Football: They can't score goals for toffee

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Sheffield Wednesday 0

Everton 0

Attendance: 26,592

THE TIME is surely nigh for Everton to change the motto on their club badge. Instead of "Nil Satis Nisi Optimum," maybe "Nil Nil Desperandum" or simply "Everton Nil" would be more appropriate. For the seventh time in 10 Premiership games this season Walter Smith's team drew a conspicuous blank in front of goal. Half of their fixtures have now ended in goalless draws.

The latest was not remotely inevitable. Assured and dominant in an impressive first-half display, Everton had four clear chances in the opening 10 minutes alone. David Unsworth also missed one of a gilt-edged nature with seven minutes remaining. Ultimately, however, they had to be grateful for a consolation point. Andy Booth's downward header beat Thomas Myhre in the second minute of injury-time but Alex Cleland was on line duty to hook the ball clear.

Smith may have his striking problems but in the Steel City his team showed the mettle that has been evident in an unbeaten run which stretches back seven Premiership games into August.

There was no Paolo Di Canio, of course, and ultimately no pushovers, though Wilson's Wednesday team were wobbling in the early stages. Ibrahim Bakayoko ruffled the Owls as his colleagues, accused by Smith of lacking wing power in the Merseyside derby, made good use of Hillsborough's breadth in an enterprising start. Four times in the first 10 minutes they stretched the Wednesday defence. The hyperactive Bakayoko posed the most direct threat, firing into the side-netting from the edge of the penalty area and then obliging Des Walker to show his enduring class with a last-ditch covering tackle.

With Michael Ball and Don Hutchison pushed up on the flanks, Everton were short of numbers in central midfield, but Olivier Dacourt and John Collins made light of that disadvantage as they dictated the first-half flow. Dacourt was particularly outstanding, dropping deep to gain scraps of possession and advancing with assurance to feed possession to his attacking colleagues.

Wednesday, by contrast, were short of both clout and creative nous. It took them 35 minutes to make serious inroads into the Everton defence, though when they did they ought to have made it all the way through to Myhre's goal. Niclas Alexandersson's right-wing run and cross presented Richie Humphreys with what appeared to be the simplest of finishes. The burly striker chose to complicate matters, though, side-footing wide of the target.

Bakayoko was more accurate with his shooting four minutes into the second- half. Indeed, it took a fine flying save by Kevin Pressman to keep out the curling right-foot shot that the former Montpellier man dispatched from the left angle of the home penalty area after dummying Walker. Wednesday rallied with their first spell of sustained attacking but the hapless Humphreys squandered two further opportunities to break the deadlock.

The contest petered out thereafter - until the frantic finale. It would have been unjust had Booth stolen the three points, though at least it would have evened the score for Everton pinching the managerial services of Smith in the summer. Smith never did attend the press conference Wednesday prematurely called to trumpet his arrival. He made it to the Hillsborough press room yesterday - with a "nil" on the badge of his club blazer and another nil on the results sheet.

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