Anarchy in the stands. Apathy on the pitch. And two managers who pronounced themselves content with a point from a drab goalless draw. It seemed a fitting conclusion to a night when Aston Villa and Everton battled their respective problems, but rarely troubled each other, and when the individual who gained the biggest round of applause was a home supporter who ambled on to the park towards the end of the game displaying a placard reading "Ellis Out".
Quite what Doug Ellis, the Villa chairman who saw John Gregory resign as his manager last week, will be thinking this morning is debatable. He would probably not disagree with John Deehan, his caretaker manager, that the club is passing through "unusual" times. Then again, life at Villa Park has rarely been "usual" under Ellis.
"There was a different kind of atmosphere here tonight, not conducive to playing good football," Deehan said. "In the first half we were tentative, fractious. Emotionally the players were finding it difficult. They could have used that as an excuse to give up, but they gave a good account of themselves for a period in the second half. And then when Everton had a good spell, as we knew they would, we still managed to keep a clean sheet, the first for 14 games. The players couldn't have done much more."
Walter Smith, Everton's manager, was no less pleased with a point, especially given his side's uninspired form in recent months and the list of injuries and absences he has had to cope with. He was forced to give a start, for example, to the former England Under-19 captain, Peter Clarke, in for David Weir, whose wife was due to give birth. Paul Gascoigne, with a calf strain, was among others out. Four strikers started, with two of them Joe-Max Moore and Kevin Campbell in midfield.
The unconventional deployment of such attacking options was understandably confusing and Everton spent 20 minutes apparently trying to work out where they were. Campbell then dallied between his assigned role and one further upfield, the result being that Villa had the run of the middle third of the pitch. Not that they made any telling use of it.
"On reflection we ended up with the better opportunities," Smith said. "So I'm disappointed. But with the players unavailable it was good to get something from the game and I'm pleased with a point."
The best chances of the first half fell to Duncan Ferguson, who had a header saved, and Campbell, who blasted over. Villa's best spell came shortly after the break. Paul Merson, who had earlier thrown his hat into the ring as an outsider candidate to succeed Gregory as manager, came closest to scoring after an opportunist dribble. He passed two opponents before unleashing a fierce shot from the edge of the box. It crashed off the crossbar and into the stands.
Merson then shot over, Mark Delaney chipped over, and at the other end Jlloyd Samuel did well to thwart a Danny Cadamarteri break. The half-time substitute Dion Dublin then spurned another Villa chance, heading well over. Jeers of "Ellis Out" rang around the ground, the pitch invader came and went and the referee mercifully blew for time.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Encklelman 5; Delaney 7, Mellberg 5, Staunton 5, Samuel 6; Hadji 4, Boateng 5, Hendrie 4 (Kachloul 5, 75), Merson 7; Vassell 4 (Dublin 4, h-t), Angel 4. Substitutes not used: Myhill (gk), Stone, Barry.
Everton (5-3-2): Simonsen 5; Hibbert 5 (Clelland 5, 25), Clarke 4, Stubbs 5, Naysmith 5, Unsworth 5; Gemmill 6, Moore 4, Campbell 3; Ferguson 4, Cadamarteri 4 (Chadwick 5, 71). Substitutes not used: Gerrard (gk), Tal, McLeod.
Referee: C Foy (St Helens) 5.Reuse content