Football: Brolin bows to Madar

Crystal Palace 1 Dyer pen 17 Everton 3 Barmby 3, Ferguson 12, Madar 34 Attendance: 23,311
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CHRISTMAS festivities traditionally end with the Feast of the Epiphany. Not clearly in south London where defending veering between pantomime and farce gifted Everton a precious away victory, their second of the season. Pity the poor Palace fans, who have sat through half a season now without the glimpse of a home win. Any more profligacy like this and it could be the prize exhibit in the Millennium Dome.

The only bright spot was the surprise appearance of Tomas Brolin, a plump if canny orchestrator, whose grasp of pace and angle proved too much for many of his team-mates even after a long spell in the wilderness. When the two Italians, Attilio Lombardo and Michele Padovano, are fit again, Palace will have at least three players who know what they are doing.

"He wasn't paid for playing today," Steve Coppell, the Palace manager, said. "We're paying his hotel expenses, but the situation is so loose it's crazy. He did me a tremendous personal favour by helping us out today." Coppell would not be drawn about Brolin's immediate future. The Swede himself must be wondering whether, on the evidence of his side's defending in the first half, his heart could stand the strain. His first reaction to being asked to play after a mere 10 days in training was a hearty laugh, but with the transfer of Tommy Johnson seemingly off, Coppell had little choice. "Once he'd realised I was serious," Coppell added. "He got his head around it and did well."

Brolin's return after his turbulent time at Leeds overshadowed the arrival of Everton's Mickael Madar from Deportivo la Coruna, who proved a promising foil for Duncan Ferguson on his 75th-minute introduction. But it is hard to judge his worth, so woeful were Palace. "He is an intelligent striker and could prove a good signing," Howard Kendall, the Everton manager, said. "But he said the pace of the game was very different from France or Spain." The standard of defending too.

Everton had scored a mere six goals away from home in the Premiership. Within half an hour, their tally had risen to nine, Nick Barmby scoring his first league goal of the season, Madar marking his debut with a neat strike and, more predictably in between, Duncan Ferguson heading home his fourth in the last two Premiership games.

After the diversions of the Andy Hinchcliffe on-off move, some kind of stability brought the ghost of a smile to Kendall's face. Before kick- off, Everton had used more players than any other side in the Premiership, which is a measure of a turbulent season. Madar was number 30. By the end, Palace had matched that number with the belated arrival of Marcus Bent, the new signing from Brentford. "Everton were transformed by the return of their best players, we hope the same will happen to us," Coppell said.

Brolin added a few pounds of padding to the bare bones of the Palace squad. Always a chubby lad, he now bears a passing resemblance to Meat Loaf with a touch of Jan Molby thrown in. "A wise head can save many a mile in the legs," Coppell remarked. Two-nil down after 12 minutes, a neatly angled through ball by the Swede set Bruce Dyer loose inside the penalty area and Bilic's clumsy foul gave Palace brief hope. Dyer side- footed home from the penalty spot. Moments later it could have been 2- 2, a flicked-on header from a corner finding Dyer on the far post. His header was blocked by a combination of post and the goalkeeper Thomas Myhre.

If Everton's defending was nervy, Palace were simply shambolic and it was not long before Madar had gleefully exploited the chaos to put recovery beyond reach. And that was about it, in terms of entertainment. Everton manned the lifeboats in the second half; Palace pressed with more hope than guile. Brolin, pushed back into midfield, ran his legs off and was still trying to prompt a revival as the final minutes ticked away.

At the final whistle, the Everton players raised their hands in the air, a gesture of relief as much as delight. For Brolin, it was a personal triumph, first light at the end of a long tunnel. "I'm here for two weeks trying to get back my appetite for football," Brolin said. "Leeds didn't treat me like a human being."

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