Everton v Blackburn Rovers


FA Carling Premiership 96/97 - Game 21
Wednesday 1 January 1997
Goodison Park, Merseyside

Result: Everton (0) 0 - Blackburn Rovers (2) 2
Sherwood (18) Sutton (32).

Everton: Southall, Barrett, Phelan, Hottiger, Watson (c), Ebbrell, Stuart, Speed, Barmby (45 Branch), Kanchelskis (71 Limpar), Ferguson.
Booked: Ebbrell.
Subs Not Used: Gerrard, Rideout, Dunne. Unavailable: Unsworth (Suspended); Short, Hinchliffe, Parkinson, Grant (all injured); O'Connor (hernia problems).

Blackburn Rovers: Flowers, Kenna, Sherwood, Hendry, Le Saux, Gallacher, Sutton, Bohinen, Wilcox, McKinlay, Berg.
Subs Not Used: Marker, Given, Fenton, Donis, Warhurst. Booked: Bohinen.

Ref: Graham Barber Att: 30,427 League Position: 8th Results and League Table

Previous Match: Everton v Wimbledon -- Next Match (FA Cup): Everton v Swindon Town 
Next League Match:
Sheffield Wednesday v Everton

Match Summary

SoccerNet (Peter Ferguson): Blackburn Rovers underlined Everton's woes to climb clear of the bottom three with the kind of accomplished victory that was the hallmark of their 1994-95 Championship campaign.

Goodison Park's lowest Premiership crowd this season - 30,427 - booed off their struggling team after a second home defeat in five days and a disastrous return of one point from four holiday matches. But there could be no argument that Rovers' solid defending and crisp finishing deserved the reward of their first away win of a season which has begun to take shape after an awful start.

No player epitomises the change in Blackburn more than Chris Sutton, who has stepped out of Alan Shearer's shadow and boldly into his No 9 shirt with a renewed confidence and vigour infusing his game. He looked more like the £5million striker who caught the imagination at Norwich and, indeed, his first fruitful season at Ewood Park.

Team-mates are drawing inspiration from his renaissance. Sutton revelled in his lone role against an Everton defence hastily shored up by rib-injury victim Dave Watson, who had a painkilling injection, and debutant full back Terry Phelan. Ripped apart by Wimbledon on Saturday in a second-half mauling, Joe Royle's team -- still lacking five key players through injury and suspension -- were stunned this time by two neatly executed first-half strikes.

Blackburn had already threatened with Kevin Gallacher's near-miss header before Graeme Le Saux swung over the 18th-minute cross that caught out Everton's rearguard. Gallacher reacted with a delicate cushioned header into the path of Sutton, who in turn produced a first-time pass for skipper Tim Sherwood, arriving in the right place at the right time to sweep beyond Neville Southall and inside the goalkeeper's right-hand post.

That goal, only Sherwood's third of the season, incited Duncan Ferguson to greater efforts as he fought to eradicate the memory of a poor performance against Wimbledon, but his best effort was blocked by Colin Hendry.

The killer blow came after 32 minutes, when Rovers' smart, confident passing carved another route through Everton's defence. Sherwood and Gallacher made the opening and Sutton finished coolly with all his old aplomb, the shot going in off Southall's far post.

The victory lifted Blackburn above Middlesbrough and caretaker boss Tony Parkes said: 'That's probably our best performance away from home this season.

'The players showed spirit and confidence, and you wonder why they've been down there.

'It's a psychological boost to get out of the bottom three but until we have points in the bag, we're one of the candidates for relegation. We've still a lot to do.'

Everton manager Royle was left picking up the pieces of a harrowing festive programme.

'They played well and we didn't, it's that simple,' he said.

'We looked tired and stretched and a bit unbalanced in places. I was disappointed with our spirit, not usually a problem for us.

'We've had a terrible Christmas, and we have to get going again quickly.'

Come on lads, get it back together!

Guy McEvoy: A 5:45pm kick-off on New Years Day is something of a small mercy for fans travelling to the game. It gives you an extra couple of hours to shake off the monster hang-over the day inevitably starts with. Pity it wasn't long enough for most of the Everton team to get over theirs.

It's distressing to think that for most people, their impressions of a team over a season are formed by those all too infrequent glimpses brought to them courtesy of Sky TV. Our televised performances this season so far mean that I am now treated with something somewhere between amusement, sympathy and contempt by my colleagues and friends.

Each time we're on telly, I faithfully force them all to watch, convinced they'll get a glimpse of why I spend so much time and money following the boys in blue. And each time we're on, the boys seem to manage no more than a lack-lustre, flairless effort. My return home is then always greeted with an answer-phone full of wise-crack messages from the arm-chair army.

A 'lack-lustre effort' would be, if anything, almost a kind way to describe this performance. Watching the ball bobble around with such little imagination, with no apparent plan and with no sense of purpose is depressing for the paying fan at the best of times... but when the temperature is below freezing point, you sink to an altogether different level of despair. The numbness of the fingers and toes, the stinging of the ears and the iced-up snot begin to preoccupy you much more than any of the excuse for football being played out in front of you. I was much too chilly and unexcited to even muster a reaction when Sherwood stuck Blackburn one up.

When I did manage to snap my mind out of the fact that my body, in a desperate effort to stay warm, was starting to catatonically digest itself, some abstract thoughts about the game started to drift to me. We were, it seemed, wholly ineffective down either flank. Hottiger was playing in his own little world oblivious to the fact that all the men in blue were supposed to be on his side.  This meant that a down-beat Kanchelskis was pretty much starved of both supply and support.

On the left it was even more curious, Gary Speed had clearly been moved to centre midfield (and was, credit to him, getting well stuck in). But who was supposed to take his role? I'm not sure; initially it looked like Barmby had done a straight swap with him but, towards the end of the half, Barmby was drifting towards the middle himself.  

Maybe new-boy Phelan was supposed to take responsibility for the left flank all on his own... Or maybe it was supposed to be Stuart and he'd just become a bit too used to playing right-sided. Whatever was supposed to be happening it wasn't working and no-one looked particularly keen to try and rectify it. Without any service from the flanks, Duncan was again reduced to being a 4½ million pound machine for flicking on a goal kick another five yards.

The crowd had taken some of Joe's comments about needing an atmosphere on board, and they did manage to slightly improve on the decibel registration of the Leeds effort. However, I think some of them missed the gist. When he said we needed an 'atmosphere', he probably didn't mean a hostile one.

It was even happening in my cocoon bubble at the front of the Top Balcony. If you haven't sat up there before I recommend it; the pitch is laid out before you like a chess-board. But be warned, the type of person who sits up there usually considers themselves an even more "knowing" fan than season 'membership' holders elsewhere (I'd like to exclude myself from that but, of course, I'm as deluded that I'm a tactical genius as anyone else).

Anyway, the gang that sit around me are now at that mid-season point of familiarity with each other where they'll happily openly slag off the team. And to give you some sense of the isolated mentality that goes on up there I must relate this conversation to you:-

"Barmby's playing shite."; "What about Kanchelskis?"; "Bag of shite. And that Hottiger. Shite. The only exercise he'll have done this week is wheel-barrowing his wages home"; "Ferguson's the same. Ponce. Give me someone with some passion." "And Limpar on the Bench too, I tell you, Joe's gone soft in the head" "And the fans are being shite too, why don't they try and get behind the team?"

With that last sentence he had surely uttered the first supreme irony of 1997, but that was totally lost on him. "Come on blues", I meekly mustered, determined not to sink to this negative vibe and instead save my post mortem for later. Then the hard working Sutton confidently stroked home the second. "You're all a bag of shite Everton! You're shite, shite, shite!" It was me. Roaring like a lion. I just lost it. Sorry.

I calmed down in the second half. The football we were playing would have had such a downer effect on even a hyper-active child. Completely devoid of any on-pitch inspiration, it seemed to take an age for the chants of "One Anders Limpar" to force the change. Everyone reasoned that, maybe if we open up both flanks with our 'quality' wingers, the pressure would be taken off the one side and then some half decent crosses could be fed to Duncan and Branch (who had by this point replaced Barmby).

Oor maybe Andrei or Anders would actually take the bull by the horns and have a crack at it themselves... Also, it'd give us all a chance to see what Phelan could do if he actually had someone to work with. And so at 2-0 down with less than 15 minutes to go the change was made. Who came off? Andrei! A straight swap. Therefore, with regard the pattern of play, more of the woeful same. Joe justified himself later by saying Andrei still had flu. Fair enough. Then he let himself down by adding, "and I didn't want to play two wingers". Mystifying.

By the time I got home and then to the pub for last orders all my mates who'd watched it in on a big screen in front of a blazing fire sat there smug as anything. Oh, what a laugh they all had at my expense as I defrosted in front of them.

Everton, come on lads, get it back together. Please.

Individual Performances


Martin Skelton: I've just watched what was probably the worst Everton performance since JR took over (although many of Mike Walker's games were worse). There was a lack of commitment as well as a lack of skill from some.

First half

No-one came out to play except Chris Sutton who tore apart our defence. Blackburn's first goal came when Sutton threaded the ball through and Sherwood latched onto it to place it past the helpless Southall. The defence was caught square and when the ball was threaded through... Who was there to try to win the ball? Nick Barmby!!

Blackburn's second goal: again, no defence, and a simple tap in for Sutton. I don't think we had any shots in the first half, although the service to Ferguson and Barmby was dreadful.

Second half

JR must have gave them a rollicking at half-time. Branch came on for Barmby for no apparent reason. They came out with a bit more spirit and determination. Immediately Speed tried a shot from the half way line, only to be saved by Flowers.

Everton had a few chances from headers (Dave Watson & Big Dunc), yet often were hit on the counter and were lucky not to concede any more. On 70 mins, Limpar came on for Kanchelskis (still suffering from flu, I think) but really didn't do much good.

Individual Ratings

I count 7 internationals in this team, so what is happening? The truth is out there.

No Holes in Blackburn Lancashire

Peter Griffiths: This match should be a warning to us about pay-per-view and the impact of TV in general. What the hell are we doing playing at 5.45 pm on New Years Day? If you extend this to its logical conclusion, we will end up with all matches being at a different time so you can pay for as much football on TV as possible. The result will inevitably be reduced attendances. Perhaps the TV money compensates for the lack of about 5,000+ people but it should be a worry for the future.

The first half did reach new lows with little to remember apart from their goals and the ominous silence. In the second half we did a little better but were still well beaten. Speedy and Dunc did have a couple of shots. Time, depression and recent reaction to criticising players limits comments but :-

Joe Royle doesn't know what's wrong. He doesn't agree that we are either very good or drastic. Says he has never know Goodison so quiet, but he knows its the team that to excite us. You can't use injuries as an excuse but you have to agree that we have been forced to field some strange team formations.

A little light training today to see who is fit. Short, "a big strong man" may be back for Sunday but Phelan cannot play as he will not have been registered with Everton for the required 7 days (FA Regulations).

Going through the motions

Dave Shepherd: Where to start? Perhaps with the usual roll-call of absentees (that seems to get daily worse)? Perhaps with a nice bitch about the seasonal fixture list, or a finger pointing to our third successive opponents who've not had a full program to cope with?

Add up all the excuses you want, and then try to cover for Everton's New Year national TV performance which made it 1 point from the last 4 home games -- you'd have more luck covering your modesty with a holly leaf.

In past Everton bad patches, we've seen bad teams, incompetent teams, or terrible players. We've seen pretty but ineffective tactics or we've seen effort rewarded both with robbery from journeymen or given lessons in simplicity by substandard high fliers... but I can't ever recall seeing before what has happened to this Everton side.

Here's how to picture it: Remember how we played under Walker in late 1994? Remember how the team was transformed into a fighting, winning unit the moment Walker left and Royle stepped in? Well it's as if someone has told the dressing room that Royle is about to be replaced with the Walker and Williams setup.

Even in this ravaged state the team on the park is easily good enough to beat anything in the Premiership, but simply doesn't have a clue how to go about it. Finding the ball and passing the ball isn't enough. There is no understanding of who is going to move where, and who should be looking for which pass. It seems to be complete improvisation.

After demonstrating such a complex well drilled system of wingback coverage so far, it seems very unlikely that a lack of coaching competence has omitted to provide any instructions for how to turn attacks into goals, yet this is belied by the evidence on the field.

The most dangerous heading weapon in the league is not getting any service. Pick any 'proven goalscorer' in the world. ANY one. Now stick him up front with no service. Will he score? No, -- and neither will Ferguson, or Branch, or Rideout, or anyone else.

With a tall striker it's a good idea to have one or two crosses for him instead of flogging the inside channels in blind hope that one will open like the Red Sea and then all the defenders in the middle will politely let blue shirts shoot. With Hinchcliffe missing, the number of crosses made throughout the game was approximately one. The fair few corners were no help. Hendry can easily do enough to spoil Duncan as an immobile target -- there was no movement and only one attempt to find the alternate targets of Watson and Speed.

Which brings us to the midfield. As we all know, Everton are a club which knows that great teams are built not from the back or from the front, but from domination of the midfield. If you win the midfield, you win the game. So what is the cunning plan at the moment from the coaching staff that brought you the FA Cup via the Dogs of War, three central-midfielders formula? It's to play a single central midfielder (Ebbrell) and have him drop back at every opportunity to support the central and rightside defence (a very good copy of Parkinson at Boro), thus leaving the FIVE-man Blackburn midfield facing no-one at all in the centre circle.

Even with all this stacked against them, Everton STILL had a slight majority of possession, and still had easily the most scoring opportunities. Blackburn scored two outrageously soft goals from only two on target in the first half, and couldn't even match two in the second half. Southall saved two (one was off-target anyway) and several familiar-looking breakaways ended in wide blasts, but every Everton effort flew softly to Flowers like iron filings to a magnet.

But the worst is yet to be told, because handicaps and dubious formations still cannot explain the spineless lack of interest on the pitch. The amount of effort that went into getting first to the ball and trying to win balls from opponents in possession was very close to zero. There is some kind of a tackling strike going on. Perhaps it's in the contracts now that you don't have to slide on your arse if the temperature drops below 4 degrees Centigrade?

It would only have taken a couple of Dogs of War tackles to rekindle the spirit and bring the crowd to life, but there was nothing in the middle and nothing on the bench, and nothing in the heart or stomach either.

Rovers already look a lot better than they did in September. Their movement to the ball was almost instinctive, and would be very dangerous if they could carry this into the last third, but they looked very unlikely up there and were flattered by even one goal. Unfortunately for them, they have interpreted this win as a great achievement, so repeating the mistake Sunderland, Boro and Leeds have all made recently of proclaiming a result at Goodison Park as a new dawn. Expect them and their even-more-disgracefully-small-turnout-of-fans-than-ours to come down to earth with a bump soon like the others have done.

As the farce careered toward the inevitable doom, Royle gave in to the only chants the crowd had managed to raise all day, and put on Limpar for Kanchelskis (his first sub appearance in 10 games on the bench).

The little wizard spent a lot of time alone on the right watching the ball go nowhere up the left channel, but finally got enough opportunities to show with glaring embarrassment what it's like to have a provider on the wing instead of a striker. He was quite brilliant, and rather unlucky not to single handedly rescue the game first with a cross that caused a scramble which no-one could convert, the with a pass which he stood on all day in the area, daring the defenders to move, then tapped it straight on the floor to Ferguson at the near post to turn IN? -- No! There is no justice and it hit the outside of the post. With one win in the last seven, to have kept this player on the bench is insane.

Everton teams who go down fighting do win crowd support and sympathy. Everton teams who go through the motions deserve no sympathy. Royle has indicated more signings are close. At this stage, any chance of Barry Horne and Matt Jackson on loan would sadly be great news.

You don't have to look far around the league to see that the teams that are hungry and confident are the ones winning, not the ones with the best fantasy football valuations. On hunger and confidence, Everton are at possibly the lowest ebb of their history, just 46 days after their biggest win for 20 years.

Player Ratings

TEAM PERFORMANCE 4 Diabolical. No interest, no fight, no pride. Raised their game half a notch after the break, but not enough to deign to actually make any tackles. At least at Port Vale they were crap but trying not to be.

Ref: G Barber (Warwick) Poor, penalising petty things (often wrongly) but not picking up more serious infringements.

Rock Bottom

Richard Marland: The perfect, almost inevitable, end to our disastrous holiday campaign came with this abject defeat at the hands of Blackburn. If the defeat wasn't entirely unexpected, the manner of our capitulation and the fact that it was witnessed by Sky TV made it somewhat hard to stomach.

The team was again a patched up affair. Terry Phelan made his debut at left back and Dave Watson was back (playing with pain-killers for a rib injury). We lined up with Nev in goal, a back four of Hottiger, Phelan, Watson and Barrett, in midfield we had Andrei back on the right, Barmby still stuck out wide left with Ebbrell and Speed in the centre. Ferguson and Stuart were up front. I must say I was a little puzzled to see Stuart, Speed and Barmby playing where they were... To my mind it would have made more sense to have Speed wide left, Stuart in central midfield and Barmby up front, this would mean only one player playing out of position as opposed to all three.

Straight from the kick-off we looked to be in trouble as Wilcox got past Hottiger and a dangerous ball made it into our area. It was a portent of things to come as Blackburn repeatedly opened us up down Hottiger's flank. Blackburn totally controlled the first half and the only surprise was that they were only 2-0 up at the break. We didn't even come remotely close to scoring. There were muted boo's as the team left the field at half time.

The second half brought a personnel switch as Branch came on for the disappointing Barmby. This meant a reshuffle which ended up with Speed playing wide left and Stuart playing in central midfield. The change did bring about an improvement but that wasn't really saying much. We started to get a few shots on target but none of them really troubled Flowers, and Blackburn continued to look dangerous when they came forward, only wasteful finishing on their behalf spared us a real drubbing. We brought on Limpar for Andrei with 20 minutes to go, a move which I suspect was done to appease the crowd who had been calling for him since the first half. Anders looked fairly bright and keen but he didn't really make any tangible difference.

By full time Goodison Park was half empty and the whistle was greeted with relief and yet more muted booing. Blackburn had beaten us 2-0 but it could have been much more, we were there for the taking. I am struggling to recall a performance by the Blues as bad as this one, we really were that bad.

The Players

Team 4 this was a terrible team performance, despite the injury and suspension problems we still managed to field a side of nine full internationals. Even accounting for the fact that some of them weren't fully fit there was no excuse for a surrender as abject as this.

No New Year Cheer for Everton

Lyndon Lloyd: The pressure continues to build on Joe Royle as Everton's depressing form followed them into the New Year, while Blackburn eased their way to three points in front of the Sky TV cameras. The confidence-shattered Blues were booed by the irate Goodison crowd when Chris Sutton slotted home Rovers' second goal, as well as at the half and full-time whistles. Royle could only look on as his side were comprehensively outdone by an unspectacular Blackburn who move out of the bottom three at the expense of Middlesbrough.

The Blues fielded both Dave Watson and Duncan Ferguson, who were carrying injuries but were determined to play through the pain barrier and try and rescue their club's season. John Ebbrell also took his place in the starting line-up despite being well below match fit. Elsewhere, Terry Phelan made a disappointing debut at left back and Andrei Kanchelskis made an early return from flu -- another player on the field despite lacking fitness.

Possession was equally shared during the opening exchanges but the visitors looked the more threatening of the two teams. Graham Stuart had a half-chance go wide for Everton while Kevin Gallagher headed over from eight yards at the other end before Duncan Ferguson was cruelly denied a shooting opportunity by an over-zealous referee who judged he had fouled a Rovers defender. The big Scot, who came under heavy fire from Phil McNulty in the Evertonian this week, looked comitted to the cause from the outset and showed heart-warming determination throughout.

In the 15th minute, Tim Sherwood broke free but his dangerous centre was tucked behind for a corner by Dave Watson and there were worrying signs in the Everton defence. Both full-backs were leaving Wilcox and Gallagher acres of space on the flanks which they exploited to the full. Three minutes later, Sherwood raced through a gaping hole in the home defence to slide the ball past the stranded Neville Southall. It was a depressing start and an all too unfamiliar one as it became abundantly clear that Royle is facing enormous problems at Goodison.

Everton responded with a spell of pressure which yielded an overhead kick from Speed that went wide. Barmby controlled when he should have shot, and Ferguson had the best effort of the half blocked by the ever-present Colin Hendry. However, on 32 minutes, the Toffees' defence was carved open again and Chris Sutton capitalised by clipping a shot past Southall which bounced agonisingly in off the right-hand upright.

A chorus of boos rang out around a shell-shocked Goodison crowd and the remaining 13 minutes of the half saw little effective response from the forlorn players. Fortune seemed to have abandoned the home side too. Throughout the game, every knock-down, rebound or flick-on seemed to fall to a Blackburn shirt. It was dispiriting enough watching it and you had to feel sympathy for a Blues side that had clearly lost the collective plot.

Joe Royle was brave enough to haul off Nick Barmby at half-time in favour of Michael Branch though it seemed a strange decision at the time when you consider that Barmby was one of the side's more creative outlets. Kanchelskis was still obviously out of sorts after his second bout of flu and central midfield had been robbed of the craft of Tony Grant. Nevertheless, Branch came on after the interval and if one sees it as the act of a manager who felt it was worth giving the youngster a run-out in a match already lost Royle's decision makes more sense.

Everton's newfound sense of purpose in the second half brought little reward but, within seconds, Gary Speed had volleyed encouragingly from 30 yards out only for it to be comfortably saved by Tim Flowers.

Unfortunately, the defensive frailties were still in evidence; Sutton broke through but his shot was deflected by Earl Barrett's lunging tackle for a corner. The industrious John Ebbrell's deflected shot went tamely into the 'keeper's arms a minute later before Speed had the hosts' best chance so far -- a headed effort that Flowers tipped over.

There was still little for the 30-thousand hardy souls who braved the Arctic conditions to cheer though. Kanchelskis was controversially withdrawn a few minutes past the hour mark and was replaced, to rapturous approval, by Anders Limpar. But, not even his enthusiasm could solve Everton's chronic distribution problems and, consequently, he hardly received the ball. Rovers remained a threat on the break and Sherwood was put clean through yet again but his effort seemed to be finger-tipped wide by Southall.

In the final 12 minutes, Everton had their best spell. Speed had a right-footed shot palmed away by Flowers but Ferguson headed inches wide from the corner. The Scot then shot disappointingly from 20 yards before Graham Stuart went on a superb solo run which was agonisingly ruined by his final touch when he needed to take it past the last Rovers defender. Then, with time running out, Ferguson should have scored when Limpar threaded a pass through the eye of a needle in the area but Duncan fired wide from 8 yards. In the same move, Branch had completely mis-kicked a glorious opportunity from 6 yards.

With seconds remaining, and many disheartened fans leaving early, Sutton was denied a punishing third goal for Blackburn by John Ebbrell's despairing challenge. The final whistle followed, the crowd booed and Joe Royle disappeared up the tunnel to ponder his next move.

Joe Royle's ailing team were, in the end, overturned with frightening ease. The manner in which the defence was carved open through a sieve-like midfield was distressing to watch and it has become clear that this is where our major problem lies. A forward line of Kanchelskis, Speed, Barmby and Ferguson -- totalling some £18M in transfer fees -- should pack more than enough attacking punch for a team searching for honours. Similarly, a central rearguard consisting of Dave Watson and Earl Barrett, -- the latter turned in another stirling performance in the middle, -- should be more than capable of shutting out even the best of defences.

However, without a dynamic midfield, all of this counts for nothing. The Blues were embarrassingly bereft of ideas going forward and clueless in holding off Blackburn attacks despite the fact that both John Ebbrell and Graham Stuart had good games. The team as a whole just does not function as a unit and that seems to be Joe Royle's biggest problem. That and the evermore pressing need for a new face in the midfield.

Player Ratings

Lovely Football counts for nothing

Ian Ross, The Guardian: On a night that emphasised the recent decline of Everton, Blackburn seized their first away win in the league this season. Easy it was, too.

Everton? A third consecutive defeat drove deeper the wedge between supporters and team. Mid-table anonymity beckons and a season that once held so much promise will be reduced to rubble should Swindon Town triumph in Sunday's third-round FA Cup tie.

They ended 1996 to a crescendo of cat-calls when a team pared to the bone by injury was punished by Wimbledon last Saturday. The calendar changed yesterday, but precious little else. Everton were again missing five first-choice players yet were still able to filed nine full internationals.

In truth some of Everton's football was lovely but at the crucial points when it really mattered they continued to make the simple appear difficult. It is an unfortunate habit and one which is fast eroding an obvious potential.

Early in the game, the Merseysiders thundered forward marvellously, enveloping the Blackburn defence.

But all that came to nothing and they were to be undone just 18 minutes in, by a goal of breathtaking precision. It came from the left, Rovers having established that Mark Hottiger was the weak link in Everton's makeshift defence. They were to spend the evening hugging that touchline.

Lars Bohinen laid the ball off to Graeme Le Saux who clipped it forward to the edge of Everton's penalty area. Kevin Gallacher rose to flick it on, one quick touch by Chris Sutton and Tim Sherwood sliped a low shot past Neville Southall.

On a playing surface that did nothing to encourage or accommodate artistry, the goal was a positive delight.

As the groans of discontent began to provide a somewhat ugly backdrop, Everton sought redemption but, significantly, through effort rather than guile. Their better moments were always undone by wayward or over-ambitious passes. It was almost painful to watch.

Sensing their opponents unease, Rovers promptly sought to extend rather than defend their advantage. The surprise was that it took them so long to do so.

Thriteen minutes of the first half remained when the Everton back line was split wide open for a second time. Agin it was a sweet, almost effortless goal. Gallacher, fed by Sherwood, slipped the ball into the path of Sutton, who made the most of poor marking to steer a low shot of no great power past Southall and in off the post.

Thereafter, when not as silent as the tomb, Goodison Park's lowest crowd of the season -- 30,427 -- snarled their disapproval. Everton's manager, Joe Royle, had to sympathise. 'They played very well and we didn't, simple as that,' he admitted. 'We've had an awful Christmas, a terrible Christmas. I was disappointed in our spirit today. We must get going as quickly as possible.'

Report Copyright The Guardian

Sutton's cold comfort for Royle

Guy Hodgson, The Independent: A 12 months in which you lose Kenny Dalglish, Ray Harford, and Alan Shearer was likely to be an annus horribilis for any club and it is safe to say that 1 January could not come quick enough for Blackburn. A new year, new hope and 1997 heralded in by their slipping out of the bottom three of the Premiership last night.

All very easy, it was too. They might have been more comfortable in their easy chairs in front of the fire but not much more so. Goals from Tim Sherwood and Chris Sutton gave them a cushion to relax on and they accomplished their first away win of the season with the air of men in complete control. They looked anything but relegation candidates.

Everton could claim that players were missing and that some of those present were suffering from the after-effects of flu but this was a limp performance. They have now won one of their last seven matches.

'They played well and we didn't,' Joe Royle, the Everton manager, said. 'We looked tired and stretched and a little bit unbalanced in places but the main thing was that the spirit wasn't there. We've had an awful Christmas and need to get going as soon as possible.'

Andrei Kanchelskis and Duncan Ferguson usually provide Everton's cutting thrust although there was little evidence of it in a woeful first-half performance. There were glimpses of enterprise, an occasional flash from Kanchelskis and Ferguson's menace in the air but the overall impression was of a mess.

By the interval Blackburn, who dictated the tempo from the start, were 2-0 up and could have been further ahead.

The visitors oozed a confidence that belied their troubled position in the League. Certainly Everton did not seem to have a clue how to cope with their runs from midfield.

The left wing was a particularly fertile ground for Blackburn whose Jason Wilcox gave Marc Hottiger a wretched time. After seven minutes Wilcox crossed to the near post where Kevin Gallagher headed just over and it was from that same flank that a goal arrived ten minutes later.

Graeme Le Saux chipped in, Gallagher headed on and Sutton's delicate flick landed perfectly into Sherwood's path whose late run into the area had hopelessly flummoxed his marker Barmby. One touch took the ball past the Everton back-line and with a stretch he touched the ball past the advancing Neville Southall.

The defending left a lot to be desired with that goal but it looked exemplary when held up againt Blackburn's second after 31 minutes. Neat interchanging shredded Everton's rearguard so that when Gallagher slipped a short pass inside Hottiger, Sutton was on his own.

Even then he had a lot to do but the 5-million-pound striker gauged Southall's position and then shot the ball coolly into the net with his left foot, clipping the far post on the way.

The response of the crowd at half-time proved that not all the boos had been used up during the Christmas festivities and Royle was put in the position of having to do something, anything, to spark a response. His move was to withdraw Barmby and introduce Michael Branch.

It brought an improvement, which was more physical, and Gary Speed provoked immediate hope with a chip that was just over. But when Tim Flowers tipped a header from the same player away for a corner the Everton attack gradually fizzled out.

Blackburn assumed their early control and Le Saux and Sutton both went close in the latter stages. The promise implied by Everton in the late autumn is dwindling and they will view their FA Cup tie with Swindon Town on Sunday with some trepidation. Their 7-1 win over Southampton seems a long. long time ago.

Le Saux guides Blackburn to first away win

David Maddock, The Times: NEW Year, new leaf, it seems, for Blackburn Rovers. Barely had 1997 popped its head around the door than they ended a sequence that had bedevilled them for the best part of the previous five months. A victory over Everton, gained with some swagger, was Rovers' first away from home in the FA Carling Premiership this season.

It takes them out of the bottom three for only the second time this season. Such was their dominance and counter-attacking potency that they can hardly be worried by the spectre of relegation. They are likely to finish above Everton, who entered the holiday period proclaiming a desire to join the championship scramble. After one win in seven games, they begin 1997 facing the prospect of mid-table obscurity.

Everton, it is true, were without Short, Parkinson, Hinchcliffe and Grant, while Unsworth was suspended, but the reality for their impatient supporters, who booed roundly at every given opportunity, if only to keep themselves warm, was that the squad is competent, but little more.

Blackburn exposed defensive frailties that have lurked around all season. They did it with an intelligent and crisp passing game that begged the question: Why have they struggled at the wrong end of the table for so long?

The presence of Graeme Le Saux, absent through injury for a whole year, is significant. He had a spring in his step despite the lip-cracking cold, and no wonder. The new year holds as much promise as the last one depression, when he struggled to recover from the broken ankle that cost him his place in the England team for the European championship finals.

He was involved in everything down the left flank last night and, with the industrious and impressive Wilcox, stretched Everton to breaking point. They created chances spurned by Gallacher and Bohinen, and one coolly accepted by Tim Sherwood.

Le Saux took a clever ball from Bohinen, and chipped equally astutely to allow Gallacher a delicate header into the penalty area. Sherwood was on to it in an instant and found the net with ease to round off a wonderfully flowing move.

Everton were strangely lethargic in reply, with only Ferguson railing against Blackburn's dominance, but his only real chance was denied him when Colin Hendry produced a text-book covering tackle.

"They played well, we didn't," was the somewhat obvious assessment of Joe Royle, the Everton manager.

Rovers created chances aplenty, with the rejuvenated Sutton leading the defence a merry dance. He scored, and settled the match, after 33 minutes, and it was another sweet goal. Sherwood and Gallacher combined swiftly on the edge of the penalty area to set up Sutton, who finished clinically with his left foot.

From then on, it was a question of how much more damage would be wreaked by Sutton, aided by the tireless McKinlay. Only a desperate saving tackle by Ebbrell prevented a third, as did two smart saves by Southall.

"I'm getting a taste for this management lark," Tony Parkes, the Blackburn caretaker manager, said, "but only when we win."

Report Copyright The Times

Upwardly-mobile Blackburn outclass Everton

Ian Whittell, Electronic Telegraph: A NEW YEAR brought no change in fortune to an injury-ravaged Everton, who have seen a season of promise evaporate with a sequence of just one win in the last seven games.

While Joe Royle's team look destined for, at best, mid-table anonymity, Blackburn's performance here suggested their current position among the Premiership's poor-playing relations will soon be a thing of the past. Their first-half performance, in particular, when the cut and thrust of their enterprising passing and movement left Everton little more than bemused onlookers, suggests that manager-elect Sven Goran Eriksson will inherit the nucleus of a team capable of competing for major honours next season.

That point was illustrated most graphically in the two goals, claimed by Tim Sherwood and a rejuvenated Chris Sutton, that lifted Rovers out of the bottom three at the expense of Middlesbrough.

After 17 minutes, Graeme Le Saux's forward lob set in motion a flowing move which saw Kevin Gallacher head the ball into Sutton's path for the Rovers striker to split the Everton defence with a through pass for Sherwood. The Blackburn captain needed no second invitation to place the ball beyond Neville Southall.

Everton's injury problems forced them to field a reshaped back four, including new signing Terry Phelan, a semi-fit Dave Watson and full-back Earl Barrett playing out of position at centre-half. But it was the right flank, occupied by internationals Andrei Kanchelskis and Marc Hottiger, which was the source of most of the home team's woes.

Le Saux and Jason Wilcox, a pair who have recovered from long-term injuries to again look worthy of international consideration, enjoyed a proverbial field day and, once the ball moved inside from the flanks, Rovers found the Everton defence and midfield surprisingly static.

The point was again cruelly demonstrated in the 32nd minute when Billy McKinlay robbed Gary Speed of the ball in midfield and fed the ball forward to Sherwood. He in turn slipped the ball inside to Gallacher and one more pass found Sutton goal-side of Hottiger. The Rovers No 9 -- Shearer's precious shirt has now been handed down with the Premiership's blessing -- held off his challenger and scored off the inside of the far post.

Half-time saw Everton introduce promising young striker Michael Branch in place of the ineffective Nick Barmby but there was barely a discernible change in the game's momentum. Speed had Everton's first on-target shot of the game, a 46th-minute effort directed straight at Tim Flowers, and the same player forced the goalkeeper into a one-handed save from a fine cross from Kanchelskis -- practically the Ukrainian's only contribution before being replaced by Anders Limpar.

Blackburn's first away league success of the season should have been by a considerably more comfortable margin.

A sweet 25-yard strike by Lars Bohinen was turned around the post by Southall, Sutton made a rare error with an errant far-post header before playing Sherwood clean through on goal only for his captain to produce an inaccurate shot.

Sutton, again, should have rounded off an impressive evening of his own when a slip by Barrett and Southall presented him with an open goal. Only the desperaing combined efforts of Barrett and John Ebbrell denied him a goal. Nevertheless, the win left Rovers with seven points out of a possible nine over the holiday period, a testimony to the excellent work of their caretaker manager Tony Parkes.

He said: "That was our best away performance of the season and we are more than pleased with seven points -- I would have settled for five. Tonight, we had spirit and confidence, it made you wonder why we are down there at the bottom."

Report Copyright The Electronic Telegraph

Results and League Table

Wednesday, 1 January 1997

ARSENAL                 2-0    MIDDLESBROUGH             37,573 
Bergkamp(15) Wright(44)
CHELSEA                 1-0    LIVERPOOL                 28,329
Di Matteo(43)
COVENTRY CITY           2-2    SUNDERLAND                17,700 
Dublin(10) Daish(28)           Bridges(6) Agnew(pen:18)

EVERTON                 0-2    BLACKBURN ROVERS          30,427
                               Sherwood(18) Sutton(32)

MANCHESTER UNITED       0-0    ASTON VILLA               55,133

NEWCASTLE UNITED        3-0    LEEDS UNITED              36,489
Shearer(5,77) Ferdinand(87)
SOUTHAMPTON             P-P    WIMBLEDON                 

WEST HAM UNITED         0-1    NOTTINGHAM FOREST         22,358  

Table after 1 January 1997

Club                          P    W    D    L   GF   GA   GD  Pts
Liverpool                    22   12    6    4   38   20   18   42
Arsenal                      21   11    7    3   39   20   19   40
Manchester United            21   10    8    3   42   25   17   38
Newcastle United             21   11    4    6   38   22   16   37
Wimbledon                    19   11    4    4   33   23   10   37
Aston Villa                  21   10    5    6   29   19   10   35
Chelsea                      21    9    8    4   33   29    4   35
Everton                      21    7    7    7   29   29    0   28
Sheffield Wednesday          20    6   10    4   21   22   -1   28
Tottenham Hotspur            20    8    4    8   22   26   -4   28
Sunderland                   21    6    6    9   21   30   -9   24
Derby County                 20    5    8    7   20   25   -5   23
Coventry City                21    5    8    8   22   27   -5   23
Leicester City               20    6    5    9   20   27   -7   23
Leeds United                 21    6    4   11   16   27  -11   22
West Ham United              20    5    6    9   18   26   -8   21
Blackburn Rovers             20    4    8    8   19   22   -3   20
Middlesbrough                21    4    6   11   25   40  -15   18
Nottingham Forest            21    3    8   10   19   36  -17   17
Southampton                  20    4    4   12   28   37   -9   16 

This League Table Update provided by Lawrence "Leagueman" Breakey

This Match Report Compilation was prepared by Michael Kenrick for Marko Poutiainen. 1 Jan 1997.