfully improvised flick 18 minutes from time. The prospects look precarious for Rotterdam in a fortnight.
Not that the Everton manager, Joe Royle, saw it that way. "It was a terrific performance," he said. "We kept a clean sheet and we'll have players coming back for the return leg. Certainly we'll have a bit more pace about us. I fancy our chances."
Everton were without Duncan Ferguson, Andrei Kanchelskis and Daniel Amokachi, who can add a point to the endless toil of their midfield. Royle attempted to make do by packing that area with muscular worthies like Matthew Jackson and David Unsworth, but while that blunted Feyenoord, it also had a similar effect on his own side, and Paul Rideout was too often isolated up front.
A warning for the home side came after three minutes when Neville Southall had to fling himself to his left to block Regi Blinker's shot. Everton rode this, however, and by half-time had reason to feel optimistic.
By then, they had accumulated three clear chances, the best of which was a shot by Rideout that tested the agility of Ed de Goey after seven minutes. There was also a header from Graham Stuart that flew over, and a shot from Samways that was not hit hard enough to profit fully from Stuart's intelligent pass.
The moment that had Goodison buzzing with frustration came when Jackson burst past a defender on the right and then was bowled over by Blinker in the area. It looked obstruction at the very least, but the referee waved play on.
Instead of building on the potential of the first period, however, Everton retreated and Feyenoord swarmed into the gaps. Southall dived to save from Blinker, and even when Ablett made a goal-line clearance, the Everton goalkeeper needed to block a follow-up effort from Giovanni van Bronckhorst.
At the other end, the play became more frantic as possession created half-chances rather than the genuine article. The best was when Rideout pipped Ulrich van Gobbel to a header in the 89th minute. His gesture, bringing his hands to his head when the effort went over, could have been a summary of the night.
Everton (3-5-2): Southall; Barrett, Short, Ablett; Jackson (Holmes, 81), Horne, Samways, Unsworth, Limpar (Barlow, 81); Stuart, Rideout.
Feyenoord (4-1-3-2): De Goey; Zwijnenberg (Heus, 60), Van Gobbel, Koeman, Boateng; Maas; Larsson (Iwan, 81), Witschge, Bronckhorst; Obiku, Blinker (Trustfull, 60).
Referee: H Weber (Germany).