Football: McAllister the great leveller

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The Independent Online
Everton 1 Coventry City 1

"Barmby Army" they were singing before the match, but the night refused to live up to the occasion of Everton unveiling their pounds 5.75m striker. The rain poured down, but the real dampener was Coventry getting a draw.

Nick Barmby, the striker bought from Middlesbrough to bring zest to a sometimes prosaic team, gave hints of better things to come, but could not also bring the result that was anticipated. Instead there was a retreat from a trend, Everton drawing to break a sequence of three successive wins.

The fact that there was an element of controversy about both goals summed up a match that was disjointed rather than flowing. Graham Stuart's penalty was hotly disputed by the Coventry players, while Everton were less than happy with a decision which led to Gary McAllister's 68th-minute equaliser.

Everton, for all the dash of Andrei Kanchelskis, can look dull at times and in the blue half of Liverpool there is the hope that Barmby will embellish the less eye-catching virtues of his new colleagues.

Barmby had poured praise on his potential strike partner Duncan Ferguson, who he described as having "all the attributes of Alan Shearer". The similarity last night extended all the way to the treatment table, the Scottish striker missing the match with a calf injury.

Coventry had won only one match in the Premiership coming into the game, and for the first 10 minutes, the ball ricocheted round the visitors area, Barmby, Stuart and Kanchelskis firing shots past the post while Steve Ogrizovic was still trying to get his eyes used to the lights.

Coventry had to get better and two shots from Kevin Richardson suggested they would, but just when it seemed they would reach half-time intact, Everton were awarded their penalty.

Kanchelskis had been raining shots from all angles - even when a cross might have been a better option - but he chose to pass in injury time before the interval and the decision was rewarded when Barmby's shot hit Richardson's hand and the referee signalled for a penalty.

The television replay revealed definite contact, although whether ball hit hand or vice versa was debatable. To compound Coventry's frustration, Ogrizovic's hand hit the ball, but his dive was not enough to divert Stuart's penalty kick away from the corner of the goal.

The goal had the effect of prodding Coventry forward in more numbers. Richardson worked prodigiously and McAllister occasionally brought sense to the muddle, but even so the tempo of their attacks appeared to be dying out when they surprised everyone by equalising.

Everton claimed they should have had a throw-in when Stuart and Richardson contested the ball. As the protests were still ringing, however, Noel Whelan found McAllister, who beat Neville Southall via a deflection and the bar.

That heralded a finale in which either team might have won. Only Peter Ndlovu knows how he managed to scoop the ball over from Whelan's pass with seven minutes left, while Everton's captain, Dave Watson, had a header cleared off the line by John Salako in injury time.

As for Barmby, he almost scored, but could not quite find the ending the crowd demanded. However, their applause at the end suggested they were well satisfied. "He did very well," Joe Royle, his manager said. "A great debut. I'm sure he'll be very popular."

Everton (5-3-2): Southall; Barrett, Short, Watson, Unsworth (Branch, 72), Hinchcliffe; Kanchelskis, Parkinson (Grant, 82), Speed; Barmby, Stuart. Substitutes not used: Hottiger, Limpar, Gerrard (gk).

Coventry City (5-3-2): Ogrizovic; Telfer, Borrows (Ndlovu, 59), Daish, Williams, Shaw; McAllister, Richardson, Salako; Whelan (Strachan, 86), Dublin. Substitutes not used: Jess, Costello, Filan (gk).

Referee: G Poll (Tring).

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