Football: Kendall pledges that the good times will return

After the great escape, Phil Shaw hears Everton's manager lash out at the critics who he thinks have made his job so difficult
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The Independent Online
IN THE rain grey streets outside Goodison Park, the chants of "staying up, staying up" were interspersed with demands for the chairman's head.

Inside, a massively relieved Howard Kendall was pledging that never again would Everton be allowed to slip to the brink of the abyss.

Since this was the fourth late escape in five seasons for the self-styled school of soccer science, the Everton manager's promise may have sounded somewhat hollow. But Kendall pointed out that he had been back only one season and could not take responsibility for previous scrapes. "That was a day I never want to live through again," he said. "And this club will not do so as long as I'm the manager."

Kendall betrayed much of the tension under which Everton have been living in recent weeks when he turned his fire on the "non-football people" who had been commenting on the club's plight. "It's been all doom and gloom, and in every newspaper people have been pointing a finger. I've read the likes of John Parrott - who is a tremendous snooker player - telling me what I'm doing wrong. That's disappointing."

Parrott, a dyed in the wool Evertonian since the age of six, will shortly become the brother in law to Duncan Ferguson, Kendall's captain, though that was clearly not going to exempt him from criticism. "I don't want to single him out but it's an example of non-football people telling me how to do my job.

"It possibly influenced the public to be negative in the build-up to this game, but they were totally positive today. When our team coach arrived, when we ran out onto the pitch, there wasn't a negative thought in the fans' heads."

Despite having beaten the drop once more - "and deservedly so, incidentally" according to their manager - Kendall promised that Everton would undergo changes during the summer.

To many supporters, such comments may have unfortunate echoes of last summer. Then, Kendall returned amid claims that Everton were determined to bring in the likes of Andy Cole, Paul Ince and Fabrizio Ravanelli.

"I'm talking about changes in personnel," Kendall explained, "but not drastic ones because I believe I've got a strong squad when they're all fit. We had eight players unavailable today."

He also saw cause for optimism in the triumph of Everton's juniors, who lifted the FA Youth Cup four days earlier, but added: "People have talked about the future being bright after what the boys achieved last Thursday. That's tremendous, but it's all about the present, about today."

Dave Watson, a veteran of both good times and bad at Goodison agreed that Everton must break the habit of scrambling to safety. "If we'd shown that passion in our last six games, we'd never have been in this position," he said.

"We got out of jail again. We were so close to being relegated, but we can't afford to go through that again. I feel drained - not physically, but mentally.

"Our dressing-room is subdued because we're so relieved. But we can't keep putting people through that."

Meanwhile, the beleaguered Everton chairman, Peter Johnson, declined to face the media after the match. Instead, he issued a statement, reiterating his "love for the club" and his refusal to bow to calls for his resignation.

"I am disappointed that we've had such a difficult season," Johnson said. "The directors and management share a collective responsibility, and what makes it particularly hard to bear is the fact that our supporters deserve better. They have turned out and stayed loyal throughout a very trying season.

"When I became chairman four years ago I said that I wanted to make Everton great again, and that came from the heart. I am still committed to achieving that aim."

Johnson concluded his remarks by eluding to the campaign against him. "As far as my own position is concerned, I have been the subject of a great deal of personal criticism, some constructive but much of it unjustified, even divisive. No doubt, the criticism will continue, but the critics should be aware that it has not and will not affect my love for the club or my commitment to it."