Football: Everton battle for the scraps

Everton 0 Newcastle United 0 Attendance: 37,972
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The Independent Online
THE Everton revival continues, but has not yet the momentum to put comfortable daylight between themselves and the relegation places. They have lost only one match in their last seven in the Premiership, but there is work to be done still. Newcastle, themselves not safe enough to be coasting, probably should have repeated their FA Cup win here in January on a bitter afternoon that tested the spectators' staying power.

The whole afternoon was an ordeal for Gary Speed, whom the Newcastle manager, Kenny Dalglish, had considered leaving out because of the acrimony surrounding his departure from Everton. Back at Goodison not a month on, and sworn to secrecy over the real reason he left, the Welshman could hardly look anywhere without seeing hostile faces in the crowd and his every touch was venomously booed.

How he must have wished for a goal to silence the jibes. If anyone in black and white could provide one, however, Alan Shearer seemed the likeliest source. Keith Gillespie missed with a toe-poked lob after a punch clear by Thomas Myhre had given him reasonable prospects but, in a first half of scraps, it was the England captain who came closest to troubling the Everton goalkeeper.

Twice running free for David Batty to pick out, he dragged one chance wide from a tight angle on the right and volleyed another over the top. The finishing may not have been first class, but the awareness of space was pleasingly familiar. Back on the ground where his latest lay-off began in the Umbro tournament last summer, his rehabilitation seemed almost complete.

As for Everton, parading a new midfield in John O'Kane and Don Hutchison, they hustled and bustled in both penalty areas, nervously at their own end and with none too much cohesion at the other, where the absence of Duncan Ferguson (suspended) and Nick Barmby (injured) left Mikael Madar and Danny Cadamarteri to form a lightweight raiding party.

Their progress was limited against a solid Newcastle rearguard, the clearest opportunity coming when Philippe Albert's missed interception allowed Madar to break clear on the right. Gareth Farrelly offered himself as a far-post target, but the Frenchman's cross was too deep. A later volley from Farrelly would have made spectacular amends but that one, like Shearer's, flashed high and wide.

But this Newcastle defence was a tough nut to crack for an imported striker still trying to get to grips with the intensity of the Premiership and a budding talent, in Cadamarteri, who still has much to learn. When the two did combine promisingly early in the second half, the youngster could not get past Stuart Pearce, imperious in his natural role on the left of a back four.

And still Newcastle's attack posed the greater threat. Andreas Andersson, another trying to establish himself as Shearer's new partner, made an opening for himself by muscling past Carl Tiler. Myhre's positioning barred the way to goal but this was encouragement for Newcastle and more was to come when Rob Lee's cleverly weighted drive had the goalkeeper scrambling to deal with an awkward bounce.

Then the arrival of Temur Ketsbaia, replacing Gillespie, brought extra pace and anxiety for the home side, who then had to make adjustments when Lee's challenge put Mitch Ward out of the game, with Newcastle looking increasingly dangerous.

Everton rallied close to the finish, when Farrelly had an opportunity to steal victory, but then Shearer hooked a half-chance over the bar and left the majority of a 38,000 crowd relieved they had only Speed to grumble about.