Football: Ferguson's fellow feeling for Walker's woes: Everton look to Rangers for reinforcements - Leaders benefit from television trade-off - Sutton's losing homecoming

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The Independent Online
THERE WAS no triumphalism from Alex Ferguson after Manchester United's 2-0 victory over Everton, only relief at the result and sympathy for Mike Walker.

Many have forgotten that, less than five years ago, the United manager stared into the same abyss that looms before his Everton counterpart. Ferguson clearly has not.

'We've all been there,' he said with feeling, adding: 'Everton are a big club with big expectations. At the moment they are going through a spell when nothing is going for them. They need a break to get their first win.'

While no one seriously expected Everton to gain it at Old Trafford, even against a United side wearied by their midweek efforts, the pressure to do so is building to breaking point.

The talk on Merseyside last week was that Walker had two games in which to save his job, this one and Wednesday's Coca- Cola Cup second-round tie at Portsmouth, which Everton begin 3-2 down from the first leg.

However, the news from Glasgow suggests that such an assessment is premature. According to the Rangers chairman, David Murray, Everton will today sign the former Scottish international, Ian Durrant, and take the striker, Duncan Ferguson, on loan. If completed by noon tomorrow, they could play at Fratton Park, although it seems Trevor Steven will not be joining them.

Walker refused to comment on the speculation, but if it proves true then (assuming the purchases are Walker's and not his chairman's) he would appear to have a little longer. Maybe until Christmas.

However his chairman, Peter Johnson, did not become a multi- millionaire by tolerating failure. Nor does he welcome the stigma it carries. Since taking over the club in April, three months after Walker was appointed, Johnson has only once been able to extend sympathies to an opposing chairman - after the win over Wimbledon that kept Everton up last May.

This season Everton, two points adrift at the bottom of the Premiership, are yet to win in nine matches. Of Britain's senior leagues only Albion Rovers, who prop up Scotland's Third Division, have a worse record.

There is no disputing that Everton were in a mess when Walker arrived, but so far there is no sign of improvement. On Saturday they played prettily at times, and matched United in most areas, but they rarely threatened to score from open play and were heavily reliant on a suspect offside trap.

Most alarming was the waste of their one truly outstanding player, Daniel Amokachi. The Nigerian was given a Mark Hughes-style role, as a lone target man, but, well though he battled, it was clearly an inappropriate use of his talents.

Afterwards Amokachi, after a nod to the convention of proclaiming 'I'll play anywhere to help the team', admitted he found the role onerous and uncomfortable. Its architect, Walker, was equally unhappy at being asked to justify it. His usual cool deserted him as he refused to agree with the obvious truth that the decision was an indictment of the other strikers at his disposal.

With five strung deep across the midfield, and four pressing forward from defence, Everton resembled a badly assembled bar- football team. They might have scored - Andy Hinchcliffe's free- kicks twice drew excellent saves from Peter Schmeichel - but never really looked like winning.

United, with Eric Cantona looking even more jaded than the Turkey travellers, settled for doing just enough to keep in touch with Newcastle. Their goals, one at the end of each half, both involved Paul Ince and Lee Sharpe, their two best oufield players. While Ince was a dynamic exception to his static colleagues, Sharpe revelled in the freedom provided by Ryan Giggs' absence.

For the first, Ince found Sharpe on the left, and Andrei Kanchelskis nodded in the far-post cross; for the second Ince threaded the ball through Everton's offside trap and Sharpe, aided by a bobble, steered it past Neville Southall.

Five seasons ago Ferguson's position was saved by an FA Cup run that ended with United winning the trophy. More pertinent for Walker, Howard Kendall's survival at Goodison six years earlier was only procured by Adrian Heath's equaliser in a Milk Cup tie at Oxford. Kendall went on to guide Everton to two championships, as has Ferguson at United. On both occasions the respective chairmen, Philip Carter and Martin Edwards, deserve credit.

Johnson, who financed Tranmere's rise up the divisions without resorting to signing a big- name manager, now faces the same test of judgement as they did. Does Walker, a good manager at Colchester and Norwich, simply need more time, or has his ambition exceeded his ability? And does Johnson dare to wait long enough to find out the answer?

Goals: Kanchelskis (44) 1-0; Sharpe (88) 2-0.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Schmeichel; May, Bruce, Pallister, Irwin; Kanchelskis, Keane, Ince, Sharpe; Cantona, Hughes (McClair, 74). Substitutes not used: Scholes, Walsh (gk).

Everton (4-5-1): Southall; Snodin, Watson, Unsworth, Burrows; Rowett, Stuart (Barlow, 85), Parkinson, Samways, Hinchcliffe; Amokachi. Substitutes not used: Jackson, Kearton (gk).

Referee: G Poll (Tilehurst).

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