Football: Madar gives Everton new hope

Everton 1 Madar 62 Blackburn Rovers 0 Attendance: 33,423
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IF THE ignominy of shipping four second-half goals at Leeds in midweek was not enough to fire Blackburn up, the news from Old Trafford before this match should have provided the spark.

Manchester United's lunchtime defeat could have rekindled Blackburn's flickering season. Instead, Everton poured cold water all over it, and in the process kept their own survival hopes afloat in what looks like becoming an increasingly choppy relegation battle.

The goal Everton's French striker Mikael Madar scored just after the hour was all either side deserved from a scrappy encounter in which both goalkeepers found themselves with plenty to do, but because of the frailty of their own defenders rather than any attacking flair.

Paradoxically, it was a goalkeeping error that finally separated the sides. Tim Flowers, returning to the Blackburn goal after a shoulder strain, came out to intercept a cross from John O'Kane. But he failed to reach it, and as Madar made contact with his head, Flowers was stranded with the ball looping over him into the net.

Flowers had earlier kept his side in the game, flinging himself acrobatically to tip over a Madar header and dashing out of his area to rob John Spencer, who made a lively debut on loan from Queen's Park Rangers.

The pre-match burden of goal-scoring expectation had been on Blackburn's Chris Sutton. The England refusenik did little to worm his way back into Glenn Hoddle's World Cup plans, and ended a frustrating afternoon with a booking for scything down Slaven Bilic.

Blackburn's main threat came down the right, with Tim Sherwood and Stuart Ripley combining well to produce a string of crosses. Sherwood came closest to breaking Blackburn's duck, but the Everton goalkeeper, Thomas Myhre, smothered bravely at his feet, and later emulated Flowers by racing out of his area to whip the ball off the toes of Martin Dahlin.

Howard Kendall's relief at this first victory since mid January was enhanced by Madar's goal. "His miss cost us victory against Liverpool and he missed opportunities at Southampton that he should have put away, but he is very good in the air and today's goal was a great one," the Everton manager said.

Roy Hodgson felt his side deserved something from the game. "We played quite well, although Everton defended excellently, especially after they got the goal. Luck seems to have deserted us of late," he said.

Premiership contenders, however, need more than luck, especially when the team out in front is giving you every encouragement to close the gap.