Football: Storm brewing for Walker

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The Independent Online
A FAREWELL to September also brings an end to that illusory first stage of the season when teams are still sorting themselves out and chairmen, in the main, are prepared to allow managers time for improvement. With the first sharp winds of autumn, attitudes harden and the outlook will be chilly in the extreme for Mike Walker if Everton's three games in the next eight days blow up into a storm.

Six weeks into the season and Everton are as low as it is possible to get, bottom of the Premiership and staggering under the influence of Coca-Cola. Hired at great expense from Norwich City and at some cost to the club's reputation when they were found guilty of an illegal approach, the man who made the Canaries sing has come badly unstuck with the Toffees.

Walker spoke this week of his good relationship with his chairman. That might be so but it is unlikely the opportunity to make new friends was high among Peter Johnson's objectives when he switched from Tranmere to Goodison in the most lucrative transfer of the summer.

Old Trafford is hardly the best place to try to put things right, even at the end of a week which has seen Manchester United go to 'hell' and back, furthering their European education but adding to the list of wounded which will probably see Ryan Giggs and Roy Keane inactive this afternoon, and possibly Mark Hughes too.

Against that, Eric Cantona returns as might Denis Irwin, and there is a collective determination from Alex Ferguson downwards not to allow Newcastle too much leg room at the head of the table.

On Wednesday, Everton go to Fratton Park to try to avert an ignominious Coca-Cola Cup exit that Portsmouth signposted with their first-leg victory and then stay on the south coast to face Southampton three days later. Alan Ball has stirred the Saints into a more formidable force yet it remains a match Walker cannot afford to lose.

Walker's future will inevitably be a topic for discussion at Carrow Road today even though there is already so much to debate with Blackburn's visit and the presence of the young man who incongruously wears their No 22. It is Chris Sutton's first return to Norwich where many hours were spent developing a raw talent, the result of which was a pounds 5m cheque for his home city club and an immediate eight-goal dividend for Blackburn in a prolific start to his new career.

Inevitably, Sutton will find his old team lacking the goalscoring edge he used to provide, but decidedly more parsimonious at the back. In fact, they are only two goals worse off than Blackburn who have the best defensive record of all.

'For too many seasons we were known as a team everyone else liked to play against but we've tried to put a stop to that and facing Chris Sutton and Alan Shearer should tell us how far we have come,' John Deehan, their manager, said.

Newcastle will provide a severe test of Aston Villa's powers of recovery as well as their capacity to put aside European euphoria in the pursuit of Premiership points. Peter Beardsley's troublesome thigh could give a debut to Paul Kitson, Kevin Keegan's new pounds 2.2m recruit.

Crystal Palace, yet to win, return to Highbury where their relegation fate was sealed 17 months ago. Since then Palace have beaten Arsenal in the Tony Adams' testimonial but, as Walker may soon discover, come October and charity has all but been exhausted.

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