Football: New boys are full of promise

Everton 0 Aston Villa 0
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The Independent Online
IT IS said that football fans are fickle but they can be enormously forgiving, too. Three months ago Everton teetered again on the edge of relegation yet on Saturday stepped out to a welcome fit for champions. What short memories their supporters have.

Then again, maybe it is a kind of insurance, this enthusiasm for a new season. After last year things can only get better, surely? On second thoughts, better to raise the roof early, before there is time for things to go wrong.

And so the greater part of a 41,000 Goodison Park full house achieved a deafening decibel level as the blue team appeared from the tunnel as though the trials of Howard Kendall's final days had never happened.

They did, of course, which is why Walter Smith, formerly of Rangers, has come south to lead them from the wilderness where Kendall, Joe Royle and Mike Walker failed. Six times in the bottom half of the table in the last seven years measures the depth of wilderness from which Smith must hack an escape route.

Can the man who won 12 trophies in six years in Glasgow now restore Evertonian pride? On this evidence it is too early to say. The new players unveiled may well represent less than half the rebuilding programme Smith has in mind. Certainly, he did not tempt John Collins, Olivier Dacourt and Marco Materazzi to Merseyside by suggesting they would play in the team that nearly went down.

The need for more quality is clear, especially up front where Duncan Ferguson and John Spencer will not cause many defenders sleepless nights. True, they created the best chance of the afternoon when Spencer won a ninth-minute penalty, but otherwise a Villa defence, lacking both the suspended Ugo Ehiogu and the departed Steve Staunton, was unbreached save for a couple of moments in which Mark Bosnich came to their rescue. Gareth Barry, the 17-year-old who replaced Ehiogu, can feel justly proud.

Collins missed the penalty, spoiling an afternoon in which he promised much, suggesting he can be the creative midfielder Everton have lacked. Dacourt, alongside him, tackles strongly and passes with precision in the manner of Patrick Vieira. Together they look a mouthwatering combination. Materazzi, Smith's third buy, complements a defence that will be stronger still once Slaven Bilic returns from injury.

Smith argued afterwards that the penalty miss was the key moment, dissuading Villa from spending much time in pursuit of a better result.

It is difficult to place Villa in the pecking order this season, even though their run of 11 wins in 14 matches last spring would be championship form were it to be sustained. The loss of Staunton leaves a large hole to be filled, Dwight Yorke has shown his hand by declining a new contract and Stan Collymore threatens to become a millstone around John Gregory's neck. Alan Thompson, recruited from Bolton, had some decent moments on his debut but it seemed wasteful to include him at the expense of Mark Draper.

Everton (5-3-2): Myrhe; Cleland, Short, Tiler, Materazzi, Ball; Barmby, Dacourt (Hutchison, 76), Collins; Ferguson, Spencer (Cadamarteri, 64). Substitutes not used: Gerrard (gk), Watson, Branch.

Aston Villa (5-3-2): Bosnich; Charles, Scimeca, Southgate, Barry, Wright; Taylor, Hendrie, Thompson (Draper, 74); Joachim, Yorke. Substitutes not used: Oakes (gk), Grayson, Vassell, Petty.

Referee: A Wilkie (Chester-le-Street).

Bookings: Everton: Short, Ball, Dacourt, Hutchison; Aston Villa: Scimeca, Joachim, Hendrie.

Man of the match: Dacourt.

Attendance: 40,112.

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