Royle agony drawn out

Everton0 Southampton0 Attendance: 36,840
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The Independent Online
EVERTON continue to make heavy weather of Premiership survival, for all that Goodison Park basked in sunshine yesterday. Their fans were left in no mood to enjoy it after seeing their team labour to a fourth successive draw, three of them goalless.

With only one relegation place still undecided, Everton will be aiming to make a push away from trouble at Ipswich on Tuesday, but after what Ipswich did to Coventry yesterday, their optimism must be tempered. Coventry away is Everton's last game of the season, next Sunday. Joe Royle, Everton's manager, said afterwards it was possible Duncan Ferguson would be fit in time. He may well be needed.

One would like to think that the poor quality of Everton's play was entirely the product of anxiety. But there was little excuse for much of the banality on offer. They forced a handful of half-chances, particularly in the second half. But Daniel Amokachi's return to his early-season form of snatched shots and never quite being in the right place at the right time cost them dear.

There was little in it for the Saints, safe after six wins and a draw in their last eight games, and the prospect that they might pose Everton much of a threat receded further before the kick-off, when they lost Matthew Le Tissier with a heel injury. But they at least provided the odd reminder of what passing is, and twice could have won penalties.

The first time, after only a few minutes, was when Dave Watson committed what looked a clear handball; the second, 20 minutes from the end, when Gary Ablett appeared to grab Jim Magilton as he closed in on goal. In between, Everton made nearly all the running, but on a heavily watered pitch they still had trouble keeping the ball on the ground.

They needed a steadying influence, but for a while the nearest they came to one was the corner-kicking of Andy Hinchcliffe. Everton continued to grind rather than glide. The half-time news from other grounds cannot have settled their nerves, and Southampton's sporadic attacks induced mild panic, never more so than in the 57th minute, when Gordon Watson crossed to the far post and Neil Shipperley stole in behind David Unsworth to volley a couple of feet wide.

It was substitution time again, and with just over half an hour to go, Royle sacrificed Hinchcliffe's dependability for the individualism of Anders Limpar. The scurrying Swede gave his side a lift, but with Beasant making a couple of fine saves late on, the breakthrough remained elusive.

Alan Ball, the Southampton manager, was asked if he thought Everton would stay up: "I thought Celtic Swing would win the 2000 Guineas."

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