Football: Kendall's blue bastion in need of major repair

Aston Villa 2 Everton 1
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The Independent Online
After his team were pushed to the bottom of the Premiership by Villa, Howard Kendall spoke of facing a "rebuilding job". Worryingly for the Everton manager, there is an awful lot of straw in some of the bricks at his disposal.

On Saturday's evidence, Kendall's task is to lay fresh foundations rather than tinkering with the existing framework. With a third of the season gone, it will be the greatest test of his career. In Everton's position - into which they last slipped exactly three years ago - the problem is exacerbated by uncertainty over whether the chairman, Peter Johnson, is willing and, more to the point, able to finance the requisite reinforcements.

Since his summer return for a third spell at Goodison Park, Kendall's outlay has amounted to less than pounds 3m, which these days tends to buy potential rather than proven performers. Even Barnsley have spent more. None of his prospective major purchases, from Fabrizio Ravanelli through Paul Ince to Andy Cole, has materialised, with predictable consequences.

The effervescent spirit of Danny Cadamarteri and John Oster lifted them in early autumn. However, like most teenagers, they are finding it hard to sustain their impact. What must have concerned Kendall at Villa Park, for all his professed satisfaction with Everton's commitment, was the lack of quality and confidence shown by some of his more senior players.

After barely four months in charge, Kendall can scarcely be blamed. This, after all, is a club who have entered the final week in three of the past four seasons under the threat of relegation. The culture of failure can be as pervasive as dry rot, and Everton are in danger of becoming the Manchester City of Merseyside.

The fallen leader of another blue bastion of tradition that has seen better days, John Major, was a guest at the game. While his Back to Basics campaign was not conspicuously successful, the concept may prove a useful starting point for Kendall on the training ground.

Everton, having cemented a deceptively positive start through Gary Speed's penalty, were undermined by elementary errors when defending corners by Steve Staunton. From one, Stan Collymore won the header which set up Savo Milosevic's equaliser. After another, Ugo Ehiogu was made to look like John Charles as he soared to power in the winner.

This may have a familiar ring. A fortnight earlier, after leading at Blackburn, Everton lost to the less than legendary aerial prowess of Tim Sherwood from an identical set-piece. Match of the Day painstakingly highlighted the weakness, but it appeared that Alan Hansen's analysis had been studied more closely by Villa.

Though etiquette probably prevented his saying so, Kendall's frustration was doubtless compounded by the knowledge that the opposition was at best average. England's sole Uefa Cup survivors they may be, yet Villa head for Steaua Bucharest today with their problems up front far from resolved.

To accomodate Milosevic, a maddeningly mercurial player Brian Little is seemingly prepared to sell, and Collymore, who now has one goal from 15 games, Dwight Yorke dropped into midfield. How sad to see one of the Premiership's attacking thoroughbreds reduced to the role of workhorse, especially in the cause of such an unconvincing partnership.

On the plus side, Mark Draper was back to the industrious and imaginative form of two years ago; Villa's surrogate Gazza was, Evertonians will not need redminding, another reported target for Kendall.

Meanwhile, another anniversary looms large for Everton as they strive to kick-start their season at Chelsea on Wednesday. Their last away win was so long ago - on 16 December - that the victims, Derby, have long since vacated the venue.

Goals: Speed pen (12) 0-1; Milosevic (37) 1-1; Ehiogu (56) 2-1.

Aston Villa (3-5-2): Oakes; Ehiogu, Staunton, Scimeca; Charles, Draper, Nelson, Yorke, Wright; Collymore, Milosevic. Substitutes not used: Joachim, Grayson, Hendrie, Murray, Rachel (gk).

Everton (4-4-2): Southall; Barrett (O'Connor, 75), Short, Bilic, Hinchcliffe; Stuart, Williamson (Farrelly, 79), Speed, Barmby; Ferguson, Cadamarteri (Oster, 66). Substitutes not used: Ball, O'Toole (gk).

Referee: U Rennie (Sheffield).

Bookings: Villa: Wright, Staunton. Everton: Hinchcliffe, Barmby.

Attendance: 36,389.

Man of the match: Draper.