David Moyes says this season has been an embarrassment compared with last, when Everton fell just short of a place in the Uefa Cup. Yesterday's defeat, their third in a row, did little to improve the manager's assessment. Although they rallied with conviction after being outplayed in the first half, they were left red-faced as Bolton stole the points with an 87th-minute winner.
Veteran centre-forward Duncan Ferguson led Everton's line with the kind of whole-hearted commitment that makes him so popular with the fans. But the Scot's second-half equaliser could not deny Bolton, who clinched their fifth successive win and can anticipate their best top-flight finishing position for 44 years, thanks to two goals from the 36-year old Frenchman Youri Djorkaeff.
Who needs Rivaldo? The possibility of the Brazilian succumbing to Sam Allardyce's persuasive powers remains alive, according to assistant manager Phil Brown, who acknowledged Celtic's interest but said Bolton were "still in the hunt".
Allardyce missed the post-match debriefing, instead making a getaway in pursuit of other transfer targets as Bolton seek to make sure this season is not a fluke. Never having finished above 16th in the Premiership, they are currently seventh and are guaranteed their highest placing since they were sixth in 1959-60. Such success, however, brings pressure to maintain it.
Moyes can testify to that, having raised expectations with what he achieved last year. He cannot quite understand what has gone wrong this year but is adamant it will not be repeated. "Look at the support we had today, a 40,000 crowd again," he said. "I could not possibly let those supporters go through the kind of season we have had again. They deserve better and Everton Football Club have to do better."
Committed to pressing forward yesterday, they were always vulnerable to the counter-attack, a situation that was perfect for Djorkaeff, who loves to surprise the opposition with unpredictable moves. It was in just such a fashion that he put Bolton ahead after 14 minutes, making a diagonal run into which Kevin Nolan fed an astute pass, then skipping past Steve Watson and Tony Hibbert, before deftly prodding the ball past Nigel Martyn for his eighth goal of the season.
Although Ferguson posed a threat, particularly in the first 10 minutes, Everton's performance fizzled out. Moyes needed to make changes at half-time, although he was candid enough to admit that injuries to Alessandro Pistone and Alex Nyarko forced his hand. However, by introducing the combative Lee Carsley in midfield, he gave Everton the bite they had missed when Ivan Campo was in charge. By adding an extra dimension in attack in Tomasz Radzinski, he gave Wayne Rooney freedom to create moves from a deeper position.
The changes were effective in bringing an equaliser after 68 minutes. Radzinski powered along the right flank before delivering a low near-post cross. Leon Osman helped the ball on and Ferguson slid home his ninth goal of the campaign.
Everton seemed to have the momentum to take all the points. However, a moment's carelessness left them with none. Stretched to deal with a Bolton break, Everton's defenders failed to pick up another intelligent run by Djorkaeff and when Simon Charlton crossed from the left the Frenchman arrived to flick the ball past Martyn.
Bolton Wanderers 2
Djorkaeff 14, 87
Half-time: 0-1 Attendance: 40,190
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- Bolton Wanderers
- Phil Brown (Football Manager)
- Premier League
- Sam Allardyce
- Sir Alex Ferguson