Football: Blue days of Nil Desperandum

Club breaking Kenwright's heart need to break the net.
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The Independent Online
BILL KENWRIGHT has had to take his eye off Goodison this week and focus, instead, on the bigger picture. Everton's deputy chairman was preoccupied with the little matter of his first venture on to the big screen, an "old-fashioned weepy" called Don't Go Breaking My Heart. The film, though, is not about his beloved football team.

The man who is striving to lift the Blues from one half of Merseyside is juggling his takeover bid for the club with his other role as West End theatre producer, and now movie mogul. The man directing the real drama, Walter Smith, has only one job. Yet, it is not one many would willingly want right now.

While Kenwright's film deals with the search for love, Smith yearns only for a goalscorer. Everton's manager takes the Premiership's lowest-scoring team to Derby County today, hoping to embrace some much-needed good fortune instead of the usual sweet nothings from his profligates.

Just 13 League goals, and only three of them at home, add up to a lot of heartache for every Evertonian, but especially for Smith, even though he has only been one for six months. Not surprisingly, the former Rangers manager opted to take Kenwright up on his offer in midweek to come to London for the film's premiere. Just days earlier Smith had been sitting in a darkened stand at Swindon watching a young hopeful audition for the part of Everton's goal saviour.

The teenage striker Francis Jeffers has been drafted into the squad for Pride Park, just days after being called into the England Under-18 squad. Smith saw him score a hat- trick in that 5-1 FA Youth Cup win. There is a temptation to have a fling, but Smith urges caution: "Francis has got great potential," he says, "and he is a good finisher, but I feel that he would benefit more if he was to play alongside a strong forward. And we don't have one right now. He is in the squad but I'm loathe to put all that responsibility on a young boy."

In the circumstances, it seems inconceivable that a team with such a desperate need for goals would sell their top scorer, but that is what happened when Goodison's erstwhile icon, Duncan Ferguson, was transferred to Newcastle United for pounds 7.5m in November.

It was then that Smith discovered that Everton had been living a lie. He had been wooed by the club chairman, Peter Johnson, on the promise of a money-no-object relationship. He spent heavily, most notably on John Collins from Monaco and Olivier Dacourt from Strasbourg, never imagining he might need to keep a few quid back for a rainy day.

The enforced sale of Ferguson prompted Smith to extract an apology from Johnson, but while the chairman waits for someone (probably Kenwright's consortium) to buy his shares, Smith is left with a team who are not scoring and no money to tackle the problem.

Last week's defeat by Nottingham Forest rubbed salt in the wound. "We were creating chances until recently," insisted Smith, "but we didn't take any of them. Up until Christmas, we were a few points off the top six, but in the five games since, we've picked up just two points and that spell has been costly."

Fergie has gone, Ibrahim Bakayoko - a pounds 4.5m signing from Montpellier - has come in, but still the goals refuse to flow. The frustrated Goodison crowd are now on the African's back, but Smith points out: "Yes, it's taking him time to settle, but you cannot blame forwards for the goal situation. It is the team who create the chances. People are often too quick to judge players. Last year Hamilton Ricard was criticised when he went to Middlesbrough, but now he's scoring well."

Smith is not greedy. He'll settle for one goal, provided it's the winner. "Arsenal have had five 1-0 victories recently," he says. "They are always solid and can grab a goal. We're sound at the back too, and the equal, if not better, than most other teams. But it's in front of goal where our problems begin."

Goodison, now, has become a drain rather than an inspiration. Everton play better away from home, though Smith believes that has more to do with style rather than spirit. "We score more goals away, because our game is more suited to other teams coming at us and then catching them on the break. But we've shown we lack a wee bit of quality when it comes to breaking teams down, which is what happens at Goodison when teams sit back."

If Smith wants a lesson on the importance of keeping his nerve, his namesake at Pride Park could supply it. Jim Smith was Oxford's manager the night Alex Ferguson got off the hook nine years ago and went on to create a dynasty. "You don't seem to have time to rectify anything in football now," sighed Smith. "Kenny Dalglish has been as successful as any manager in England and yet he was sacked by Newcastle, and Roy Hodgson did well abroad, as well as when he came to Blackburn, yet he went.

"I get a bit fed up with the comparisons made with Scotland, because Rangers won so much. Manchester United are the power in England and might have had seven titles in a row by now but for a few slips, but no one says it's easy for them. Everton had been fighting relegation for five out of the last six years. I was not egotistical enough to think I could turn that around just by turning up. It was always going to be a hard job."