Football: Goodison goal famine at critical level

Everton 0 Liverpool 0
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The Independent Online
IN RETROSPECT the collective groan that went round Goodison Park on 29 August when Tottenham Hotspur scored was a mistake. Instead of berating the Almighty, fate and Everton's defence, the crowd should have assumed the awed aspect of someone studying a valuable stamp or antique.

But then who was to know what appeared to be a 10-a-penny event would assume the rarity of diamonds? Get a goal in a home Everton match now and the St John's Ambulance people would be rushed off their feet treating people with shock.

Everton have played 450 minutes of Premiership football at Goodison and not scored while the only opposition to locate the net there are Spurs. Suggestions that cameras should be in place for goal-line incidents are irrelevant in this desert, a painter in oils would have time to record any controversy.

And just in case anyone is wondering what to buy their deadliest enemy for Christmas, a season ticket for Goodison is unlikely to prove much better value in the near future. The Everton manager, Walter Smith, knows what the problem is, solving it is another matter.

"We have succeeded in making ourselves difficult to beat," Smith said, "but in home matches we don't have the quality in the wide positions, people who can beat men and open up defences. That's the main reason why we're not getting the breakthrough.

Would he be opening up the chequebook to purchase that quality? "No," he replied. "We haven't any money to buy again." Marvellous.

The outcome is that the best header in Britain, Duncan Ferguson, spends his working life flicking on passes from behind him instead of charging at juicy crosses hanging invitingly ahead of him. It is easy to counter and a waste.

Ibrahima Bakayoko, on his debut after a pounds 4.5m transfer from Montpellier was close with a header after a minute and Ferguson startled a post in the second half but, that apart, Everton had all the cutting thrust of butter. As Roy Evans, the Liverpool joint manager, said, he could not remember a Merseyside derby where his defence was so comfortable.

As a consequence Liverpool, whose recent record in these tribal affairs is lamentable, should have won at Goodison for the first time in nine attempts. Robbie Fowler had two one-on-one chances ably saved by Thomas Myhre and there were also inquiring glances from the visiting bench about two possible penalties.

Still a point in the old enemy's backyard marks progress of sorts although whether it confirms Anfield's ability to claim the big prizes is debateable. Manchester United are already four points ahead with a game in hand while Aston Villa are a whopping eight points clear. Liverpool can afford few slips from now on.

Their future is also likely to be defined by Steve McManaman, whose failure to sign a new contract is edging towards the alarming stage. He is free to go in the summer under the Bosman ruling and sooner or later Liverpool will either have get him to commit himself to the club or bite the bullet and get some cash for him.

"We have been in negotiations on a weekly basis," Evans said, replying to reports that Real Madrid covet McManaman, "and we're still trying to sort it out. We're confident we will reach an agreement despite reports saying we're dragging our heels. That's a load of rubbish.

"I would like to think we'll succeed but we are not always masters of our own destiny. He is probably the most high-profile player to be affected by the Bosman ruling so we knew it was never going to be easy. It's not all about money, it's about several things."

Everton followers can only watch, be vaguely amused at their rivals' problem and then lament "what if?" since McManaman, the very type their team needs, supported the club as a boy. The alternative is to watch the shortest video in history: Great Goals at Goodison 1998-9.

Everton (4-4-2): Myhre; Cleland, Watson, Short, Unsworth; Grant (Cadamarteri, 56), Hutchison, Collins, Ball; Ferguson, Bakayoko (Ward, 67). Substitutes not used: Madar, Farrelly, Gerrard (gk).

Liverpool (4-4-2): James; Heggem, Carragher (Kvarme, 49), Staunton, Bjornebye; Berger (Riedle, 86), Ince, Redknapp (McAteer, h-t), McManaman; Owen, Fowler. Substitutes not used: Matteo, Warner (gk).

Referee: P Durkin (Portland).

Bookings: Everton: Cleland, Unsworth, Hutchison. Liverpool: Fowler, Ince, Bjornebye, Riedle.

Man of the match: Ball.

Attendance: 40,185.