Football: Bad weather gathering over Goodison Park

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The Independent Online
Everton. . . . . .0

Coventry City. . .0

TWO DOZEN hardy, hard-up adolescents watched this match, Caribbean style, perched in trees behind the building site where the Park End used to stand. Ten minutes from time they were gone, flushed out by a sudden shower. Not all spectators were so fortunate.

Those who had paid good money to sit and squirm as Everton stumbled towards stalemate with Coventry felt obliged to stay until the bitter end. Bitter being the word; Mike Walker's team were booed off by the very fans who had tried to inspire their struggle against relegation with a fervent reception at the start.

Like the tree-dwellers, Everton may yet be forced down by the storm clouds over Goodison Park. Walker had said, honestly but provocatively, that Coventry represented their best chance of securing the victory which would virtually ensure Premiership survival. Failure to do so can hardly have encouraged confidence for Saturday's visit to Leeds, one of the country's strongest home sides, or the finale against a now-rampant Wimbledon.

A banner raised before the match listed Everton's triple imperatives - 'Fight-Battle-Passion' - almost as if supporters felt the team needed reminding of their plight. While there was, at last, a sense of urgency about Everton, the overriding impression was of players not up to the job.

Walker, having signed only two of those involved, cannot shoulder all the blame. Everton's decline started when Howard Kendall first left seven years ago, after which Colin Harvey let too many class acts leave too soon. It accelerated upon Kendall's return due to some ill-judged forays into the transfer market, of which Mo Johnston is the prime example.

An impasse in the boardroom power struggle did not help Walker, forcing him to recruit cautiously following his messianic arrival from Norwich. That said, neither the players he has bought (particularly the hapless Brett Angell) nor the way Everton executed those aspects over which a manager should be able to exert influence (namely set-pieces) were a good advert for his prowess.

His other main capture, the fitfully impressive Anders Limpar, did rattle the woodwork after half-time, but John Ebbrell wasted Everton's only genuine chance. They nearly paid a harsh price when Peter Ndlovu came close during the late downpour, though it said much for the match that the Coventry defender Phil Babb managed to be its outstanding individual without being seriously extended.

Ndlovu and Babb are, of course, black. Even the South African state has embraced multi-racialism before Goodison - admittedly not for lack of effort on Kendall's part - which is an anomaly, nay scandal, Walker must address if Everton are to be a force again. How they could use a Cole, Bright, Earle or Babb now.

The latest issue of the club's fanzine, When Skies Are Grey, has a black cover, a reflection of recent results rather than its exemplary anti-racist stance. Uncannily anticipating the damp mood which enveloped Evertonians as the players trudged off, the editorial begins: 'When skies are grey? It's bloody throwing it down.'

Everton (4-4-2): Southall; Jackson, Watson, Unsworth, Hinchcliffe; Stuart, Horne (Radosavljevic, 69), Ebbrell, Limpar; Angell, Cottee. Substitutes not used: Rowett, Kearton (gk).

Coventry City (4-4-2): Ogrizovic; Borrows, Atherton, Babb, Morgan; Boland, Rennie, Darby, Jenkinson (Pickering, 88); Ndlovu, Flynn. Substitutes not used: Quinn, Gould (gk).

Referee: R Dilkes (Mossley).

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