On a day that Sylvester Stallone brought a touch of Hollywood to English football it was perhaps only fitting, in the circumstances, that Everton should produce a decidedly rocky performance in front of their movie star guest. Fortunately for them, a goal by Andy Johnson nine minutes from the end ensured that a red carpet welcome was not followed by a red-faced farewell.
The home side felt the Joleon Lescott own goal that had given Reading the lead should have been ruled out for offside but even had Johnson's ninth goal of the season won the match it would hardly have added merit. From a team whose expectations ought by now to be some way better than a mid-table finish, this was not encouraging.
Undermined by errors and short on assertiveness, Everton looked to be heading for their third defeat of 2007 and Stallone, who is in England to promote the latest (and final) installment of the Rocky saga, might have regretted agreeing to the appearance, even though the reception for his pre-match walk-on cameo suggests he is not short of fans on Merseyside.
Certainly nothing that followed could match the excitement generated as the 60-year-old actor, fitted out with a club coat and waving a blue and white scarf, strode to the centre circle, accompanied by the customary soundtrack. Arranged by his friend Robert Earl, founder of the Planet Hollywood restaurant chain and now Everton's second largest shareholder, Stallone's visit, far from being a distracting sideshow, was the main event.
After tumbling so feebly out of the FA Cup at the hands of Blackburn a week earlier, Everton were in need of a restorative performance, if only to reassure increasingly restless supporters that the aim of qualifying for the Uefa Cup remains authentic. It had looked that way during the 3-0 victory over Newcastle with which they ended 2006 but less so in the defeat at Manchester City that kicked off 2007.
The return of Tim Cahill, whose absence for two months with a knee injury only emphasised the importance of his attacking influence from midfield, brought a fresh surge of optimism but his contribution yesterday, promising though it was given his lack of match practice, was not enough to disguise deficiencies elsewhere. Hesitancy going forward suggested fragile confidence, although the initial deployment of only Johnson up front did not put out a particularly positive message and the change to 4-4-2 for the second half, with Victor Anichebe sent on to challenge Reading's tall centre backs, was an admission by the manager David Moyes that there was a need to seize the initiative.
The real problem for Moyes was that Everton simply did not play well. Their movement was slow, their passing too often inaccurate, and against an opponent frequently content to defend deep they did not keep possession nearly as long as they should have.
The end result was a largely disjointed contest in which neither side could hang on to the concept of passing the ball to players in the same shirts. The opening goal, awarded after Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard blocked a header from Stephen Hunt only for the ball to rebound into the net off Lescott's leg, was symptomatic of an error-strewn afternoon, compounded as it was by the failure of the official on the line to note that Hunt had been in an offside position.
The likelihood that Reading would increase their lead diminished when top scorer Kevin Doyle limped off with a hamstring injury and they were lucky, perhaps, that Ibrahima Sonko stayed on the field when, having been booked for one foul on Johnson, he barged into the striker again in first-half stoppage time. Sonko was on hand later to clear off the line from Anichebe.
But Everton did not cause Steve Coppell's men too many scares until Johnson, all five feet seven inches of him, somehow managed to beat both the towering Sonko and 6ft 3in Marcus Hahnemann to Joseph Yobo's high ball into the box to head the equaliser.
At which point, eyes and cameras swung to the directors' box. Stallone, after quickly assessing the etiquette on these occasions, jumped to his feet, accepted an approximation of a high-five from Bill Kenwright and, after a lot of smiles and clenched fists, was shepherded away by his entourage, leaving behind some relieved hosts.
Goals: Lescott og (26) 0-1; Johnson (81) 1-1.
Everton (4-5-1): Howard; Neville, Yobo, Lescott, Naysmith; Van der Meyde (Beattie, 71), Cahill, Osman, Carsley, McFadden (Anichebe, h-t); Johnson. Substitutes not used: Wright (gk), Davies, Stubbs.
Reading (4-4-2): Hahnemann; De la Cruz, Sonko, Ingimarsson, Shorey; Little, Sidwell, Harper, Hunt; Doyle (Long, 38), Lita. Substitutes not used: Oster, Sodje, Bikey, Federici (gk).
Referee: M Riley (West Yorkshire).
Bookings: Everton Cahill, Anichebe. Reading Sonko, Hunt.
Man of the match: Johnson.Reuse content