Football: Watson's less than elementary winner

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The Independent Online
Everton 1 Derby County 0

The tone for the day was set by turning on to Radio Four and hearing a vicar endorsing theft from supermarkets. What could follow that? A Stagecoach rail timetable without the word "cancelled" on it? An Everton victory?

After one Premiership success since 16 December any win would have come as a thunderbolt. Which must have crossed Claus Thomsen's mind, too, because the Everton midfielder was so bewildered when his side scored his jump for joy injured his ankle, forcing his withdrawal. There was no word on the number of home supporters who swooned with the shock.

Joe Royle also had reason to be disorientated. The manager has spent the winter trying to locate plus points from minus results so it was a surprise when he did not stumble over unfamiliar words like "goal", "victory" and "points". Instead he could look forward with another alien concept: optimisim.

"You can feel the tension going," he said. "We can now try to bring players into the club on our own terms. There's no need for stop-gaps." Now or in the summer? "Both," he replied, enjoying the chance to puzzle after his long-standing role of puzzled.

In the context of the unusual outcome the goal that won this tedious match was wholly appropriate. Dave Watson has scored with his left foot before - once. The rest of the time it has acted as a prop for the gnarled and trusty right limb that has spent 17 years scaring the life out of strikers. When Duncan Ferguson headed the ball down to his captain, however, the ball could hardly have been hit more sweetly into the corner of the net.

"It was the first time we had lost the marking," Jim Smith, the Derby manager, lamented, and his defenders could hardly say the move that led to the goal had come as a surprise. Everton's predictablity has been overstated - they are just as capable of firing in crosses towards Ferguson's head from the left as well as the right - but you would have thought the visitors would have come to terms with the tactic after 78 minutes' practice.

Think again. As Smith will have to as he weighs up his pursuit of a safety target of 39 points. "Five of our remaining eight games are at home," he said, "and that's going to be our security. We have to get the two results we need there."

Which should be no problem if Aljosa Asanovic deigns to throw himself into the fray with the same enthusiasm he flings his hands in the air in despair at his colleagues' shortcomings. The Croat was, by some distance, the most gifted player at Goodison but the energy he generated on Saturday would not have powered a torch.

Moody, petulant, lazy; take your pick to describe him. Overseas imports have discarded the "Johnny Foreigner" prejudices that proclaim they will not perform when the going gets tough. Asanovic, however, might be the exception that proves the rule on this showing.

Goals: Watson (78) 1-0.

Everton (3-4-1-2): Southall; Short, Watson, Unsworth; Barrett, Parkinson, Thomsen (Hottiger, 80), Phelan; Barmby; Ferguson, Branch (Stuart, h-t). Substitutes not used: Rideout, Dunne, Gerrard (gk).

Derby County (3-5-1-1): Taylor; Laursen, McGrath (Carbon, 88), Rowett; Carsley (Simpson, 84), Dailly, Trollope, D Powell, C Powell; Asanovic; Ward. Substitutes not used: Flynn, Wright, Hoult (gk).

Referee: G Barber (Surrey).

Bookings: Everton: Watson, Short; Derby: Rowett, Dailly.

Man of the match: Barmby.

Attendance: 32,140.