Football: Everton dull the senses

Everton 0 Derby County 0 Attendance: 39,206
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The Independent Online
HAVING BEEN invited by a public address man with a keen sense of irony to applaud a "year of great football" at Goodison Park, a 39,000 sell-out crowd witnessed what they might have remembered as the poorest match of 1998 had they not spent so many similar afternoons enduring Everton's particularly perverse brand of entertainment.

Everton's home record this season is singularly dreadful - just three goals in 10 matches - and against unambitious opponents beaten only twice away from home the scoreline was not difficult to predict, if not exactly encouraging for Everton's hopes of enjoying a meaningful season under Walter Smith's management.

It could be assumed that yesterday's Everton line-up represented Smith's first-choice team, given that the treatment table has now almost been cleared. Only the long-term casualties - Joe Parkinson, Danny Williamson and Terry Phelan - remain out of contention. The England international Nick Barmby, previously sidelined for 12 weeks because of a hernia, made his second substitute appearance since his comeback.

After six months in charge, Smith has at least brought defensive stability, but as an attacking force Everton are still pretty limp. Mikael Madar's omission from the 16 yesterday appears to signal the end of the Frenchman's Goodison career, but the preferred combination of Ibrahim Bakayoko and Danny Cadamarteri has yet to click.

After 10 appearances in an Everton shirt, Bakayoko is still looking for his second goal, and it almost arrived in the 11th minute yesterday when the goalkeeper, Mart Poom, had to make an athletic leap to push a deflected shot wide for a corner. That apart, the pair found it difficult to trouble Derby's big central defenders.

In the absence of Dean Sturridge, left on the bench by the Derby manager Jim Smith, saying he was "not mentally right" to play, Derby operated with, effectively, only Paulo Wanchope as a striker, yet went closest to a goal in an uninspired opening period. Wanchope should have made more of Stefano Eranio's through-pass after 25 minutes and then missed an open goal after Thomas Myhre could not hold a powerfully struck free-kick by Horatio Carbonari following David Unsworth's foul on Wanchope.

Sturridge, by Smith's account, is unsettled by speculation linking him with a move either to Sheffield Wednesday or Nottingham Forest, the latter reported to have proposed a swap for Pierre van Hooijdonk. "I did speak to Dave Bassett [the Forest manager] some time ago, but Van Hooijdonk was not mentioned," Smith said afterwards. "I don't really want to talk about speculative stories," he added. "His agent is trying to start the January sales in December. But I can tell you I won't be swapping Dean for Paolo Di Canio."

The gathering strength of the wind did nothing for the quality of the contest. Everton dominated possession after the interval but could make it count for little. A frustrated Walter Smith responded by sending on Barmby in place of the largely ineffective Cadamarteri with 20 minutes left. There followed another wave of Everton possession, although there was still no finishing touch and the long-suffering Goodison crowd began to resign themselves to a sixth goalless draw in 10 home matches.