Football: Walker torture goes on

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The Independent Online

Ekelund 19, Le Tissier 72

Everton 0

Attendance: 15,163

NOTHING but the best is good enough, insists Everton's motto. Yesterday saw the worst. Two improved performances in the past seven days to tone down talk of a crisis merely flattered to deceive and the club's history will now have to be updated to record the founder member's worst start in 106 years of league competition.

They have now gone nine games without a win after being dissected by Matthew Le Tissier, taking his buoyant Southampton team to their sixth win in seven unbeaten games and seventh place in the Premiership. Everton remain rock bottom and it is questionable whether, with this team in this bedraggled mood, the only way is up. Mike Walker might need a compass - which has more points than his team - to find a direction, with his record now stretching to 30 games and still only five wins.

The vote of confidence given Walker by his chairman Peter Johnson before the match seemed, amid all the hysteria, an appropriate response to the luckless defeat at Manchester United and draw at Portsmouth, but the reason for its guarded tone was clear after yesterday's subsidence. It is the players who need an infusion of confidence; the margin of defeat might have been trebled.

All they need, Everton insist, is a turning point of the sort a decade ago when they scrambled a replay in a League Cup tie at Oxford and subsequently won two Championships and an FA Cup. But instead of Kevin Brock's back-pass at Portsmouth, they got Neville's nutmeg, Southall conceding a once unthinkable last-minute goal through his legs. It seems they have needed a turning point for almost a decade.

It might have come in the second minute yesterday, courtesy of Southampton's - and poor Bruce Grobbelaar's - misfortune. The goalkeeper came to collect a Vinny Samways free-kick, collided with his team-mate Francis Benali and went off with a broken nose and fractured cheekbone.

Everton might have been expected then to test his replacement Dave Beasant, given his failings in recent years. Though Daniel Amokachi twice had the ball in the net, one clearly offside, one when play had been stopped, they failed to get a shot on target. Amokachi, lone ranger anew with Paul Rideout ineffectual, was left instead to pine for the loan Ranger Duncan Ferguson, who had quickly linked with him at Portsmouth but was now absent with an ankle injury.

'We thought their bravado might be paper thin,' said the Southampton manager Alan Ball, and he was right. The Southampton lead was only 18 minutes coming and was an illustration to Walker of what Ball, a former Evertonian, has done in similarly difficult circumstances: identifying the team's strengths and utilising them.

Iain Dowie, an unspectacular but effective striker of the sort Everton need, headed on a long clearance and the livewire Dane Ronnie Ekelund swapped passes with Le Tissier before sweeping the ball past Southall. Several more should have followed before the break, with Neil Maddison, the ubiquitous Le Tissier and Dowie all a few degrees off target, a fault they rectified in the second half only to find the maligned Southall a man of character. He saved at Ekelund's feet before parrying Neil Heaney's shot then scrambling it off the line.

By now Everton were a raggle-taggle bunch, the loss of their captain Dave Watson with a back injury too big a setback, the increased creativity flowing from the other loan, the Caledonian Gazza Ian Durrant, not sufficient compensation. Too often they were amateurishly strung out, a player in possession given few, if any, options.

'For 18 minutes we were decent enough but the second half was as bad as we have played,' Walker said. 'One or two things weren't done, like working hard and closing down. I was particularly disappointed with that. It wasn't good enough. We have got to improve on that.'

The second goal came as no surprise; neither did the identity of its scorer. Heaney's cross from the left was only half- cleared and Le Tissier pounced on the edge of the penalty area to sidefoot home for a Matt finish.

What advice could Ball offer Walker? 'The most important thing is to die for the cause, to try to win games not trying to be pretty, to build a confidence. It's scratching things to start with.'

Scratch them, though, and Everton bleed.