Football: Medicine bag gets the boot as Gregory kicks out

Everton 0 Aston Villa 0
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POOR JOHN GREGORY. Some managers turn to alcohol to barricade themselves away from the whims of football chance and rumours of their future employment, but he had gone beyond that. He needed something stronger and quicker.

There was nothing furtive about it either, no tawdry visits to darkened corners and no whispered negotiations. At Goodison it was completely out in the open, blatant even: the worst case of drug abuse most of us have had the misfortune to witness.

One moment the physiotherapist's bag was sitting innocently by the touchline, the next the pills, the bandages, the sprays and other forms of medication were spewed all over the pitch. The reason was a hefty kick by Gregory, whose patience had not snapped but disintegrated. In that mood it was probably as well that George Boateng was around 50 yards away, or the Villa manager might be contemplating an assault charge to go with his forthcoming 28-day touchline ban.

"Boateng suddenly decided he was a ball-playing midfielder and he was dribbling out of the area when he should have got it as far up the pitch as he could," Gregory said by way of mitigation. "The fourth official told me to calm down a little bit."

The standby-referee was wasting his breath. Gregory is going to find his month in the stands a torture because he loves to hog the touchline, bobbing up and down, whistling and shouting. But he will gladly accept as there is the real chance his banishment will be more permanent if his chairman, Doug Ellis, gets fed up with a poor return for his money.

This point merely upped the Villa tally to three points from eight games while they have won just nine of their 34 Premiership matches in 1999. That is relegation form and "Deadly Doug" has sacked managers for less. The home games this week against Southampton in the Worthington Cup and Newcastle in the League will be crucial to Gregory's fate.

In those circumstances straws assume the proportions of railway sleepers, and Gregory grasped this draw even though he must have been eyeing the medical bag again when Benito Carbone hit the post in the 86th minute after Richard Dunne had made a hash of a back pass.

"We should have won, it was a golden opportunity," Gregory said. "The ball could have hit the post and gone in but the fact it didn't sums up our season. You have to accept those chances."

Embracing the positive, he added: "I can't fault anyone for effort and enthusiasm and, when things are going against you sometimes, they are the things that hold you together. There's a good spirit in the dressing room despite all the rubbish that's flying around. They've stuck together well.

"The pressure of not winning games has got to the players and they are lacking a little bit of self belief. But there are some very good players in my dressing room and they need to express that every week. They'll take some heart from today's outcome."

Which is more than anyone else at Goodison will derive. Carbone's effort, a few half-hearted penalty appeals and a disallowed "goal" by Francis Jeffers was not much for an afternoon in the cold and there will have been those who forgot the match so quickly they will have turned on Match Of The Day on Saturday night to discover the result.

Sadly, Gregory's left-footer on the physio's belongings was by far the most dynamic kick of the game. Pass the sedatives, please. If they are still in one piece.

Everton (4-4-2): Gerrard; Dunne, Weir, Gough, Unsworth; Barmby (Grant, 76), Hutchison, Collins, Pembridge; Jeffers, Campbell. Substitutes nots used: Cleland, Ball, Abel Xavier, Simonsen (gk).

Aston Villa (3-5-2): James; Calderwood, Southgate, Barry; Watson, Taylor, Boateng, Hendrie, Wright; Joachim (Carbone, 66), Dublin. Substitutes not used: Merson, Ghrayib, Stone, Enckelman (gk).

Referee: P Jones (Loughborough).

Bookings: Everton: Hutchison. Villa: Wright, Taylor, Hendrie.

Man of the match: Barry.

Attendance: 34,750.