Everton 0 Wigan Athletic 1

Air turns blue over Everton freefall

The misery is unrelenting. Having attempted to "strangle the life out of Arsenal" and failed, here they swallowed their own suicide pill. A "crazy five minutes after half-time", according to the manager David Moyes, when they capitulated to Damien Francis's winner. Another blank sheet, and most of what there was to admire in this contest emanated from the visitors.

All very curious. Everton are somehow a year out of synchronisation. This was what we had all erroneously anticipated last year, wasn't it? Except this is even worse. And the nadir could be reached today. Should Sunderland surprise us all and defeat their North-east neighbours Middlesbrough, Everton will replace them as bottom club.

"The [disallowed] goal should have stood but we shouldn't be relying on referees' decisions," said Moyes. "We were worth a point, but it's disappointing to find myself saying that when we should be winning games."

Paul Jewell, once on Liverpool's books as a player and the recipient of much banter from behind the dug-out because of it, has fashioned a balanced team, blessed with commitment, a staunch back-line, and no little quality in attack. Everton struck the bar and also mustered a number of chances, with James McFadden's raking crosses twice just eluding the advancing feet of his team-mates, but they gave goalkeeper John Filan, who had been brought in for Mike Pollitt - "the hardest decision I've made in football", according to Jewell - a far more comfortable game than he should have envisaged. They looked a side denuded of confidence.

There had been a world-weariness about those entering the stadium. One goal in the Premiership, and one victory and four defeats, tends to do that to the most stoic Evertonian. And don't even mention Europe. How many will be returning on Thursday for the Uefa Cup return against Dinamo Bucharest, with a four-goal deficit to make up?

In the match-day programme, Moyes had expressed his faith in the club's personnel. "The talent the players have got is unquestionable, and it's something you just don't lose overnight." He could scarcely suggest otherwise, of course, although the players concerned did not exactly vindicate that stance.

If Everton believed that Wigan were ripe for them to harvest their first home League triumph, they were wrong. The visitors defended well against an attack featuring McFadden and Leon Osman, but were always positive in possession. Jimmy Bullard went close with a drive, while Lee McCulloch unleashed an attempt that Nigel Martyn deflected to safety. In between, Everton threatened with an overhead kick from Mikel Arteta and later Kevin Kilbane's header which rebounded off the top of the bar.

But Jewell's men, exhorted by their vociferous supporters, were a persistent menace on the break and from a Bullard corner which followed one such foray, Nuno Valente cleared Pascal Chimbonda's header off the line. Then Henri Camara attempted an audacious chip at the same end, which brought no reward. He clasped his hands in prayer. As the half closed, so did the home faithful.

They were nearly rewarded in added time, when McFadden found Simon Davies advancing on goal, but the former Spurs man was wayward with his finish.

Jewell opined that his side were "rubbish" before the break. A harsh verdict but nevertheless he could not repeat the criticism after it. They established a lead within two minutes of the restart. Jason Roberts culminated a fine move by cutting the ball back for Camara, unmarked in front of goal. Martyn saved but the ball fell to Francis who converted his first goal since moving from Norwich.

Finally, with just over half an hour remaining, Marcus Bent was thrown on. To no avail. When the home side finally believed they had equalised, as Bent forced the ball home in a goalmouth mêlée, their celebrations were halted byStyles, who had spotted a foul.

Wigan held on, and are now eighth, only a point behind Manchester United. "Bet they're terrified," jested Jewell. Of course they're not, but the Wigan manager knows who's more content at the moment. Meanwhile, a bemused Moyes can only dream about such luxury.

Comments