Ball's penalty stirs Goodison patient

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The Independent Football

Everton, WHOSE condition has been causing concern among their friends and loved ones, rallied slightly yesterday but only just. A draw at home to potential fellow strugglers is not the stuff to inspire poetry yet it could have been far worse.

Everton, WHOSE condition has been causing concern among their friends and loved ones, rallied slightly yesterday but only just. A draw at home to potential fellow strugglers is not the stuff to inspire poetry yet it could have been far worse.

With Manchester City and Coventry City winning their games, the sound of alarms echoing round Goodison were increasing in volume after Jason Dodd's explosive strike gave Southampton the lead. Then, with their third homedefeat of the season looming, relief arrived with Michael Ball's penalty. Even so, with Everton hovering just above the relegation places, the impression remains that it is going to be a hard winter for the blue half of Merseyside.

"We need a win," Walter Smith, the Everton manager said. "It's not the easiest period for us but it's one we will have to get round and try to overcome the big problems we have."

Smith was referring to the injury setbacks that have plagued his schemes this season but he must also be concerned by the disillusionment that is growing around him. Just 29,491 bothered to turn up yesterday and while some were inspired to boo on occasions most just watched in horrified silence. There would have been more atmosphere at a whist drive in the local church hall.

In fairness, the first half would have been enough to reduce the most rabid to mute disappointment. Poor? It was not as good as that.

Everton, whose passing would have embarrassed a non-League side, were dreadful and the chances they did contrive came despite rather than because of their efforts, Alex Nyarko coming closest with a shot after 29 minutes that was probably on target but rebounded for a corner off the shoulder of Claus Lundekvam.

Southampton were the better of two unequals but did not manage a shot or a chance worthy of the description until the 44th minute when the failings further forward spread to the home defence. David Weir inadvertently flicked on Hassan Kachloul's corner and Tahar El Khalej arrived with some force to head past Paul Gerrard. But the Moroccan's effort was a fraction too high, flicking the bar on its way to the seating.

Something had to be done to provoke an improvement in Everton and, to give Smith his due, he tried, pushing Gravesen forward from sweeper into midfield and replacing Mark Hughes with the more mobile Joe-Max Moore.

The change almost had a near-instant effect because Gravesen produced the first long pass of any real merit, dissecting the Southampton centre-backs with a 40-yard chip from the right flank. Kevin Campbell muscled on to the ball but Chris Marsden, chasing back from midfield, got a tackle in.

If that move stood out, then Dodd's 76th-minute goal was like a shaft of light in Hades. A throw-in was launched from the left, Everton half-cleared the ball and the Southampton captain cracked a volley from 30 yards that burst past Paul Gerrard's fingers and into the top corner.

Everton looked wretched but the cavalry appeared in the shape of Kevin Davies' rash tackle from behind on Nyarko in the 81st minute and Ball sent Paul Jones the wrong way. The question for Everton is: will the relief be temporary?

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