Football: Swindon hand tie to Everton

Everton 3 Swindon Town 0
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The Independent Online
The folklore of the FA Cup does not have a place for Swindon Town. Legend has it that the third round is full of upsets or plucky lower-division sides who go down with all guns blazing. No mention is made of minnows who shoot themselves in the foot.

The records will show this as a comfortable Everton win, although even the most blue-eyed home supporter would have to give Swindon some credit. The First Division side may have sensed a giant-killing on the way up to Goodison; instead they committed suicide.

By the finish yesterday they had two men sent off, had given away two soft goals and even their goalkeeper Fraser Digby was limping around his area, unable to take goal-kicks. The return of the Swindon manager, Steve McMahon, to his old club had turned thoroughly sour.

The turning point, as both managers recognised, was Ian Culverhouse's dismissal after 52 seconds, the fastest sending-off in FA Cup history. The crime was deliberate handball although Swindon insisted that the referee had made a mistake. "My player is adamant he didn't handle the ball," McMahon said. "He says it hit his chest. It ruined the game. I thought Everton were there for the taking but that ended the game as a contest."

As McMahon intimated, the portents were not favourable for the Premiership team. Everton had won only one of their previous seven matches and McMahon's Everton antecedents - he used to be a Goodison ball boy doing the running and chasing for the now Everton manager Joe Royle - made it easy to imagine headlines on the "Old boy makes Royle blue" lines.

They could be ripped up within 90 seconds. On Everton's first attack, Duncan Ferguson flicked the ball on, Digby could not catch as Nick Barmby challenged and Andre Kanchelskis' volley was heading for the net until Culverhouse dived to his left to save with either his hand or his chest, depending on your viewpoint.

The referee was clearly of the opinion that the Swindon defender had given him little option but to send him off, and Kanchelskis gave Digby little chance with the penalty either, driving into the right-hand top corner.

If that was not bad enough, Swindon's death wish reappeared after 17 minutes. Mark Walters, a former Liverpool player with the middle name of Everton, had plenty of options when he gained possession 25 yards out from his own goal but the one he should not have chosen was a back-pass to the goalkeeper. Barmby nipped in, went round Digby and passed into an empty net.

The tie was over but to Swindon's credit they tried their utmost to keep it alive. Walters had an exquisite chip from 35 yards hit the bar before he limped off with a groin injury and, but for an excellent save from Neville Southall, Kevin Horlock would have scored with a point-blank header.

These were breezes against a gale, however, and Everton will be disappointed that they did not score more. Their third goal, though, was a classic, Ferguson rising to thump Earl Barrett's cross into the top corner with a fearsome header.

The final indignity that made it a thoroughly rotten day for the visitors arrived after 74 minutes when Gary Elkins was dismissed for a second bookable foul after bringing down Ferguson. The referee could have used his discretion and turned a blind eye, but it was not that kind of day for Swindon.

Goals: Kanchelskis pen (2) 1-0; Barmby (18) 2-0; Ferguson (50) 3-0.

Everton (3-4-3): Southall; Barrett, Watson, Dunne; Stuart, Rideout, Barmby, Speed; Kanchelskis, Ferguson (Grant, 84), Branch. Substitutes not used: Gerrard (gk), Hottiger.

Swindon Town (3-5-2): Digby; Seagraves, Culverhouse, Elkins; Robinson, Collins (O'Sullivan, h-t), Leitch, Walters (Drysdale, 42), Horlock; Cowe (Watson, 79), Allison.

Referee: N Barry (Scunthorpe).

Bookings: Everton None; Swindon Collins. Sent off: Swindon Culverhouse, Elkins.

Man of the match: Rideout.

Attendance: 20,411.