This was not immediately apparent at Goodison Park on Saturday. In the same way as some films become celebrated for their ineptitude, Everton and Tottenham produced a match which was so awful it became entertaining. After watching PSV play sweet passing football with an emphasis on attacking wing play, returning to this thud-and-blunder was like following Casablanca with Spice Girls - The Movie.
While it had seemed premature to call this a relegation battle after just two matches the fare, and the raw approach of both players and supporters, suggested the billing was accurate. Already Tottenham fans are looking nervously at their end-of-season run-in (Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United are their closing opponents) while Everton's final day trip to Southampton has a "death or glory" look to it.
Everton, in particular, were dreadful and, while Christian Gross deserved this 1-0 win for his courage and decency, beating such a rabble hardly made a compelling arguement for preserving his job. Jurgen Klinsmann is the latest to be linked with his position but Gross insisted: "I am convinced I will stay in charge. I have a positive mind and treat these stories as a challenge." If he does depart he will at least remember Everton with affection, having begun and ended his reign with Goodison victories.
"Everybody likes coming here," said Gross with a smile, but for Everton fans it is becoming a grisly ritual akin to that endured at Maine Road in recent years. As ever they greeted the team with a ferocious roar then, after the first wayward punt forward at Duncan Ferguson's head, fell silent with frustration, nerves and despair before, like the team, rousing themselves for a late, doomed, assault.
It seems that however many changes are made, to management or personnel, the team's pattern remains the same: "Hit it at Fergie's head and hope something happens." We are not yet out of August and the one-time School of Science has already reached the familiar stage where, admitted Walter Smith, "it's not about style, it's about results." Including last season's abysmal closing form Everton have now gone 353 minutes without a goal and have only scored three in the last 13 hours' play (during which they have taken four points from 24).
Smith now knows what he has let himself in for by moving south - though he might have guessed by being preceded to Everton by one of his Ibrox cast-offs, Alec Cleland, whose summer signing was indicative of Everton's falling standards. With Cleland and the composed but unadventurous Michael Ball flanking three ponderous central defenders Everton found themselves playing five at the back at home. This left the team bereft of width which, in turn, meant the passing skills of John Collins were wasted . Thus, over and over again, it was left to Ball, David Unsworth or Cleland to hoof the ball at Ferguson from deep. After several years of this type of service Ferguson, once an accomplished player on the ground, has become a parody of an old-fashioned centre- forward as he waits on the edge of the D with his arm aloft calling for a hoof forward.
"Duncan is an option and a good one given his power in the air but it is used too many times," Smith said. The solution, if he cannot change the mindset of his players, is to sell Ferguson, whose Everton record of 33 goals in 106 league games is hardly prolific. Smith is urgently hunting a goalscorer - not to play off Ferguson but to provide an alternative option.
The admirable goalkeeper Thomas Myhre is one of Everton's few strengths. There was another assured Norwegian between the sticks at the other end, as Espen Baardsen rewarded Gross for dropping Ian Walker. With Sol Campbell commanding in defence, Colin Calderwood and Darren Anderton industrious in midfield and Les Ferdinand, as usual at Goodison, in the mood in attack, Spurs had a decent spine. Lifted by Ferdinand's early goal, scored after Craig Short allowed him a free run at David Ginola's corner, they matched Everton's unflagging effort and thus gained supremacy through their greater balance and cohesion.
Not that they were without their own frailties, and they needed some solid saves from Baardsen and a couple of helpful decisions to survive. One was the ruling out of a Ferguson "goal", apparently for offside, another the refusal to grant Marco Materazzi a penalty for falling over Anderton's leg.
Since Ginola might have won an earlier penalty when falling under Unsworth's challenge, this evened things up. Television evidence was inconclusive in both cases but if Peter Jones, inconsistent in other areas, was mistaken he was in good company. Few of the referee's charges performed any better.
Goal: Ferdinand 0-1 (5).
Everton (5-3-2): Myhre; Cleland (Hutchison, 74), Short, Materazzi, Unsworth, Ball; Barmby (Spencer, 74), Dacort, Collins; Ferguson, Cadamarteri. Substitutes not used: Gerrard (gk), Tiler, Watson.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Baardsen; Carr, Campbell, Vega, Tramezzani; Fox, Calderwood, Anderton, Nielsen; Ferdinand (Armstrong, 71), Ginola. Substitutes not used: Walker (gk), Allen, Clemence, Wilson.
Referee: P Jones (Loughborough).
Bookings: Everton: Cleland, Ball, Ferguson. Tottenham: Vega, Ginola, Anderton, Carr.
Man of the match: Campbell.Reuse content