Ferguson hits the spot to sink Norwich

Everton 3 Norwich City 1
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The Independent Football

It will require a first FA Cup final appearance since 1995 for Everton to exorcise all the demons lingering from last year's third round. But this will do for a start. As their manager, David Moyes, reflected: "Last year, after that game at Shrewsbury, I was in my bed by seven o'clock and had pulled the covers over my head. Tonight I may stay up a bit longer."

There was no doubt that a few of us were here primarily because Everton presented themselves as ripe for another bruising. Moyes was acutely aware of that fact as he surveyed the media afterwards and remarked on the number of what he considered major journalistic names. "I see the big boys are here today," he said wrily. "You must have expected another shock."

But would it have been an upset? In truth, a win for Norwich, given the recent history of the hosts and that of their visitors, not to mention Everton's obsession with their grim fate at Gay Meadow a year ago - beaten by a Third Division side who were soon to be relegated to the Conference - would have been far from unpredictable, though it seemed prudent not to emphasise that fact to the Scot.

A mere 10 places separate these teams and all season the supposed paucity of the leftovers, once you've removed the cream of the Premiership, has been debated. The problem here was that the Nationwide leaders only rarely offered Moyes' side a true examination.

Two of Everton's goals were converted from the penalty spot by Duncan Ferguson, who led the line with aplomb and was a highly effective accomplice to Wayne Rooney. The two penalty awards could be described as "soft" - the third goal came from Kevin Kilbane - but the Mersey-siders could comfortably have placed the contest beyond Norwich by half-time. "Terrific," said Moyes of Everton's first half. "As good as we've played at Goodison all season."

On home ground, the Toffees are a tough proposition for any visitors, and in circumstances such as this crucial decisions tend to go in favour of the Premiership team. The referee, Matt Messias, gave Norwich few favours. "I'd question the free-kick which led to the first goal, and the penalty decisions," said their manager, Nigel Worthington. "But the referee's given them and we've got to accept them."

That aside, he approved of his side's contribution, claiming that "there were periods in the second half when we made a good side look ordinary." That overstates the visitors' case. The travelling Canaries chirruped loudly throughout but, apart from two fertile periods in each half, their exhortations were in vain, and Worthington was left in no doubt that, despite acquiring Darren Huckerby from Manchester City, the prospect of promotion to the Premiership must be regarded with trepidation.

With greater fortune, Everton would have enjoyed three goals in that early period when Rooney, twice, Thomas Gravesen and James McFadden went close and Ferguson struck the bar. Everton eventually took the lead from a 15th-minute free-kick after Marc Edworthy had been adjudged to have fouled Gravesen on the right. When the free-kick curled uncontested into the six-yard box, Kilbane headed home.

Just before the half-hour, the visitors replied. Gary Naysmith was cautioned for a foul on Paul McVeigh, and from Edworthy's free-kick the home team failed to clear and the Canadian international Jim Brennan curled his shot in off the far post.

Moyes' men gave the scoreline a more accurate reflection seven minutes before the interval when Iwan Roberts fouled Alan Stubbs clumsily in the area. Ferguson deceived Green with a mischievous spot-kick to claim his fourth goal of the season. "Duncan was always a handful and took his penalties really well," enthused Moyes of the lanky Scot, who received a standing ovation when he was substituted late on.

Everton had a nervous demeanour early in the second half and Norwich clearly detected that as they rose to the challenge. Huckerby had an attempt cleared off the line and Brennan drove a free-kick from just outside the area low and hard, only for Nigel Martyn to block the attempt.

It was another penalty from the same source, a foul by Roberts on Stubbs, which finally extinguished Norwich's flickering flames of belief. Again, Ferguson was too wily for Green and gave the keeper no chance.

The result left Moyes contemplating the feasibility of an overdue run in the Cup while Worthington can - it goes without saying - concentrate on the League. For the moment, though, it might be wise not to put your team on the Premiership stage, Mr Worthington.

Everton 3 Norwich City 1
Kilbane 15, Ferguson pen 38, pen 70; Brennan 27

Half-time: 2-1 Attendance: 29,955