Football Commentary / FA Cup: Walker prepared to take smooth with the rough

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The Independent Online
BOLTON'S frustration at not wrecking Mike Walker's managerial debut with Everton was tempered by the feeling that they, rather than the fallen aristocrats of the Premiership, may have done the hard part by drawing 1-1 on Burnden Park's mix of mud and sand.

It might sound like a flat-earth mentality and, in one sense, it was. After being denied a deserved victory in injury time, when Tony Cottee was the width of the woodwork away from the most embarrassing (own) goal of his career,

Bolton took consolation from the conviction that Goodison Park's smooth surface will suit their passing style better.

John McGinlay, the Scottish striker who scored in Wanderers' replay win at Liverpool last January, cited the Anfield precedent in support of his assertion that the First Division side could not wait to get Everton 'on a decent pitch'.

The match programme had informed us that Bolton's favourite son, Nat Lofthouse OBE, has 'no heirs and graces'. No one would claim McGinlay as heir to the Lion of Vienna, but the skill and aggression he and his colleagues had shown gave credence to the suspicion that his remarks owed more to belief than bluster.

Only feet away, Walker was making near identical claims about the conditions on Everton's behalf. Perhaps, one cynical Goodison-watcher suggested, he thought he was still at Norwich. Mobbed like a messiah by Everton fans as he arrived at the ground, Walker had been taunted by the home crowd for everything from alleged greed to (far worse) a supposed resemblance to Jimmy Savile. As he watched impassively, the team selected by Jimmy Gabriel supplied a graphic illustration of what it will take to fix it.

In one respect, Walker could not lose. His appointment as Howard Kendall's successor - the worst- kept secret in football, for all the charade of Friday's interview - had come late enough to absolve him of blame had the Toffees come unstuck, but just in time to take some of the credit in the event of a victory which only briefly looked possible.

When Paul Rideout shot them ahead - by which time McGinlay had forced one desperate, plunging save from Neville Southall and fired over from inside the six-yard area amid sustained Bolton pressure - Bruce Rioch's furiously animated performance on the home bench went into overdrive.

Still Walker showed no emotion. He may have felt drained by what he described as 'a hectic 48 hours' at the end of 'a bad week'. Or perhaps he sensed that it was too good to last, in which case Mark Patterson's equaliser, following a comical clearance against his own bar by Paul Holmes, soon confirmed the suspicion.

Barry Horne's senseless swipe at Jason McAteer, for which he seemed to use a hand rather than the fashionable elbow the referee thought he saw, finally stirred Walker. There was a brief wave of the hand to re-position a player, and the gum now moved around the mouth in earnest as Everton prepared to survive for 34 minutes with 10 men.

'I wasn't going to get involved at all, but I couldn't help myself,' Walker explained after they had achieved their embarrassingly limited goal. 'The circumstances meant I had to.' The new director of the one-time School of Soccer Science pronounced himself pleased, in a slightly unfortunate choice of words, with Everton's 'fighting quality . . . the way the lads kept scrapping'.

Once there is a resolution to that other undignified tussle, for control of the Goodison boardroom, Walker will be expected to bring out the purist rather than the pugilist in the modestly talented squad he has inherited. If Tranmere's Peter Johnson takes over there is talk of pounds 12m being made available, a novel experience for one accustomed to scouring the bargain basement during his 18 months as a top-flight manager.

'We may not have to go mad,' Walker said in a tactful if rather unconvincing vote of confidence. 'You can't just come in and start bombing out players and buying new ones.' If Bolton live up to their promise and repeat their Anfield triumph, it is a judgement he may swiftly be forced to revise.

Goals: Rideout (45) 0-1; Patterson (47) 1-1.

Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Davison; Brown, Stubbs, Winstanley, Burke; Green, McAteer, Patterson, Lee; McGinlay, Thompson. Substitutes not used: Kelly, Seagraves, Hoult (gk).

Everton (4-4-2): Southall; Holmes, Jackson, Snodin, Ablett; Stuart, Horne, Ward, Beagrie; Cottee, Rideout (Barlow, 83). Substitutes not used: Hinchcliffe, Kearton (gk).

Referee: R Hart (Darlington).

(Photograph omitted)

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