Murphy exposes need for a new Gravesen

Everton 0 - Charlton Athletic 1
Click to follow
The Independent Online

While Merseyside has been relishing the prospect of Everton and Liverpool slugging it out for the final Champions' League place, another, less appealing vision is beginning to intrude. A few more weekends like this one and Charlton Athletic will be dreaming of Madrid and Milan instead.

While Merseyside has been relishing the prospect of Everton and Liverpool slugging it out for the final Champions' League place, another, less appealing vision is beginning to intrude. A few more weekends like this one and Charlton Athletic will be dreaming of Madrid and Milan instead.

Everton began this match hoping to stretch their lead over their bitterest rivals to 10 points and ended it looking anxiously over their shoulders at Charlton, who are now level with Liverpool and Middlesbrough. More ominously, they are the team in form.

Matt Holland's goal just before half-time means they have recaptured their momentum of an undefeated December, while Everton have won only one of their last five Premiership matches. You could call it their capital punishment, as all of their six defeats have come against London clubs.

It is doubtful if any of the previous five were worse than this because yesterday Everton hardly ever lifted themselves above the mundane, most obviously in midfield where the transfer of Thomas Gravesen to Real Madrid appears to have had a serious effect. They hit a post and had a header cleared off the line but the overwhelming impression was of a team struggling without their playmaker. As a consequence the service to their new £6 million striker James Beattie was almost negligible.

"It didn't break for us today," David Moyes, the Everton manager, said. "But we started the day in the FA Cup and in fourth place in the League and we're there tonight. We're still in a terrific position." Moyes suggested it was a one-off but the signs were ominous. In the programme he wrote, "At no time did we want him [Gravesen] to leave", and it became apparent why, because Everton began so sluggishly they could have been Liverpool in the FA Cup. Passes went astray and the only home imagination was on the advertising boards, one of which promised "practising safe access" under the name Climax Scaffolding.

To make matters worse, the main beneficiary of such humdrum fare was the former Liverpool player Danny Murphy, who strutted around midfield like a latter day Howard Kendall. It was enough to make any Evertonian see red and after one particularly bad attempt at a pass, a fan in the main stand shouted: "That's why we need to buy midfielders, Moyes."

Paradoxically, that came just before Everton made their first real attempt on goal after 22 minutes. Lee Carsley - the joke at Goodison is that Real wanted Carsley and got the wrong shaven-headed midfielder - took a corner that was flicked on to the far post by Marcus Bent. David Weir headed it down only to find the ubiquitous Murphy on the line.

Charlton had been pretty but toothless and yet, with the first half in stoppage time, they struck. Hermann Hreidarsson powered his way from the left flank and then primed Holland with a pass along the area. Holland took one look up and then curled the ball into the top corner with the outside of his right foot.

The second half was predominantly Everton's, but only once did they look likely to equalise. Beattie's shot in the 53rd minute was powerful enough to beat Dean Kiely but a whisker too strong for Tim Cahill's lunge. A touch would have done, too, because the ball thumped against the base of the post.

A free-kick from Beattie that Kiely saved with a dive to his left apart, that was it and the sighs of home dismay could not drown out the chants of the Charlton fans: "Champions' League, you're having a laugh." Cruel, but possibly true.

Comments