Football: Everton survive as Dublin drags out the drama

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The Independent Online
Everton 1 Coventry City 1

GOODISON PARK rocked to an extraordinary mix of protest and party yesterday evening as Everton supporters celebrated their latest escape from relegation by calling for the departure of chairman Peter Johnson.

"We want Johnson out" alternated with chants of jubilation as the fans, drained by 90 minutes of high tension gave vent to their relief and anger. Thus, while a police cordon guarded the entrance to the directors' enclosure a conga of fans snaked across the pitch around supporters busy ripping up their own grassy memento of the day.

Everton survived due to a sixth minute volley from Gareth Farrelly, the quality of which was totally at odds with the rest of the match, and Chelsea's defeat of Bolton 250 miles away.

With transistor radios as prevalent as replica shirts in the full house the ground exploded with joy within seconds of both Chelsea goals. There was even a chorus of "Vialli, Vialli".

Their other heroes were all Evertonians, though Paul Alcock made a late bid for canonisation with a shocking penalty decision which looked to have secured victory with five minutes to go. In the event Nick Barmby marred an otherwise outstanding performance by missing the chance and Everton were condemned to a false ending when Dion Dublin headed an equaliser with 40 seconds of normal time remaining.

A goal for Bolton or Coventry at that point would have sent Everton down. But then came news of Chelsea's second and though Coventry, who dominated the match, continued to press Everton held on.

This was the second time in five years they had survived on the last day and the immediate reaction, as last time, was "never again". However after five relegation struggles in six years the pattern will be hard to break and much work needs to be done, with the team and within the boardroom, if Everton are ever to become a force again. Johnson's after match insistence that he will stay is sure to provoke an unhelpful summer of discontent.

There is hope for the future in the promise of the young players. Michael Ball, just 19, was the most composed player on the pitch while the youth team underlined their potential by parading their FA Youth Cup before the game.

The ladies team also showed off their league championship trophy as Everton sought a positive mood. They even issued a reprint of the programme from Everton's game 70 years ago in which Dixie Dean completed his legendary 60-goal season.

The pessimists recalled that even Dean, in 1931, was relegated with Everton, so what price the current team?

There was nothing in the opening six minutes to console them with misplaced passes de rigueur from both sides. Then a loose ball fell to Farrelly, a pounds 700,000 summer signing, 25 yards out and his volley flew in off the right-hand post. It was his first League goal of the season, judging from his later efforts, a complete fluke, but that did not concern the joyous hordes.

The goal failed to settle the team and Coventry soon took command with George Boateng the leading influence. What little football Everton played came from their few quality players, Barmby, whose endeavour was phenomenal, Don Hutchison and Duncan Ferguson. Yet the key performers were at the back with Dave Watson, Carl Tiler and Craig Short resolute in the face of what became continual pressure.

With Darren Huckerby surrounded whenever he got the ball, Coventry were forced to play to Dublin's head and, though he ultimately scored, that tactic played to Everton's defensive strengths.

Neville Southall, hoping to avoid the dubious distinction of playing for three relegated sides, Everton, Stoke and Southend in the season, lifted the mood when he appeared at half-time when he appeared to say a personal farewell after his long service at the club.

The boost was short however as Everton began to tire after their mental and physical effort. Huckerby, Nilsson and Noel Whelan went close and the tension showed as Ferguson then Ball squared up to Paul Telfer. At one point Viv Busby, the Everton coach, came 15 yards onto the pitch to calm one conflagration while play went on elsewhere.

Thomas Myhre saved from Simon Haworth and Trond Soltvedt volleyed over before Danny Cadamarteri, on for the ineffectual Mickael Madar, ran on to Barmby's header. He was cleanly tackled by Paul Williams. Alcock to general delight and astonishment gave the penalty but justice was done when Magnus Hedman dived to his right to save.

Calamity then beckoned as Dublin rose, in the last minute, to head in a cross from former Everton player David Burrows. However, Everton, who were last relegated when George VI was on the throne and Churchill was sweeping back to power, survived.

Goals: Farrelly (6) 1-0 ; Dublin (89) 1-1.

Everton (3-5-2): Myhre; Tiler, Watson, Short; O'Kane, Barmby, Hutchison, Farrelly (McCann, 90), Ball; Madar (Cadamarteri, 49), Ferguson. Substitutes not used: Bilic, Beagrie, Gerrard (gk).

Coventry City (4 4 2): Hedman; Nilsson, Shaw, Breen (Williams, 51) Burrows; Telfer, Boateng, Solvedt, Whelan; Huckerby (Haworth, 68), Dublin. Substitutes not used: Boland, Hall, Gerrard (gk).

Referee: P E Alcock (Kent).

Bookings: Coventry: Boateng, Huckerby, Williams.

Man of the match: Watson.

Attendance: 40,109.