Everton . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1
(Portsmouth win 4-3 on aggregate)
MIKE WALKER suffered his cruellest blow as Everton manager last night when his Premiership team were knocked out of the Coca-Cola Cup two minutes from time.
Having gone ahead through Dave Watson's 17th-minute header, Everton had been poised to take the second leg of this second-round tie into extra time until Paul Hall struck for Portsmouth. The First Division side's substitute broke down the left and fired a 20- yard shot through the legs of the Everton goalkeeper, Neville Southall.
Hall, who had been dropped after a lean spell of form, said it was his 'sweetest moment in football'. It must have been one of Walker's worst moments. This, according to the gossips, was a match he had to win to save his job.
In Walker's despair, however, there were signs of hope. Invigorated by the enterprising Duncan Ferguson, signed on loan from Rangers, Everton produced their best performance of the season. Had it not been for the Portsmouth goalkeeper, Alan Knight, who made a series of outstanding saves, Everton would have won comfortably.
With Ferguson playing alongside the Nigerian international, Daniel Amokachi, Everton attacked with rare urgency from the start. The approach nearly brought the reward of a goal in the second minute when Graham Stuart's shot deflected off Kit Symons, the Portsmouth defender, and looped over Knight. The goalkeeper scrambled back, however, and dragged the ball clear.
Knight denied Stuart again at the end of the first half, touching his shot against the post to enable Symons to clear off the line. Ferguson was also thwarted twice as Knight maintained his good form in the second period.
The goal that eventually beat Knight was a good one, Watson climbing high to flick the ball in from a Vinny Samways corner. It looked for a long time as though the goal would at least buy Everton an extra half hour. Even when Portsmouth regained the initiative after half-time, they rarely threatened to score until Hall's late break.
'They had one shot on target and scored,' Walker said. 'It was a kick in the teeth and hard to accept when you have played so well. I cannot fault the commitment. The spirit in the camp is not a problem. We need a break. We must have run over some black cats.'
Such is the state of Everton's season that a victory here, against a mid-table First Division side, would have been regarded with relief by themselves and with surprise by everyone else.
At least they deserved to win, which has not been the case for most of the season. Everton, who are bottom of the Premiership table, now stay on the south coast before playing Southampton at The Dell on Saturday in another match which Walker apparently cannot afford to lose.
'I know the vultures are gathering, but there is no way I am going to roll over,' he said. 'It is a big club and I have hardly got my teeth into it yet.'
Portsmouth (5-3-2): Knight; Kristensen, Gittens, Symons, Dobson, Stimson; Powell, Pethick, McLoughlin; Radosavljevic (Hall, h/t), Creaney. Substitutes not used: Poom (gk), Daniel.
Everton (4-4-2): Southall; Snodin, Watson, Unsworth, Burrows; Stuart, Parkinson, Samways, Hinchcliffe (Rideout, 89); Amokachi, Ferguson. Substitutes not used: Kearton (gk), Durrant.
Referee: K Cooper (Pontypridd).
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