Football: Mersey tide gets a Blue rinse

Everton 1 Bakayoko 31 Southampton 0 Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 32,073
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IBRAHIM BAKAYOKO'S first Premiership goal for Everton has been a long time coming, but it enabled them to sustain the modest revival that is lifting them clear of the depths currently occupied by yesterday's opponents.

The Ivory Coast striker had gone eight league games without opening his account, but he could have had four against Southampton; not because he or his team were particularly irresistible, but because the visitors were so vulnerable when they had to chase the game.

The one he did get was the result of an incisive moment quite out of character with the half hour of shapeless nonsense Everton had produced before it. Pouncing when the Moroccan midfielder, Hassan Kachloul, had failed to perform the necessary task of clearing the ball, he took it on for 15 yards before rifling his shot past Paul Jones from the edge of the penalty area.

The Southampton manager and ex-Evertonian David Jones was critical of Kachloul's failure to keep Bakayoko at bay and the Moroccan's earlier blunder at the other end of the field also proved costly. He was the recipient of the first of two marvellous opportunities to give Southampton the lead when he met Jason Dodd's cross, completely unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box, but headed high over the bar.

Southampton might have managed only three Premiership goals away from the Dell, but they at least adopted an attack-minded strategy, with players who have scored plenty of goals in their time, like Matthew Le Tissier and Mark Hughes, backing up the two front runners. Those two figured in the other golden chance that went begging. Le Tissier's chip was nodded down neatly by James Beattie but Hughes got underneath the ball and lofted it into the crowd. "I don't know how we lost the game," said Jones. "We're doing everything we've worked on in our approach play, but we just can't finish. It's not only half chances; it's clear-cut open goals we're missing."

That might slightly overstate the quality of Southampton's general play, but they were certainly the more threatening side for the first 30 minutes. After Bakayoko broke his drought, however, the nature of the game changed and Everton could have been two up before half-time if Jones had not made a good instinctive save when Mikael Madar met Tony Grant's centre with a goal-bound header.

After the break, the constructive work of Alex Cleland down the right produced chances for both Bakayoko and Madar, recalled in place of the suspended Danny Cadamarteri for his first start of the season. The closest approach for a second goal, though, came from Cleland himself when he hit the woodwork after being set up by Madar.

Southampton came within inches of an equaliser when the Everton defence failed to clear a corner and Garry Monk rammed a shot on to the underside of the crossbar and saw it bounce down on to the line and away.

Bakayoko, his confidence boosted, had a couple more opportunities to run at the defence and get a shot in before the end, but his manager Walter Smith admitted that Everton had not been entirely impressive. "We've played a lot better in other matches and not got the win," he said. "Bakayoko has been doing well enough without getting the goals, but he could have had a hat-trick."

For his Southampton counterpart, it is a lack of goals that is the whole problem as they watch the gap between them and safety widen by the week. Jones has quantified what his side needs to do to escape relegation, but knows that they are unlikely to get the 10 wins they will need from their remaining 21 matches without some new strike power. "The prices they are asking for players in this country at the moment are ridiculous," he said.

For Everton, the fact that they were not entirely convincing shrinks into insignificance alongside their tally of 10 points from a possible 12 since Duncan Ferguson departed. As many of the long-suffering faithful at Goodison will have noted, this win puts them level on points with Liverpool. They can at least claim to be the form team on Merseyside.