Football: Everton strikers live down to expectations

Everton 1 Jeffers 57 Wimbledon 1 Ekoku 14 Half-time: 0-1 Attendance: 32,574
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The Independent Online
WALTER SMITH'S answer to an imbalance in his playing resources - a glut of central defenders and a famine of proven strikers - might have been good enough for victory. The reliance on the raw materials of a strikeforce with a combined age of just 37, however, prevented the plan's execution.

Again forced to juggle his resources to combat injury and suspension, the Everton manager started the game with a back four of recognised central defenders and new signing David Weir making his first start as a full- back. That had an obvious impact on Everton's fluency but the greater disruption was felt in attack through the absence of the suspended Don Hutchison and Ibrahima Bakayoko's international duty.

Everton's upturning fortunes had been built on Hutchison's switch to a striking role and, try as the young pairing of Danny Cadamarteri and Francis Jeffers might, there was a worryingly familiar lack of conviction in front of the Wimbledon goal.

The home side enjoyed enough possession to dominate and created enough chances to have secured a comfortable win. Wimbledon's token retaliation was sporadic and unconvincing as their captain, Robbie Earle, tried in vain to stir his troops from uncharacteristic slumber.

The visitors' opener owed much to good fortune as a hopeful punt was caught by a blustery wind and deceived the back-pedalling Dave Watson. The ball fell kindly into the path of Efan Ekoku, who struck a first-time half volley from the edge of the area that crept in off the inside of the post.

It prompted Everton's best spell of the game. Olivier Dacourt bossed the central midfield area in the first half and although his influence faded after the interval ,when Michael Ball was returned to left-back to be replaced in midfield by David Unsworth, all the home side's most forceful work was at the Frenchman's instigation.

Jeffers, in particular, kept the Wimbledon defence on their toes. One dribble into the area bamboozled Dean Blackwell but the teenager's shot was dragged wide. Nicky Barmby sneaked into space between two defenders to produce a diving header from an Unsworth cross but the close-range effort was directed straight at Neil Sullivan.

The young pairing, however, struggled to work in tandem and the second- half equaliser also resulted from a slice of luck. Cadamarteri powered down the left flank and, in attempting to find Jeffers with his cross, drew a blocked tackle from Chris Perry. The ball looped into the box and forced Jeffers to create all the power on the ball with an arching header that evaded Sullivan at the far post.

Smith recognises the burden on those young shoulders but was frustrated with the result. "The two lads did well up front but we are asking a lot of them.

"I am disappointed we did not come away with a bit more from the game. I felt in the first half we created some good opportunities and a little bit better finishing might have helped us. We came back well into the game in the second half, but, after equalising, we didn't go on and play as well as we had done in the period before," said Smith who was also left fuming at a last-minute penalty decision which, he felt, had denied his side victory when the substitute Michael Branch appeared to be felled by Michael Hughes after rounding Sullivan.