Gravesen's talent shapes game for the fighters made hungry by Moyes

Everton 3 - Bolton Wanderers 2
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The Independent Online

Everton's season is so far stupendous and this remains true even though there were times when Bolton, allegedly long ball, long throw, nuts-and-bolts and as unlovely as a drill-sergeant's scowl, played much the more coherent and pleasing football.

Everton's season is so far stupendous and this remains true even though there were times when Bolton, allegedly long ball, long throw, nuts-and-bolts and as unlovely as a drill-sergeant's scowl, played much the more coherent and pleasing football.

Why, however, is there buried amid all the applause a nagging unease about a level of over-achievement which is threatening to become epic?

It is because - and the manager, David Moyes, has relegated the matter to a list of least desired questions - a central fact simply won't go away: Everton are to a significant extent where they are today, which is to say ahead of moneybags clubs like Manchester United, Liverpool and Newcastle, not solely because of a magnificently fashioned spirit of defiance against all odds.

No, you don't have to be a motivational expert to know that at the heart of Everton's effort is a freakish reality in the largesse-filled Premiership. Everton, who came within an inch of relegation last season, have a whole team playing for their futures in the game.

This left an intriguing question after victory had been rescued from what threatened to be a comprehensive and potentially shattering defeat. If players like Thomas Gravesen and Duncan Ferguson - particularly Ferguson, given the pattern of his career - had been swaddled in sweetheart contracts, rather than facing hard-headed appraisals of their talent, would they have fought quite so fiercely to reverse the tide of a game which was apparently flowing so strongly in Bolton's favour?

This will only seem like carping if you weren't at Shrewsbury not so long ago and saw Gravesen, a brilliantly acute contributor to Saturday's victory, join in the surrender in an Everton FA Cup defeat of bewildering passivity - or watched last season as the team came within an inch of going down. In his current situation Gravesen is surely making a claim for himself as a prime target in next month's transfer window. The Dane's fast feet - remarkable in such a strongly constructed man - and equally sharp instinct for finding a weakness in an opposing defence must be a temptation for some of the most powerful forces in English and European football.

Manchester United, having already scooped up the prodigious Wayne Rooney, could certainly justify an interest as they rebuild their season without the certainty of consistent performance in the game-shaping arena of midfield.

Ferguson, and the central defenders David Weir and Alan Stubbs, are in a somewhat different category to Gravesen as they approach the end of their contracts and push into their thirties. But the effect of professional insecurity is no less profound.

Ferguson, making a rare start, was unable - or unwilling - to immerse himself utterly in the team's new work ethic, but his performance was far from marginal. His beautifully headed equaliser on half-time injected some desperately needed belief and, if Stubbs and Weir were from time to time compromised by the strength and the mobility of double goalscorer Kevin Davies, their overall effort was as impressive as so much of their work since Moyes told them in the summer that he couldn't guarantee their futures.

Another Everton fact: the Italian full-back Alessandro Pistone is also enjoying one of his most productive runs in his injury-scarred career. He, too, is contemplating contract negotiations. Pistone has a wonderfully easy technique, with a fine touch in both feet, and his superb run and cross gave Ferguson the chance to get Everton back into the game.

So, in the end, what do we say about an Everton team who, after being rated strong contenders for relegation, now eagerly dog the footsteps of Chelsea and Arsenal?

We have to say that they are producing results way beyond the sum of their collective talent and that these last three points could have come only from a quite extraordinary sense of collective purpose. Apart from Gravesen's flashing feet - which brought a controversial second equaliser from a twice-taken free-kick - and surging impact, Everton were second best in most departments except the will to win.

The Bolton manager, Sam Allardyce, had a more basic explanation for defeat. He said it was the direct result of the fragile control of the new Premiership referee, Howard Webb, who booked the impressively committed Davies and Jay Jay Okocha while drawing a veil over some of the more vigorous Everton work.

Allardyce is convinced his team are victims of a refereeing conspiracy, and says that he is near the point of risking action by the Football Association's compliance unit by going public with his complaints, and the details which lurk behind them. The idea of Big Sam going public is perhaps not revolutionary, but he would almost certainly be better off adopting a more philosophical stance. He is not likely to disturb in any serious way football's most ancient truth that referees are beyond trial - and, most of the time, criticism.

This was a Bolton performance of considerable character and would surely have yielded at least a point if the big Tunisian defender Radhi Jaidi had not diverted Leon Osman's optimistic drive past goalkeeper Jussi Jasskelainen - and Everton not played as though the idea of defeat was utterly unacceptable.

That, in the end, was the most decisive factor of all. Everton are the game's hungry fighters. They remind you a little bit of the old days in boxing, when one alphabet soup title didn't put a million dollars in your bank account. They make you think of how it would be if every Premiership player was only as good - and as secure - as his last few games. Yes, of course, it is a fantasy, but Everton - and their disbelieving fans - just happen to be living it.

Goals: Davies (16) 0-1; Ferguson (45) 1-1; Davies (59) 1-2; Gravesen (75) 2-2; Jaidi og (85) 3-2.

Everton (4-1-4-1): Martyn; Hibbert, Weir, Stubbs, Pistone; Carsley; Cahill (Osman, 69), Gravesen, Kilbane (McFadden), Bent; Ferguson (Yobo, 86). Substitutes not used: Wright (gk), Watson.

Bolton Wanderers (4-1-4-1): Jaaskelainen; Hunt, Jaidi, Hierro, N'Gotty; Campo; Giannakopoulos (Nolan, 86), Okocha (Ferdinand, 86), Speed, Pedersen; Davies. Substitutes not used: Poole (gk), Barness, Cesar.

Referee: H Webb (S Yorkshire).

Booked: Bolton: Davies, Okocha.

Man of the match: Gravesen.

Attendance: 35,929.

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