Everton's mistakes see Smith in a tight situation

Middlesbrough 1 Everton 0
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The Independent Online

Everton manager Walter Smith refused to be drawn on his future at the club as his team slumped to their fifth straight defeat.

Italian defender Gianluca Festa grabbed the match–winner for Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium today with a goal in the 50th minute.

It was just the result Smith didn't need with speculation before the match he had two games to save his job.

If that is so, then the FA Cup match at Second Division Stoke on Saturday could bring an end to his three–year reign if Everton go out.

The former Rangers boss said: "As a manager you have to remain optimistic. We dropped into the bottom three in my first season then won four in a row to get out. But apart from that, I have no comment to make on my situation."

Everton bossed the first half and Duncan Ferguson saw a shot rattle the bar.

But when Festa, making his first appearance since April, opened the scoring the writing was on the wall.

Smith said: "We had most of the pressure in the first half but it has been the trend we have not managed to get our nose in front in recent games.

"The truth is we have not scored enough goals and have lacked a bit of quality in the final third of the field.

"We could have led comfortably but that has been the case in a number of games. We have to look for the answers ourselves."

It was Middlesbrough's first win in five and their first win on New Year's Day for 43 years.

But manager Steve McClaren took time off from his celebrations to express his sympathy for Smith.

"They hit the bar and had a lot of pressure in the first half," said McClaren. "But this is a massive win for us after a bad December.

"It wasn't a pretty game by any manner of means but the result is far more important than the performance."

McClaren paid tribute to Festa, who hasn't been able to break into the side after knee surgery because of the good form of Ugo Ehiogu and Gareth Southgate.

With Ehiogu out because of a groin injury, Festa took his chance. McClaren said: "Nobody works harder than Luca, I see him every day on the training field. He's got great experience and experience was very important today."

Colin Cooper was originally pencilled in on the Middlesbrough bench but instead Jason Gavin was named as substitute.

It is understood that Cooper left the ground before kick off but McClaren would only say: "It's a private matter."

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Crossley 8; Stockdale 6, Festa 7, Southgate 6, Queudrue 6 (Stamp 6, 63); Marinelli 7 (Boksic 5, 80), Mustoe 6, Ince 7, Greening 6 (Gavin 6, h-t); Ricard 7, Whelan 6. Substitutes not used: Nemeth, Beresford (gk).

Everton (5-3-2): Simonsen 6; Watson 7 (Hibbert, 49 6), Abel Xavier 6, Stubbs 7, Weir 7, Naysmith 7; Alexandersson 6 (Blomqvist 6, h-t), Gemmill 6, Unsworth 7; Cadamarteri 6 (Moore 6, 39), Ferguson 6. Substitutes not used: Gerrard (gk), Tal.

Referee: R Styles (Waterlooville) 7.

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