Football: Walker offered welcome respite

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The Independent Online
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IT IS no great surprise that Norwich City's form has been in decline since Mike Walker left them for Everton in January. Much more of a puzzle is the way Everton have failed to respond to the methods which at Carrow Road had been responsible for producing some of the best club football of the season.

Everton's slide into the relegation zone may have been halted by Tony Cottee's late strike at Upton Park on Saturday - ending a sequence of four defeats and a draw - but the encouragement their performance offered Walker was limited. How they managed not to lose - and by a hatful of goals - is a mystery to which probably only Steve Jones knows the answer.

Jones was the inexperienced striker preferred by Billy Bonds to Lee Chapman, and to whom the chances continued to fall long after he must have wished someone else would get a look-in. There were at least six clear-cut openings that he failed to capitalise on, including two one-on-one situations in which Neville Southall showed what a brilliant goalkeeer he can still be.

Grateful though Walker was to see Southall putting on a vintage display, he was looking much more to the other end of the field for signs that Everton could not just survive this season but have something to build on next.

The pressure, in particular, was on Cottee, a prolific scorer when he left West Ham for Everton six years ago, but rarely since then anything like the same player. It looked like being another frustrating afternoon for him when, after only three minutes, he found himself in space just inside the West Ham area but was let down by his first touch in collecting a neat pass from Gary Ablett. Back in the Everton team after a nine-week absence with a broken toe, Ablett was one of his side's few successes.

Everton hardly got near the goal for another 70 minutes, by which time they should have been well out of contention. But West Ham, still probably a win away from safety, were destined to pay for their profligacy. Everton finally put together a move, ending when Cottee picked up Graham Stuart's cross from the right and dispatched the ball just inside the left-hand post. Trevor Morley then struck a post for West Ham.

Walker said of Cottee: 'He is our leading goalscorer, but he has not scored many goals lately and that is what he is paid to do.' Cottee may need to keep earning his wages if the Toffeemen are to stick around in the Premiership.

Goal: Cottee (0-1) 72.

West Ham United (4-5-1): Miklosko; Breacker, Gale, Potts, Rowland (Martin, 37); Jones, Rush, Bishop, Marsh, Holmes; Morley. Substitutes not used: M Allen, Kelly (gk).

Everton (4-4-2): Southall; Snodin, Watson, Jackson, Ablett; Ebbrell, Horne, Stuart, Limpar; Cottee, Angell (Rideout, 77). Substitutes not used: Unsworth, Kearton (gk).

Referee: P Foakes (Clacton-on-Sea).