Football: Peerless Ferguson has Royle flush

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Everton 2 Nottingham Forest 0

Joe Royle relayed the message that he was ``too exhausted'' to mount the three or four flights of stairs to the press room afterwards to discuss the game.

If the truth be known, he was probably too lost for words to explain the dramatic turnaround in Everton's fortunes.

One moment they were heading for a record seventh consecutive League defeat and accompanying brickbats, the next they were pulverising Nottingham Forest into defeat and earning a standing ovation.

Royle's opposite number, Stuart Pearce, must have been no less nonplussed by his own team's performance: five consecutive League victories giving way to two defeats in a week.

On occasions like this, you have to wonder if spirit and passion, as opposed to more reliable factors such as skill, do not play too large a part in the outcome of English matches. In which case, how is it that Wimbledon are able to sustain those qualities so much better than anyone else?

Pearce, a man whose commitment never drops a fraction below 100 per cent, said that he saw a ``look of arrogance'' in the face of some of his players during the midweek home defeat to Coventry. Fortunately for them -unfortunately for Forest - he does not have a big enough squad to make a scapegoat of anyone, as Royle had been able to after the FA Cup humiliation by Bradford City. So much for ``Psycho the axe man'', as one tabloid headline had it. The upshot was ``collectively the worst performance'' since Pearce took temporary charge.

It was more the example that dropping the likes of Everton favourite Neville Southall and record-signing Nick Barmby set than those who came in for them that put the wind in Everton's sails - or should I say the wind up them. Southall's omission from the 4-1 defeat at Newcastle clearly made no difference to the result but, by all accounts, for the 76 minutes until the Geordie's four-goal salvo, it was a much-improved performance.

Barmby returned a rejuvenated figure to play a crucial part in this victory, literally and figuratively, just behind Duncan Ferguson. The big Scot must have been a revelation to those who see him as purely an aerial threat. At odds with his game until the 40th minute, when he spun on a Terry Phelan cross to drag a shot marginally wide, he seemed to take enormous heart from the crowd's appreciation of that effort. The Goodison fans, by the sheer strength of their turnout - 32,500 - did as much as anything to turn the tide for Everton on Saturday.

It was an imperious performance by Ferguson. After giving Everton the lead in the first minute of the second half, when he dribbled around Steve Chettle and Mark Crossley to score, he almost claimed a second to complement his all-round game, but his towering header came back of a post, allowing Barmby the chance of atonement.

Suddenly Everton are upwardly mobile again, though a European place - once a realistic target - is surely beyond them unless they can embark on a run of success to equal the recent run of failure.

As for Forest, one can expect Pearce to be cracking the whip all the more. Of course, Forest teams have been used to responding to fear ever since the days of Brian Clough, which is probably where it all went wrong in the interim period with the nice Mr Clark.

Goals: Ferguson (46) 1-0; Barmby (66) 2-0.

Everton (4-3-1-2): Gerrard; Barrett, Watson, Unsworth, Phelan; Thomsen, Parkinson, Speed; Barmby; Ferguson, Stuart. Substitutes not used: Hottiger, Rideout, Allen, Dunne, Southall (gk).

Nottingham Forest (4-5-1): Crossley; Lyttle, Cooper, Chettle, Pearce; Allen (McGregor, 60), Phillips, Haland, Bart-Williams, Woan; Campbell. Substitutes not used: Gemmill, Clough, Guinan, Fettis (gk).

Referee: S Dunn (Bristol). Bookings: Nottingham Forest Lyttle, Phillips.

Man of the match: Ferguson Attendance: 32,567.