Football: Campbell calms the nerves

Everton 2 Coventry City 0
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SO LITTLE has gone right for Everton this season they ought to take the first syllable out of Goodison but a little light shone on them yesterday. The pendulum has swung in favour of them escaping relegation.

Facing Coventry, the grand masters of escapology, Everton moved out of the bottom three places thanks to two goals from Kevin Campbell and, with matches against fellow strugglers Charlton and Southampton to come, their fate is in their own hands again.

It was not pretty - Everton rarely are - and both sides were ridden with anxiety but you could not fault the home side for their endeavour and sheer willpower to avoid conceding Coventry anything. They survived, three points intact, even though they lost Marco Materazzi, who was sent off for two bookable offences inflicted on Darren Huckerby.

"The main thing was the win," Walter Smith, who looks greyer by the week, said, "and we deserved it for our first-half performance. It was a bit tense at the end but we're delighted to get the three points.

"Losing to Sheffield Wednesday on Monday was a huge disappointment and I think we did well to get over that and play in the manner we did."

A bit tense? Monday had sent ripples of fear round Merseyside that Everton were about to lose their 45-year hold on the top division. It was not just that they lost to Wednesday, it was the manner in which the did it with two suicidal back passes that had "relegation" imprinted on the team.

Nervousness gripped the home side's every movement from the start and Gary Breen could have put Coventry ahead within a minute, Thomas Myhre tipping his low shot round the post to remedy the collective absence of attention by his defence.

A good side would have finished it off there and then but Coventry are not that and it was Everton who contrived to dominate the first half and should have emerged from it with more than a one-goal advantage to show for it.

After 23 minutes Francis Jeffers made the most of the linesman's generosity when it comes to offside and crossed perfectly for Nick Barmby. Inside the six-yard box and with only Magnus Hedman to beat a goal seemed certain, but somehow he hit the goalkeeper.

Five minutes later that lapse, which had seemed destined to be costly, was erased by Campbell's first goal for Everton since his loan transfer from Trabzonspor. Scot Gemmill and Barmby ushered the ball forward and Paul Williams, who has the build of Evander Holyfield but on this occasion the strength of watered-down beer, was brushed aside before Campbell went round Hedman and passed into the net.

You could almost see the nerves rise from the backs of the Everton players and they peppered the Coventry goal. Materazzi fired into the side-netting, Jeffers had a shot blocked by Hedman's legs and Campbell managed to locate no-one with a pass when it seemed a goal had to come.

So supine had Coventry been you had to anticipate an improvement and following a Gordon Strachan tongue- lashing they at least made a decent attempt to be competitive.

After 51 minutes Gary McAllister's free-kick missed the charging heads and bounced gently into the arms of Everton's goalkeeper Thomas Myhre and with nine minutes remaining Trond Egil Soltvedt dallied for ever when he dispossessed Dave Watson in the area and gave Huckerby too little time to deliver an accurate shot. Still, Coventry's stock in trade is picking up unlikely points in the spring and when Materazzi was judged to have clipped Huckerby for a second time - Everton are likely to appeal over the second booking - a familiar scenario appeared to be about to be played out.

Instead Everton scored again, Tony Grant delivering the cutest of passes through to Barmby who, in turn, found Campbell at the near post and his quick feet were enough to deceive Hedman.

"There's no point in us turning up if we're going to play like that," an angry Strachan said. "We wasted the first 45 minutes and although we improved in the second half Everton were worthy winners."

Coventry are worrying again while Everton have hope. Sounds familiar?

Goals: Campbell (28) 1-0; Campbell (87) 2-0.

Everton (3-5-2): Myhre; Short, Watson, Materazzi; Weir, Gemmill, Dacourt, Barmby, Ball; Campbell, Jeffers (Grant, 86). Substitutes not used: Ward, Degn, Cadamarteri, Simonsen (gk).

Coventry City (4-4-2): Hedman; Breen, Shaw, Williams, Burrows; Telfer (Aloisi, 14), Soltvedt, McAllister, Boateng; Huckerby, Whelan. Substitutes not used: Kirkland (gk), Edworthy, Konjic, Shilton.

Referee: R Harris (Oxford). Bookings: Everton: Gemmill, Myhre, Dacourt, Barmby. Coventry: Boateng, Huckerby. Sending off: Everton: Materazzi.

Man of the match: Campbell.

Attendance: 32,341.