Football: Sutton's cold comfort for Royle

Everton 0 Blackburn Rovers 2
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A 12 months in which you lose Kenny Dalglish, Ray Harford and Alan Shearer was likely to be an annus horribilis for any club and it is safe to say 1 January could not come quick enough for Blackburn. A new year, new hope and 1997 heralded in by their slipping out of out the bottom three of the Premiership last night.

All very it easy, it was too. They might have been more comfortable in their easy chairs in front of the fire but not much so. Goals from Tim Sherwood and Chris Sutton gave them a cushion to relax on and they accomplished their first away win of the season with the air of men in complete control. They looked anything but relegation candidates.

Everton could claim players were missing and that some of those present were suffering from the after-effects of flu but this was a limp performance. They have now won one of their last seven matches.

"They played well and we didn't," Joe Royle, the Everton manager, said. "We looked tired and stretched and a little bit unbalanced in places but the main thing was that the spirit wasn't there. We've had an awful Christmas and need to get going as soon as possible."

Andrei Kanchelskis and Duncan Ferguson usually provide Everton's cutting thrust although there was little evidence of it in a woeful first-half performance. There were glimpses of enterprise, a dart from Nick Barmby, an occasional flash from Kanchelskis and Ferguson's menace in the air but the overall impression was of a mess.

By the interval Blackburn, who dictated the tempo from the start, were 2-0 up and could have been further ahead.

The visitors oozed a confidence that belied their troubled position in the League. Certainly Everton did not seem to have a clue how to cope with their runs from midfield.

The left wing was a particularly fertile ground for Blackburn whose Jason Wilcox gave Marc Hottiger a wretched time. After seven minutes Wilcox crossed to the near post where Kevin Gallacher headed just over and it was from that same flank that a goal arrived 10 minutes later.

Graeme Le Saux chipped in, Gallacher headed on and Sutton's delicate flick landed perfectly into Sherwood's path whose late run into the area had hopelessly flummoxed his marker Barmby. One touch took the ball past the Everton back-line and with a stretch he touched the ball past the advancing Neville Southall.

The defending left a lot to be desired with that goal but it looked exemplary when held up against Blackburn's second after 31 minutes. Neat interchanging shreaded Everton's rearguard so that when Gallacher slipped a short pass inside Hottiger, Sutton was on his own.

Even then he had a lot to do but the pounds 5m striker gauged Southall's position and then shot the ball coolly into the net with his left foot, clipping the far post on the way.

The response of the crowd at half-time proved that not all the boos had been used up during the Christmas festivities and Royle was put in the position of having to do something, anything, to spark a response. His move was to withdraw Barmby and introduce Michael Branch.

It brought an improvement, which was more physical, and Gary Speed provoked immediate hope with a chip that was just over. But when Tim Flowers tipped a header from the same player away for a corner the Everton attack gradually fizzled out.

Blackburn assumed their early control and Le Saux and Sutton both went close in the latter stages. The promise implied by Everton in the late autumn is dwindling and they will view their FA Cup tie against Swindon Town on Sunday with some trepidation. Their 7-1 win over Southampton seems a long, long time ago.

Everton (4-4-1-1): Southall; Hottiger, Barrett, Watson, Phelan; Kanchelskis (Limpar, 70), Stuart, Ebbrell, Speed; Barmby (Branch, h-t); Ferguson. Substitutes not used: Gerrard (gk), Rideout, Branch, Dunne.

Blackburn Rovers (4-5-1): Flowers; Kenna, Berg, Hendry, Le Saux; Gallacher, Bohinen, Sherwood, McKinlay, Wilcox; Sutton. Substitutes not used: Marker, Given (gk), Fenton, Donis, Warhurst.

Referee: G Barber (Surrey).