Good Stead heads Rovers to land of safety

Everton 0 Blackburn Rovers 1
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The Independent Online

If they were into shooting the messenger at Goodison, then the man with the microphone at half-time would have had a thousand arrows in his back. Rail works, he announced, would close the line for Everton's next away match at Wolverhampton on Saturday and the alternative coaches would add 90 minutes to the journey. Oh, and alcohol would be banned.

If they were into shooting the messenger at Goodison, then the man with the microphone at half-time would have had a thousand arrows in his back. Rail works, he announced, would close the line for Everton's next away match at Wolverhampton on Saturday and the alternative coaches would add 90 minutes to the journey. Oh, and alcohol would be banned.

It all adds up to what sounds like a dreary afternoon, but to be fair to the Everton players they did their best to prepare their supporters for it yesterday. After such a supine performance, a 90-minute, drink-free journey will be a doddle as the boos cracked open at the final whistle testified.

So instead of Everton getting the win that would have made them feel secure against relegation, it was Blackburn Rovers who secured it with their third successive success. They have now edged just ahead of Everton on the 40-point mark that is commonly considered to be a platform of safety, climbing there thanks to John Stead's fifth goal in 10 matches since his transfer from Huddersfield Town.

"We're not over the finishing line yet," said Graeme Souness, the Blackburn Rovers manager, his smile suggesting he thought they were, "but we're very pleased because it's been a frustrating season." Everton are probably safe, too, but that will not quell the immediate concern.

"We were poor," admitted manager David Moyes, "we never fired at all. We normally have a lot of energy and we seemed lacking in it today. Everybody was a bit dead."

Moyes began the day in a wistful mood, wishing in the programme that the season was not approaching its end. It seemed a hostage to fortune at 3pm and it looked even more two hours later as they were exposed as a team bereft of ideas. They were not helped by the withdrawal of Thomas Gravesen after 23 minutes, but, as the manager pointed out, they should not be that dependant on the Dane.

Brad Friedel tipped over Steve Watson's header after six minutes and Gary Naysmith grazed the post from the resulting corner, but apart from Tomasz Radzinski forcing a flying save out of the Blackburn goalkeeper moments before the half-time whistle, that was the high point of their endeavours. Instead it was Blackburn, building on the substantial foundation laid by Lorenzo Amoruso's performance at the back, who controlled the tempo. Craig Short and Stead were thwarted by Nigel Martyn's saves early in the game and when the goalkeeper was beaten by Amoruso's powerful header from Tugay's 40th-minute corner, Tobias Linderoth was on the line to make the clearance.

Everton injected some urgency into their game after half-time. Friedel had to scamper across his line to save from Kevin Kilbane's overhead kick and Alex Nyarko's long-range shots. Then Martin Andresen broke forward and Andy Cole's sharp turn was denied only by a flying save from Martyn.

Cole had been suffering an afternoon so quiet he could have taken a vow of silence. It was no surprise when his run to the left appeared to have snuffed the threat out of a promising Blackburn move with nine minutes remaining. Everton's concentration wavered, however, the former Manchester United striker turning to deliver a cross with sufficient venom that Stead, arriving late, had enough power to work with when he headed past Martyn. It was a striking goal.

Could Everton mount a similarly striking riposte? Like next week's train, it never looked like arriving.

Everton 0 Blackburn Rovers 1
Stead 81

Half-time: 0-0 Attendance: 38,884

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