Football: Goodison goals almost too good to be true

Everton 2 Coventry City 1
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The Independent Online
THINK OF the two words you are least likely to see bracketed together and "Everton" and "exhilarating" would be right up there. But the BBC's idiosyncratic national treasure Stuart Hall managed it on Saturday night and witnesses swear he was not dragged giggling from Goodison in a straitjacket.

Then again quite a few werequestioning the evidence of their eyes while mumbling strange couplets in dark corners, Goodison and goals giving doctors most cause for concern.

It helped, of course, that Coventry played like they thought the floodlights were going to go out after 70 minutes but as Gordon Strachan complained recently it is unfair to downgrade victories by implying the opponents had an off-day. Everton played well and, yes, were exciting. There, I've said it.

As with many of the great scientific breakthroughs of the millennium, it was probably an accident. For the Scrooge-like Walter Smith the nadir was playing four centre-backs and two wing backs, but stripped of personnel because of injury he stumbled, mad professor-like on the formula. A back four, two wide players more interested in going forward than back and strikers willing to pass to each other transformed Everton from the football equivalent of watching paint drying into something resembling entertainment.

Spectators hugged themselves like the FA Cup had been won when Francis Jeffers scored at the Gwladys Street, an end of the ground that has been a barren landscape in the Premiership this season, and were pinching themselves in disbelief when John Oster got a second to match the previous high tide of two home goals at Goodison against Huddersfield in the Worthington Cup in September.

Then, just to ensure the fifth round tie remained edge-of-the-seat stuff for 90 minutes, they defended too deep and almost letCoventry steal a replay.

Jeffers, 18 and a prolific scorer in the youth team, made a difference but so did the decision to convert Don Hutchison into a striker. The Scot, in the twilight zone between midfield and attack, shed light with the intelligence of his passing.

"He must tell me lies because he told me he spent most of his early career up front," Smith said. "I know Jeffers played well today but I'm sure he'd be the first to acknowledge Hutchison's contribution."

Strachan certainly did although he was more preoccupied with the failings of his own team. Coventry seemed to assume a right to reach last eight and only stirred themselves when it was far too late.

Why? "You can't explain everything in football," said Strachan, who did not enjoy his team's lack of competitiveness. "I didn't think we could play as badly as we had in the first half but we managed to do it for another 30 minutes so at least we were consistent."

Goodison was rediscovering enjoyment to the point where the Liverpool defeat announced on the PA system was greeted with a loud cheer. "So Charlton are just a point behind us. With a prolific team like ours who cares?"

Goals: Jeffers (20) 1-0; Oster (77) 2-0; McAllister (83) 2-1.

Everton (4-4-2): Myhre; Ward (O'Kane, 29), Watson, Dunne, Ball; Oster (Bakayoko, 90), Grant, Dacourt, Barmsby; Jeffers (Cadamarteri, 88), Hutchison. Substitutes not used: Jevons, Simonsen (gk).

Coventry City (4-4-2): Hedman; Nilsson, Shaw, Breen, Burrows; Boateng (Telfer, 68), Clement (Soltvedt, 72), McAllister, Froggatt (Aloisi, 78); Huckerby, Whelan. Substitutes not used: Konjic, Ogrizovic (gk).

Bookings: Everton: Dacourt, Hutchison; Coventry: Breen, Telfer.

Referee: U Rennie (Sheffield).

Man of the match: Hutchison.

Attendance: 33,907.

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