Football: No picnic for the hamper man

Everton 0 Tottenham Hotspur 2
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The Independent Online
At least one man with no Liverpudlian affiliations saw the funny side of Everton's plight. As hundreds of supporters chanted for the chairman's head inside and outside Goodison Park, Howard Kendall prefaced his comments on Tottenham's victory with gallows humour and an impish pun: "Gross injustice?"

Alas, no. Gross incompetence or negligence, perhaps, but certainly not injustice. Whether or not it is true that Everton's owner, Peter Johnson, has neither the funds nor the inclination to bankroll the rebuilding programme which Kendall desperately needs to undertake, the poverty of their performance was beyond dispute.

Christian Gross, he of the headline-waiting-to-happen surname, reiterated his belief in the importance of symbols, particularly the "fighting cockerel". By the same token, maybe Everton's badge should be redesigned to incorporate a turkey. Mr Johnson is, after all, in the festive hamper business. And judging by Saturday, the game could be up by Christmas.

Kendall and Gross, viewed from behind in the upper stand, looked like twins who had escaped from a monastery. The bald truth, however, is that for all the superficial similarities between their clubs, prisoners both of a glorious past, Spurs have far fewer problems as the season approaches the half-way stage.

Gross put Everton's shortcomings in perspective when he summed up what was ultimately a comfortable second away win of 1997 for Spurs. "For 20 minutes we were under pressure," the new manager said, "but we had a great second half."

Everton were as short of confidence as they were bereft of class. No one sought to play the angles; only Gary Speed, not one of nature's dominant midfielders, put a calming foot on the ball, which was otherwise launched aimlessly forward in the hope that Duncan Ferguson might expose a southern softie or two.

Ferguson ended Sol Campbell's part in proceedings with a crude impersonation of Giant Haystacks, only to find himself caught in a metaphorical half- nelson by Ramon Vega. Gross's fellow Swiss not only resisted the temptation to reciprocate the Scot's liberal use of the arms but also headed the goal which rewarded Spurs' greater composure and variation.

By that point it had also dawned on David Ginola how little there was to beat. The do-or-dive Frenchman stayed on his feet long enough to put the outcome beyond doubt with a virtuoso goal, though it was hard to agree with Kendall's assessment that "no one would have lived with him on that form".

Spurs' following pleaded: "Can we play you every week?". The home crowd, significantly, declared their backing for Kendall before turning on Johnson. The main charge against him is that the money that was supposed to secure Paul Ince, Les Ferdinand et al last summer is seemingly no longer available.

Hence the refrain of "There's only one lying b-", revealing a touching innocence on the part of Evertonians. Kendall's selection may have been flawed - Terry Phelan for Andy Hinchcliffe was hard to credit, while Danny Cadamarteri was dropped despite recent evidence from across Stanley Park of Spurs' fallibility against forwards who run at them - yet the protest was a manifestation of frustrations built up over years.

Spurs' next match is at home to Chelsea; win that one and Gross will doubtless be dubbed Herr Restorer. In the meantime he might reasonably ask his own chairman, Alan Sugar, about his insensitively timed attack on the "so-called superstars who need to be scrutinised about their commitment". Gross could not imagine Sugar had said such things, which was either disingenuous or dangerously naive.

Kendall also declined to be drawn into criticising Johnson. But if the present impasse is allowed to continue - and next weekend Everton go to Leeds, where their last League win was in 1951 - they will be renewing acquaintance with the English game's second grade for the first time in 44 years. Gross indignity, anyone?

Goals: Vega (72) 0-1; Ginola (76) 0-2.

Everton (3-5-2): Southall; Short (Cadamarteri, 73), Bilic, Tiler; Ward, Williamson, Farrelly (Oster, 65), Speed, Phelan (Hinchcliffe, 71); Barmby, Ferguson. Substitutes not used: Ball, Myhre (gk).

Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Walker; Carr, Vega, Campbell (Scales, 45), Wilson; Fox, Nielsen (Anderton, 58), Calderwood, Sinton; Ginola, Ferdinand (Iversen, 78). Substitutes not used: Allen, Bardsen (gk).

Referee: P Jones (Loughborough).

Bookings: Everton: Bilic, Ferguson. Spurs: Vega.

Man of the match: Vega.

Attendance: 36,670.