Football: Everton are Gwladys all over

FA Premiership: Goodison salutes saviour Campbell as Charlton fears grow
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Everton 4 Charlton Athletic 1

Hutchison 24, Campbell 31, 60 Stuart pen 81

Jeffers 75

Half-time: 2-0 Attendance: 40,089

RARELY HAS mediocrity been so roundly acclaimed. But then this is Goodison Park in April, scene of more escapes than Colditz, and when springtime has traditionally heralded the vision of visits to Tranmere and Port Vale, three straight victories and an early end to relegation jitters is a good enough excuse for a party. Some of the home supporters left their seats early, safe in the knowledge that, barring calamity, Everton are safe for another year. A hearty - and slightly patronising - cheer even greeted Liverpool's victory over struggling Blackburn.

Everton's saviours have come in many guises in recent years. One of them, Graham Stuart, who wrote himself into local history by scoring twice against Wimbledon three years ago, was appearing in Charlton's colours and was given a rousing reception. But few expected Kevin Campbell, discarded by Arsenal and Nottingham Forest and rescued on loan from Turkey, to be the instant panacea for another head-aching season.

Campbell was again the man of the moment, scoring once in each half to bring his tally for his three games to six, comfortably the leading scorer for goal-shy Everton this season, and securing Everton's first trio of successive victories for 15 months: 40 points and 14th place. Hallelujah.

Whether Walter Smith can bring the Goodison faithful any semblance of long-term joy is another matter. There is much wheeling and dealing to be done both in the boardroom, where Everton's financial future has to be secured, and on the pitch where the side is worryingly short of class.

He has been pleasantly surprised by Campbell's form. "People told me he wasn't an out-and-out goalscorer, but he's done enough in the last three games to convince me. If we'd had someone with his physical presence earlier in the season, we wouldn't have struggled so badly." Somewhere in the North-east, Duncan Ferguson might be interested to hear that.

No one was too bothered about tomorrow at the final whistle yesterday. Evertonians will enjoy the strange luxury of mediocrity while it lasts; deep down, they might even dream of something a little more ambitious, like graduating to the top half of the table. They will rarely meet such obliging end-of- season fall guys as Charlton, whose own hopes of survival are fading fast.

Everton did not need to play very well to see off a Charlton side high on endeavour, low on defensive basics. Two-up by half-time, through a revived Don Hutchison and the revelatory Campbell, Everton doubled their money in the second half, the only sign of their old fallibility emerging late on when Stuart, back among old friends, clipped a penalty past Thomas Myhre after David Unsworth's clumsy challenge on Martin Pringle.

For all the presence of three ex-Evertonians, Carl Tiler and Eddie Youds, besides Stuart, all well-trained in the art of escapology, Charlton's weakness shone in neon. Though playing neat football in the middle of the field, their defence ricochets from the cumbersome to the downright chaotic. Any side capable of conceding two goals in seven minutes to Everton hardly needs to look for trouble.

It took Everton all of 12 minutes to probe the Londoners' soft spot. A clumsy offside trap, a through ball by Hutchison and Campbell was left with the goalkeeper to beat. His well- telegraphed lob did not fool Andy Petterson in the Charlton goal. But just before the half-hour Everton did break through, though there was a touch of fortune about the goal as Hutchison drove a left-foot shot beneath Petterson's body. Charlton's appeals for handball were turned away by Paul Alcock.

Then Campbell, the adopted darling of the Gwladys Street End, who punished Charlton's tissue-thin central defence. Picking up the ball mid-way inside the Charlton half, he outpaced Youds with a bullocking run, drove his first shot against Petterson's body and clipped the rebound into an empty net from an acute angle.

Any thoughts Alan Curbishley might have harboured of sneaking back into the game were ended early in the second-half, Francis Jeffers fashioning a skimming cross which again evaded the outsize Charlton defenders and landed on the gleaming head of Campbell. The merest hint of a deflection was enough to secure Everton's victory, even before Jeffers himself scored the best of the lot 15 minutes from time.

After that, Everton could afford a certain complacency. For once, their finale - away to Chelsea and Southampton, home to West Ham - can be enjoyed in relative sobriety. Charlton must beat Blackburn next Saturday to ease their plight. "The time has come to get out there and do something about it," Curbishley said. Everton will know the feeling.