Football: Collins misses the points

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The Independent Online
Everton 0

Aston Villa 0

Attendance: 40,112

EVERTON SERENADED Walter Smith with bagpipe music (taped) but failed to sound enough sweet notes on the field to break down a disciplined Villa, who protected their goal steadfastly after the new signing John Collins had missed the first-half penalty that should have given the former Rangers manager a winning start to his career in the English Premiership.

The goalkeeper Mark Bosnich - superb as the last line of a Villa defence forced to call up Gareth Barry, 17, in place of the suspended Ugo Ehiogu - moved smartly to his right to foil the pounds 2.5m former Monaco midfielder, who otherwise made a useful start alongside the Frenchman Olivier Dacourt in Everton's reshaped midfield.

Everton never had a better opportunity after John Spencer, sent clear by Duncan Ferguson's flicked header, was hauled back by Riccardo Scimeca, although Ferguson, a menacing presence throughout, saw a header brilliantly pushed over the bar six minutes into the second half by Bosnich, who denied him again four minutes from the end. On both occasions the impressive former Rangers wing back Alex Cleland had supplied the ammunition for Ferguson to exploit.

Villa, who started with Alan Thompson, their recruit from Bolton who was preferred to Mark Draper in midfield, appeared to have travelled content to gain a point, although Dwight Yorke did force one useful second-half save from Thomas Myrhe before Thompson missed an inviting chance after he had linked up well with Julian Joachim.

Having avoided relegation on the last day of last season's campaign, Everton can expect to avoid that fate this time. The tough-tackling Dacourt - one of seven players who were cautioned by an over-fussy Alan Wilkie - gave them a bite in midfield that will sit nicely alongside Collins's subtlety in a side which Smith plans to strengthen further yet.