HOWARD KENDALL has maintained his dignity in trying circumstances this season, even winning popular support for one highly public lapse following Everton's 4-1 capitulation at Coventry, but an identical rout by Aston Villa found him defending the indefensible.
Presumably on the basis that attack is the best form of defence - an adage whose veracity his team looked singularly incapable of testing - Kendall moved briskly from acknowledging Villa's right to a crushing victory to berating those who dare to wonder why Everton have not reinvested the millions received for Andy Hinchcliffe and Gary Speed.
It is a legitimate question to ask of "a massive club", as Kendall described them, yet neither he nor his chairman, Peter Johnson, has provided a plausible answer. One suspects that the manager may privately share the sense of betrayal articulated by those who shouted abuse at the directors' box on Saturday. If so, he is determined to keep his own counsel in the interests of avoiding the turmoil that could compound the current crisis.
Put simply, the pre-season promise was of Fabrizio Ravanelli, Andy Cole and/or Paul Ince. Needless to say, none has materialised. The two players who arrived on deadline day last week were a 32-year-old, borrowed back from Bradford four years after Everton offloaded him, and one for the future from Chester.
Peter Beagrie and Matt McKay may go on to serve Goodison well. Right now they embody the belief that the resources with which Johnson claimed he would revive Everton are in the Franny Lee league, not Jack Walker's.
For a club with their history and self-image, not to mention their current plight, such minor surgery seemed woefully inadequate and was exposed as such by Villa. Either the money to buy world-class players is available, Evertonians argue, or it is not. If it is, why are Kendall's dealings exclusively at the bargain end of the market? If it is not, why prolong the pretence and the agony?
Kendall also pleaded in mitigation that he had pounds 15m to pounds 20m worth of talent unavailable for selection. This prompted one critic to suggest that the outcome showed he had no strength in depth. Initially prickly with the questioner, he went on to volunteer the view that the back-up was indeed youthful and inexperienced, as you would expect since they were recruited from the likes of Grimsby and other clubs' reserves.
The fact that Villa were themselves without two strikers who cost pounds 10.5m somewhat undermined his argument. In the absence of Stan Collymore and Savo Milosevic, John Gregory again played Julian Joachim through the middle with Dwight Yorke and the effect was devastating. The pair helped themselves to a goal apiece from open play, while Yorke added a penalty after his partner had been upended.
However, it was the third goal, by the outstanding Gary Charles, that did most to vindicate the new Villa manager's return to the 3-5-2 system which they arguably played better than anyone before they started to become stale under Brian Little. One wing-back, Alan Wright, crossed for the other, Charles, to come thundering in to score so emphatically that Everton knew there would be no way back.
Gregory, positive and articulate, has won four of his five Premiership matches in charge, against Kendall's three this year. With a six-pointer at Tottenham looming next Saturday, the latter stressed the need to "look at the plus points". Apart from the odd flick by Mickael Madar, whose deflected equaliser summed up Everton's scruffy showing, and some bold surges by the 18-year-old Michael Ball, such scrutiny would not detain him long.
The Villa contingent taunted the home faithful with the chant of "Calm down, calm down", the catchphrase of Harry Enfield's Scousers. In the event, agitation gave way to apathy, thousands of blue seats being visible long before the end. Even the lone invader who jogged almost the length of the pitch before being led away seemed half-hearted by comparison with those who encroached so angrily at Oakwell and Headingley.
Goals: Joachim (12) 0-1; Madar (38) 1-1; Charles (62) 1-2; Yorke pen (72) 1-3; Yorke (81) 1-4.
Everton (4-3-1-2): Myhre; O'Kane, Short (Dunne, 83), Watson, Ball; Oster (Beagrie, 67), Hutchison, Farrelly (Cadamarteri, 74); Barmby; Spencer, Madar. Substitutes not used: McCann, Gerrard (gk).
Aston Villa (3-5-2): Bosnich; Ehiogu, Southgate, Staunton; Charles, Taylor, Draper, Hendrie (Grayson, 85), Wright; Yorke, Joachim (Byfield, 88). Substitutes not used: Nelson, Collins, Oakes (gk).
Referee: N Barry (Scunthorpe).
Bookings: Everton: Barmby, Short, Beagrie. Villa: Ehiogu, Draper, Hendrie.
Man of the match: Charles.
Attendance: 36,471.Reuse content