Football: Walker's turn for worse

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The Independent Online
Crystal Palace. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1 Preece 53 Everton . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0 Attendance: 14,505 CRYSTAL PALACE'S first home win of the season brought Everton's seventh defeat and even more blues for the Blues and undoubtedly more job threats for Mike Walker. A 52nd-minute goal by Andy Preece - his first for Palace - means that Walker has now achieved only five wins in 31 matches since joining Everton from Norwich.

Walker continues to insist that his team are in a misleading position but 'things get no easier'. He said: 'This was yet another game that for a long time we dominated, but we just have to score more goals. We're working on the defensive side and that's improved, but today there was a great save by the Palace goalkeeper and things like that keep happening to us.' How many more times can he repeat what is becoming a cracked record?

All through the week Everton have been going about their usual business of making unsuccessful bids for Scandinavian players, who proved not to be as out-of-touch about the club's predicament as Walker would have liked. The manager got his umpteenth assurance about his future and kept on talking about turning the corner and complaining about the attitude of some of the club's more creative players.

Everyone knew the real problem was not creativity but frailty in a defence that has conceded 23 goals in 11 Premiership matches. The absence yesterday of one of their few dependables, Dave Watson, added to their vulnerability against another struggling team, but one that a week before had given Newcastle a real battle and only lost in the last minute.

Commendably but frustratingly, Everton want to stroll and caress their way out of a corner that demands some on-the- ropes battling. Yesterday they spent the first half-hour elegantly making Palace chase shadows and depend on the defensive authority of Chris Coleman and Richard Shaw. Duncan Ferguson almost began to justify his expensive loan from Rangers when spinning in the Palace penalty area and snapping a shot that Nigel Martyn pushed round the post, perhaps destroying Everton's hopes for the rest of the game.

Martyn also had to react instantly to block a point-blank drive from Daniel Amokachi with his feet, as did Neville Southall from Gareth Southgate's much longer-range effort, but it was always Southall who was more likely to err, something the Everton fans have been complaining about all season. Indeed, he was comfortably beaten after 19 minutes when Palace's exciting striker Chris Armstrong headed John Salako's free-kick beyond him, only for the effort to be ruled offside.

Those doubts about the declining positional sense of Southall were emphasised in the 52nd minute when he stayed on his line as Armstrong drifted a deep centre towards the far post. Preece was well positioned and headed high back over Southall into the far side of a poorly defended goal.

Southall redeemed himself in the later stages but Salako should have beaten him easily when Armstrong again dispatched an inviting ball clean across the Everton goal.

Nothing that Everton could achieve yesterday came to fruition. Their midfield was given some steel at half-time when Joe Parkinson replaced the injury-troubled Vinny Samways. As is often the situation, no end of good intentions by a troubled team came to nothing in the opposition's penalty area. Ferguson is clearly an industrious and potentially dangerous centre-forward, but in a team receiving nothing from luck up front, he has no base on which to succeed.

As for Palace, yesterday's win could be the turning point for their season.

In fact, with Armstrong now leading their attack with strength and increasing skill, and Salako back to the form he showed earlier in his career, Palace should develop into a presentable side, provided their midfield work equals that of a solid central defence and fluid attack. But their manager, Alan Smith, rightly identified their real advantages over Everton: 'We held our shape and kept our nerve.'

(Photograph omitted)

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