Football: Everton move to higher ground

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The Independent Online
Blackburn Rovers 1 Everton 2

IBRAHIMA BAKAYOKO'S contribution to Everton's faltering cause this season has been uneven to say the least, but he scored two Premiership goals at Ewood Park last night that could be invaluable at the end of the campaign.

The Ivory Coast striker pounced in each half to wipe out Blackburn's lead. Walter Smith admitted that it was not always pretty, but the victory opens the gap between Everton and the danger zone to one that could see them escape.

Everton started the match with seven specialist defenders in their line- up, but any policy of containment had to be rethought within the first two minutes. That was when a build-up featuring Damien Duff and Callum Davidson ended with Jason Wilcox whipping in an early cross. Ashley Ward got there first and, if his initial touch was not going in, then his follow- up made sure.

With a series of matches against Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool coming up, it was vital that Everton responded positively to that setback. They did just that.

Bakayoko had already had two good chances - one hit straight at John Filan and one deflected wide by Darren Peacock - before he equalised.

There was no mistake when Don Hutchison put over a corner that was flicked on and Bakayoko rose to head into the roof of the net.

Everton continued to produce the better chances, despite the unlikely composition of their midfield, Bakayoko and Hutchison both having opportunities and David Unsworth seeing a header cleared off the line by Peacock before Bakayoko struck again.

Hutchison's educated touch was a recurring delight all night and his instinctive flick into his partner's stride was class. Composure in front of goal has not always been Bakayoko's strong suit since he arrived on Merseyside, but this time he steadied himself and shot coolly past Felan.

Blackburn threw everything forward after that, looking for an equaliser and there were times when they could have had one. Both Kevin Davies and his replacement from the bench, Matt Jansen, went close with headers and Thomas Myhre did well to snatch one off Ward's eyebrows. There was also a loud penalty appeal when Davies went down to a Richard Dunne tackle, but Everton deserved the three points.

The Rovers manager, Brian Kidd, faces another crucial match at Coventry on Saturday with an even more depleted squad as a result of Gary Croft's dislocated shoulder. "The effort was all right, but it's clear that we are desperately short of players," he said.

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Filan; Croft (Marcolin, 47), Henchoz, Peacock, Davidson; Johnson, McAteer, Wilcox, Duff; Ward, Davies (Jansen, 69). Substitutes not used: Taylor, Coughlan, Williams.

Everton: (4-4-2): Myhre; Dunne, Short, Materazzi, Ball; O'Kane (Branch, 71), Unsworth, Weir, Barmby (Jevons, 37); Hutchison, Bakayoko (Grant, 86). Substitutes not used: Jeffers, Simonsen (gk).

Referee: P Alcock (Sevenoaks).