Barmby's late strike rescues Everton

Exeter's rearguard action almost keeps Toffees stuck in rut as Sheffield steel looks a little blunt
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The Independent Online

Conventional wisdom has it that the gap between the Premiership and the rest is growing but there was little evidence to support the theory last night. Seventy-five places separate these clubs in the league, but it was not until the 175th minute of this FA Cup third-round replay that Everton won through to meet Birmingham City.

Conventional wisdom has it that the gap between the Premiership and the rest is growing but there was little evidence to support the theory last night. Seventy-five places separate these clubs in the league, but it was not until the 175th minute of this FA Cup third-round replay that Everton won through to meet Birmingham City.

Quite how this had come about only Everton can answer because they missed any number of chances in a match that became more fraught for the home crowd by the second. With extra time beckoning, however, Nick Barmby pounced on a rebound from John Collins' shot. Relief all round for the Premiership team.

The Football Association might plead it has no choice but the folly of dragging the country's premier knockout competition to December was apparent as soon as you saw last night's crowd. A few days before Christmas and with a run of home Everton matches to come, the magic of the Cup proved highly resistable and Goodison had more empty seats than occupied ones. This with reduced prices.

Cup ties will always have a fascination, however, as long as the underdogs still have a chance of making their teeth hurt and Exeter had made this replay necessary by an outstanding display of obduracy at St James' Park. Everton had pounded away but the Third Division side had not buckled.

The pattern had not changed last night, indeed Exeter ensured it would not by playing only Gary Alexander up front, and the home team dominated possession. After two minutes Francis Jeffers was clear through only to be denied by Stuart Naylor's charge and this opportunity was followed by others for Kevin Campbell and David Weir.

Surely this pressure had to tell and after 22 minutes it looked as though it would when Mark Pembridge's precisely weighted long pass from the left fell into Campbell's path. He had one chance to touch the ball before Naylor arrived. His touch beat the goalkeeper but looped wide.

This let-off, and the subsequent time spent treating the injured Campbell, temporarily changed the mood and twice, midway through the first half, Exeter might have taken the lead. The first arrived after 25 minutes when a ricochet gave Geoff Breslan space which he squandered by shooting too close to Paul Gerrard and the next was a hit-and-hope effort on the turn from the centre-back Rob Dewhurst that bounced narrowly wide.

With that normal service resumed and Everton ought to have finished the tie off just before half-time. Francis Jeffers merely had to be accurate with a half-volley from Nick Barmby's pass or when he headed Pembridge's cross but, criminally, he was wide. The home frustration was so strong that the teams were booed off the pitch at the interval.

Alex Cleland was the next Everton player to go close, crashing a low shot that could have gone anywhere when it flicked somebody in the packed penalty area. Typically, the end product was a miss that bobbled by the posts and not between them. Jeffers had another opportunity after 62 minutes, but his shot from 12 yards was so poor it ballooned in to the air and almost became a cross to Campbell.

Everton (4-4-2): Gerrard; Cleland, Dunne, Weir, Unsworth; Barmby, Hutchison, Collins, Pembridge; Jeffers, Campbell. Substitutes not used : Ball, Watson, Cadamarteri, Moore, Simonsen (gk).

Exeter City (4-5-1): Naylor; Richardson, Gittens, Dewhurst, Power; Breslan (McConnell, 54), Rees, Curran, Buckle, Robinson (Fack, 86); Alexander. Substitutes not used : Smith, McConnell, Boylan, Matthews (gk).

Referee : S Bennett (Orpington).

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