Football: Jeffers springs eternal for Blues

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The Independent Online
Everton 2

Jeffers 20, Oster 77

Coventry City 1

McAllister 84

Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 33,907

THERE WERE no thrown floodlight switches and no offers of a replay from Everton. The club's cool snipers would, however, suggest that two goals at Goodison Park were the greatest shock of the day but Walter Smith's side have demonstrated admirable resilience in the face of such adversity and continued to show a preference for Cup football against an uninspired Coventry side.

Smith badly needed answers to his side's inability to find the net with regularity and especially at home, with the total number of goals for the season now reaching nine in all competitions. Francis Jeffers' performance showed enough signs to suggest that the solution to the puzzle is within the manager's grasp. There have, however, been previous false dawns in this long-running saga. Ibrahima Bakayoko has flattered to deceive and Danny Cadamarteri has yet to cure a tendency to self-indulge. The great white hope of previous seasons, Michael Branch, has also faded from the scene.

Jeffers, in his first Goodison Park start, was full of promise. Not only did he score the opener, he linked well with his makeshift partner Don Hutchison, Smith's latest attempt to fill the void left by the sale of Duncan Ferguson. That option had been in Smith's mind for a number of weeks, injuries in midfield delaying the actual selection.

"I had no fears over putting Don there. He had played more up front than he has in midfield. He has been telling me he has, anyway," smiled the Everton manager who was equally impressed with his young charge. "Francis has a bright future. He's always looking to get through and we are pleased anybody scores, but especially a young player. He might have had more than one and he finished the hardest one."

Jeffers, who made his debut as a 16-year-old, had already served notice of his pace and trickery before the strike which illuminated a scrappy first half that Everton had dominated. Both times Jeffers made ground into the left-hand side of the Coventry area. In the first instance his snatched shot was scuffed into the arms of Magnus Hedman. On the second occasion, Jeffers' way was blocked by Richard Shaw but a clever first touch and turn created enough space for a strike which squeezed under the oncoming goalkeeper.

An element of vulnerability was showed when a better chance fell in a similar area. Without pressure from a consistently hesitant defence, his considered side-footed effort was wide enough to sum up Everton's striking woes for the season. Another clear one-on-one chance in the second half, set up by an Olivier Dacourt lob, again demonstrated the youngster's composure, but Hedman saved well low to his left. All the time Hutchison harried and chased while the sprightly Nicky Barmby prompted from wide on the left. Both went close from long-range efforts as Coventry failed to stamp their authority on the game.

The visiting manager, Gordon Strachan, was lost for explanations, but gracious in defeat. "Everton started the game like a Cup tie and we started it like a game we were out to enjoy. I thought they were better equipped to handle a Cup tie and worthy winners on the day. If you're not competing that takes the enjoyment away and for a long time in that game we did not compete.

"Marcello Lippi, the best coach in the world at Juventus, has just chucked it in because he could not understand his players any more, so what chance have I got after being in this job for such a short while?"

For a period in the second half, when Everton attempted to sit on their lead, Coventry threatened to impose themselves. Chances were rare, though, and the home side had the ability to create a comfort zone on the break. When Hutchison found John Oster on the right flank, Coventry appeared to have the attack covered but, after forcing David Burrows to back pedal, Oster unleashed a surprise skidding shot which evaded Hedman and found the far corner.

A clumsy challenge from the otherwise inspirational Dave Watson, virtually his only mistake of the game, on substitute Trond Soltvedt set up a Gary McAllister free-kick on the edge of the Everton area. His superbly executed set- piece produced jangling home nerves but Coventry had not demonstrated enough throughout the game to snatch a place in the quarter-final draw.