Football: Everton find life after Ferguson

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FEW WOULD dare say so in Goodison Park's Gladwys Street stand, but the more discerning Everton fans will have greeted the transfer of Duncan Ferguson with the thought: "It's about time". Heresy, maybe, but, despite the Scot's two-goal debut for Newcastle on Saturday, probably correct. Everton's own 2-1 victory over Charlton Athletic at The Valley provided plenty of supporting evidence.

The talismanic Ferguson has many qualities but his presence in the Everton side was not doing either party any favours. Mindful of his capacity to win a match single-headed, many team-mates had abandoned all pretence of passing the ball, simply hoofing it at his head from the halfway line. As well as making Everton thoroughly predictable, it left good footballers like John Collins and Tony Grant redundant and also ruined Ferguson's game.

Though talented on the ground, he ended his Goodison days doing little more than hanging around the D at the top of the penalty box with his arm in the air waiting for the long punt forward.

Everton's pre-Saturday tally of eight goals in 14 league matches underlined the team's goalscoring problem. Ferguson may have scored half of them but his niggardly return in four years as a Blue, 37 goals at one every three matches, reflected his habit of only turning it on in the big games.

Since debuts come into that category, Newcastle fans should not get carried away just yet, though the fresh start, the presence (maybe) of Alan Shearer and the stylistic demands of Ruud Gullit could enable him to flourish anew.

Everton fans, meanwhile, should not look longingly at Tyneside but positively towards the future. There was more attacking variety on Saturday than they have managed in any game this season and also three points, two goals and the luxury of a missed penalty. The midfield trio of Collins, Grant and Don Hutchison were always involved, moving the ball neatly amongst themselves and frequently picking out both the supporting wing-backs and the breaking central strikers with good passes. The team still looks short of quality in several areas, but it was a promising start to the post- Ferguson era.

Not that Walter Smith was prepared to concede a link. The manager stuck rigidly to his insistence that he was both ignorant of and against the transfer - assertions not every Everton-watcher believes - and added: "Try to tell anyone at Newcastle we're better off without him. He's an asset to any club. Everybody said we were fighting relegation because we kept playing the ball up there. I don't believe that was the case."

But Smith did concede: "When he's not there there is an extra onus on the rest to make sure they take part in play. You do have to change slightly. If it forces us into a different type of football, all well and good - as long as it is winning football."

Smith noted that the confidence engendered in a young team (more home- grown than Charlton's) was as important as anything and Monday's victory over Newcastle clearly helped - mainly because it gave players belief in their passing and their ability to win without Ferguson.

There is still work to be done. In attack Ibrahima Bakayoko looked bright in flashes but his decision-making is still too slow for the Premiership and he does not look the easiest player for a raw teenager like Danny Cadamarteri to develop a partnership with. Neither is an instinctive striker.

When Cadamarteri played an excellent ball into the area after eight minutes it was made to look useless because Bakayoko stood and waited for something to happen rather than gambling and hitting the near post in case it did.

Shortly before the break it happened again, only this time Hutchison was the provider and both Cadamarteri and Bakayoko were standing watching.

Cadamarteri redeemed himself in first-half injury time as Everton's new penchant for passing paid rich reward. Collins, winning possession by his own corner flag, played his way out of trouble instead of simply lashing the ball upfield. He found Grant, who passed to Michael Ball, whose curling ball behind the defence lured Sasa Ilic into a foolhardy rush from his goal. Cadamarteri proved quicker and rounded the off-balance keeper before scoring.

The game should have been secured shortly after the interval when Bakayoko, running on to Grant's fine pass, was dragged down by Mark Kinsella as he shaped to shoot. Ball, made nervous by a protracted wait for an injury elsewhere, hit a poor penalty and Ilic saved.

Kinsella, who was not even booked by the lenient Keith Burge, compounded the injustice by equalising with a 35-yard free-kick but Cadamarteri, taking a thoughtful pass from Hutchison in a goalmouth melee, quickly restored Everton's lead.

The ease with which they held it will have worried Alan Curbishley, whose Charlton side have now gone five Premiership games without a win. They are hard-working but are struggling to achieve the speed of thought and depth of concentration required in the Premiership. They did hit the post, through Andy Hunt, in a vibrant first-half spell which also saw Thomas Myhre make an excellent double save, but there was little else of note. If Clive Mendonca, with one goal in nine games, does not recover confidence, a thin squad is in for a hard winter.

Goals: Cadamarteri (45) 0-1; Kinsella (72) 1-1; Cadamarteri (73) 1-2.

Charlton Athletic (3-5-2): Ilic; Rufus, Youds, Tiler (S Jones, h/t); Mills, Redfearn, Kinsella, Mortimer (Newton, 68), Powell; Hunt, Mendonca. Substitutes not used: K Jones, Barness, Royce (gk).

Everton (3-5-2): Myhre; Short, Watson (Materazzi, h-t), Unsworth; Dunne, Hutchison, Grant (Oster, 83), Collins, Ball; Cadamarteri, Babayoko (Cleland, 90). Substitutes not used: Jeffers, Gerrard (gk).

Referee: K Burge (Tonypandy).

Booking: Everton: Oster.

Man of the match: Hutchison.

Attendance: 20,043.