Football: Everton hit rock bottom

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The Independent Online
Aston Villa 2

Milosevic 36, Ehiogu 56

Everton 1

Speed pen 12

Attendance: 36,389

Everton have not won an away game for so long that they have become the most welcome visitors in the Premiership. In less than a month they may "celebrate" the first anniversary of their last victory outside Goodison Park. But worse befell them yesterday when, as a result of their defeat at Villa Park, combined with surprises elsewhere, they slumped into bottom place.

Their manager, Howard Kendall, admitted: "The league table is not going to make nice reading. We've got quality players and I honestly believe we can improve - we will get better and win games." The alternative, of course, is no longer unthinkable.

At a time when both clubs could do with extra staying power, most of the talk had been about people possibly leaving. Savo Milosevic had been tempted by Napoli's lire, but presumably not enough since he says he is happy to stay with Villa; Everton's chairman, Peter Johnson, was the subject of revived rumours that he was about to cash in on his shareholding. Those shares will surely now sink fast.

Neither side could afford to be satisfied with the draw Everton should have achieved. Milosevic, so often aloof from a sense of urgency, here appreciated that immediately and had a fine game. For Villa, it was more a matter of whether Stan Collymore would show similar purpose. He had no time to indicate anything before Everton took the lead. Michael Oakes in the Villa goal had just managed to defy Gary Speed by diving to make safe a half-struck shot when he saw Speed ease a pass diagonally just inside the penalty area. Graham Stuart had barely placed a foot on the ball when Alan Wright thundered in, taking ball and player. The referee judged that the player had been struck first. Speed himself swept in the penalty.

Villa quickly took away Everton's thoughts of a change of fortune. Dwight Yorke, Collymore, and Milosevic can make a threatening trio. None could quite inflict a final touch of control in their shooting but Collymore was unfortunate when an accurate, muscular header was supremely fisted out of danger by Neville Southall.

Collymore's strength in the air was more effective after 36 minutes when he rose above everyone in Everton's goal area to meet Steve Staunton's corner. For a moment it seemed that the ball would beat Southall but it required Milosevic's final thrust.

The absence of Gareth Southgate for Villa cost them a little in composure but that was balanced by the enormous strength of Ugo Ehiogu. His pragmatic defending formed a base upon which Villa built an advantage. Charging forward early in the second half, he met another corner from Staunton to head in with a defender's power.

After all the gossip about Collymore's alleged lack of motivation, he needed to emphasise his positive side. He achieved that. Two minutes after Ehiogu's reward, he punched a low shot that slid so quickly off the dew-damp surface that even Southall failed to bring it into his grasp, the ball spinning into the net. Collymore deserved more than to see a flag raised for offside.

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