Football / FA Premiership: Walker is lifted by Cottee's industry

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The Independent Online
Everton. . . . . . . . .6

Ebbrell 4, Cottee 42, 84, pen 89

Ablett 71, Beagrie 90

Swindon Town. . . . . . 2

Moncur 55, Bodin 61

Attendance: 20,546

A LATE blaze of goalscoring at a ground which has witnessed barely a glimmer of the old Everton brilliance this season has not blinded Mike Walker to the task that he faces.

Although his new side eventually crushed the Premiership's bottom club, reduced to 10 men by the sending off of Andy Mutch, Walker confessed to nervous exhaustion rather than exaltation after his first league match in charge.

Everton seemed to be on their way to a victory which, had it not been the day Howard Kendall departed in early December since they last won, might have been described as routine until Mutch was dismissed in the 48th minute.

The Swindon striker appeared to strike John Ebbrell with a back-heel and a trailing arm during a careless turning manoeuvre. 'There was no intent whatsoever,' John Gorman, the Swindon manager, said. 'Andy's arm just came up as he was twisting away from the challenge. There seems to be no contact allowed in football at all now.'

Mutch's disappearance down the tunnel ushered in the most compelling passage of a bizarre game. Wretched defence allowed John Moncur and Paul Bodin to bring Swindon level in unlikely fashion and Everton looked ragged enough to give them hope of their first away victory of the season. Everton's continuing problems at the back were highlighted by Nicky Summerbee's cross and Moncur's unchallenged header into the net.

Four increasingly nervous minutes later, the Everton defence was even more obviously at fault, Ian Snodin giving the ball away to Bodin on the edge of the box and the Welshman sidefooting past Neville Southall.

A perfectly timed first goal of the campaign by Gary Ablett went a long way towards banishing the spectre of a Swindon success, however, and Everton went on to make their performance look far more convincing than it was.

Ablett forced home the rebound after Matthew Jackson's header had hit the bar from Peter Beagrie's free-kick. In the last 10 mintues, Everton took full advantage of tiring opposition who now had little choice but to throw their diminished resources forward.

Tony Cottee added two goals, the first a smooth finish after fine work by Ebbrell and Mark Ward, completing his hat-trick with a penalty after Martin Ling had pushed Ward. In injury time, a series of headers in the area allowed Beagrie to put a gloss on the result that had looked most unlikely when Everton had floundered half an hour earlier.

'I'm not getting carried away and there is obviously still a lot to be worked on, but the other side of the coin is that we did score six good goals,' Walker said, before catching a flight back to his East Anglian home.

'The players lack a bit of confidence at times. There were some moments when we played some great stuff and others when we played like schoolboys. We need to tighten up a bit at the back. There were a lot of good things and a few little minuses. It was vital for us to get three points and we did so.'

He declared himself happy with the way Everton had taken control in the first half and was justified in identifying Brett Angell, whose permanent signing he plans to complete this week, as a contributor to the improved balance of the side.

Angell's ability to win balls in the air and put defenders under pressure allowed Cottee, Beagrie and the rest far more room in which to work. After five minutes a move involving those three, plus Ward and Jackson, created a goal for Ebbrell, who also had an impressively positive game.

When Cottee scored his first before half-time, Ebbrell pulling the ball back after Nicky Hammond had parried Beagrie's shot, Walker thought Everton were 'cruising'.

It turned out to be a far more turbulent flight than that, even if the eventual landing was the happiest Goodison has seen for months.

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