Football: Hutchison's passable McAllister take-off

Everton 1 Blackburn Rovers 0
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SINCE his name was not among the 44 announced by Craig Brown for Scotland's forthcoming senior and B internationals, it is safe to assume that Don Hutchison can plan his summer break without fretting over whether he might be summoned to face Brazil in the opening match of the World Cup.

Before the Tynesider's only cap for his father's country, in a B game four years ago, Brown likened his style to that of Gary McAllister. Hutchison played poorly and was substituted, never to be selected again. Yet the evidence of what Howard Kendall termed "a very big result" for Everton suggested that Scotland's estimable manager ought to take another look.

Back in the Premiership following last month's pounds 1m move from Sheffield United, Hutchison gave a passable impersonation of Brown's stricken playmaker and captain. The significance of his performance, in which his passing showed an impressive range and vision in the face of some typically robust challenges by Tim Sherwood and Billy McKinlay, was not lost on Howard Kendall.

"I've given Don a role and he's got the opportunity to show people in the Premiership how good a player is," the Everton manager said. "I thought he was outstanding. Word will get round and I'm sure it will reach Craig Brown."

What sets players like McAllister apart, of course, is their ability to produce such displays on a consistent basis. Hutchison often flattered to deceive during spells with Liverpool and West Ham, as well as being prone to the kind of puerile pranks in which Gateshead's more famous gift to the midfield arts specialises.

His form over the coming weeks could therefore be critical not only to his club's prospects of avoiding relegation, but also to the 26-year-old's own chances of putting down roots at the top level.

Everton's run-in comprises five home games and three away, including the mother and father of a six-pointer at Tottenham on 4 April. Now that Barnsley are securing results to match their spirit, the struggle for survival looks likely to go down to the season's final Sunday. On that day, ironically, Kendall's side receive the club whose reputation for late escapes they are beginning to rival, Coventry.

Duncan Ferguson's return ought to increase their scoring capacity at a stroke. When it comes to accommodating him, it will be fascinating to see whether Mickael Madar's headed winner on Saturday overrides in the manager's mind the impression of indolence which he created.

After one relatively innocuous challenge the pony-tailed Parisian lay as if in need of the last rites. In contrast, Dave Watson sprang straight to his feet, like a character being rewound on video, following a bone- shuddering barge by Sherwood.

With Carl Tiler and Slaven Bilic, Watson formed a barrier which Blackburn, sorely missing Kevin Gallacher's mobility, never quite breached despite abundant possession. Annoyingly for Kendall, Bilic's imminent suspension will now break up that unit. There was consolation, however, in the excellence of the fast-maturing Michael Ball, an 18-year-old left-back who will surely play for England.

Blackburn's title challenge, already marginal, is over after a fourth defeat in five matches. Their priority now, according to Roy Hodgson, is to confirm a Uefa Cup place, although the fact that Arsenal and Manchester United have to visit Ewood Park means they still have a part to play in deciding the championship.

Hodgson was right to stress that Blackburn had not played badly. But the good individual performances he talked about were confined to the terrier-like McKinlay and the underrated Stephane Henchoz. Unfortunately, the less impressive displays, to which he did not refer, included that of Tim Flowers, who was caught in no man's land for the goal.

Nor, for all his technique, did Martin Dahlin offer the foil to Chris Sutton normally provided by Gallacher's lung-bursting endeavour. And it is hard to resist the conclusion that Damien Duff deserves a starting role. For whatever reason, Hodgson has not spent as freely as his predecessors, and Blackburn are not so well off for players that they can afford to use the gifted young Irish winger so sparingly.

Goal: Madar (62) 1-0.

Everton (3-5-2): Myhre; Bilic, Watson, Tiler; O'Kane, Barmby (McCann, 76), Hutchison, Oster, Ball; Spencer, Madar (Cadamarteri, 82). Substitutes not used: Dunne, Allen, Gerrard (gk).

Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2): Flowers; Kenna, Henchoz, Hendry, Wilcox; Ripley (Duff, 73), Sherwood, McKinlay, Flitcroft; Sutton, Dahlin. Substitutes not used: Broomes, Croft, Beattie, Fettis (gk).

Referee: G Willard (Worthing).

Bookings: Everton: Barmby, O'Kane, Tiler. Blackburn: Flitcroft, Hendry, McKinlay, Sutton.

Man of the match: Hutchison.

Attendance: 33,423.