Ipswich Town's second-season blues continued with a schizophrenic performance that might have allowed Everton to tie up the points long before the second half brought a revival, with its tantalising reminders of how Suffolk had surprised the Premiership a year ago. Even then, a final touch was missing, and the visitors' captain, Kevin Campbell, emerged as the most wasteful striker on the pitch. Three times after the interval on the counter-attack he was required only to beat the home team's goalkeeper, Matteo Sereni, but could not do so.
That enabled the Ipswich manager, George Burley, to take home the consolation of a first clean sheet of the season. Although heavily beaten only by Manchester United, his team have yet to discover last season's fluency in midfield and confidence in attack. "Your second season in the Premiership is very difficult," Burley said, "and you've got to work hard to get results. But another day the breaks will come."
Knowing how and when to strengthen the side is also tricky. In leaving the summer's main signing, Finidi George, on the substitutes' bench until the last 15 minutes, Burley was effectively reverting to last season's outfield team. He changed things to better effect at half-time, bringing on Fabian Wilnis for Chris Makin to provide a more aggressive threat from the right.
But all in all, Everton, without the influential Thomas Gravesen as well as the less predictable Paul Gascoigne in midfield, were the more entitled to be satisfied with their point. Walter Smith solved the problem of whether to pick Duncan Ferguson, who was fit again, or the Canadian Tomasz Radzinski, by fielding both in a positive 3-4-3 formation, on either side of the profligate Campbell. An uncertain home defence, in which John McGreal was given a bruising afternoon by Ferguson, struggled to cope with the unusual threat, raising the question of why more managers are not bold enough to play three men up.
Certainly, the visitors made all the scoring chances in the first 40 minutes. In the 17th minute Steve Watson was unmarked as he headed Mark Pembridge's swerving free-kick over the bar. Campbell was then allowed to run free in a one-two with Radzinski, forcing Sereni to the first of several excellent saves.
Not until the last few minutes before the interval were the home supporters on their feet as Marcus Stewart's header was pushed away by Paul Gerrard, only for Alun Armstrong to drive the loose ball carelessly across the face of goal.
The second half was a different tale. Jim Magilton and Armstrong both shot wide of Gerrard's posts as Ipswich began to pass the ball better, before they were were suddenly caught on the break twice in as many minutes, Campbell failing to convert the opportunity on each occasion.
By that time, midway through the half, Walter Smith had buttressed his midfield with two more defenders in Alan Stubbs and David Unsworth, pulling Ferguson much deeper in a standard 4-4-2 shape. Ipswich turned to George for a lively last quarter of an hour, in which the Nigerian's header and Martijn Reuser's fierce volley, both blocked, were the nearest things to a breakthrough until Campbell jabbed wide from three yards at the other end.
"If you don't take chances like that you won't win games," Smith growled.
Ipswich Town 0 Everton 0
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