Everton v Derby County


FA Carling Premiership 96/97 - Game 30
Saturday 15 March 1997
Goodison Park, Merseyside

Result: Everton (0) 1 - Derby County (0) 0
Watson (79)

Everton: Southall, Barrett, Watson, Unsworth, Short, Phelan, Thomsen (80 Hottiger), Parkinson, Barmby, Branch (46 Stuart), Ferguson.
Booked: Short, Watson.
Subs Not Used: Rideout, Gerrard, Dunne. Unavailable: Speed (suspended); Hinchcliffe, Grant, O'Connor (all injured).

Derby County: Taylor, Rowett, C Powell, D Powell, Asanovic, Ward, Trollope, Laursen, Carsley (Simpson, 85), Dailly, McGrath (Carbon, 89).
Subs Not Used: Hoult, Flynn, Wright. Booked: Dailly.

Ref: G P Barber Att: 32,140 League Position: 13th Results and League Table

Previous Match: Leeds United v Everton -- Next Match: Everton v Manchester United

Match Summary

SoccerNet (Tony Lanigan, Mail on Sunday): Dave Watson showed his forwards how it should be done with a 79th-minute winner that lifted the mounting tension at Goodison Park. The Everton skipper volleyed home with his left foot from 10 yards when it looked as though all the home side's pressure was to have no reward.

Both teams were desperate for points but clearly one would have suited Derby nicely. They had no pretensions about attack and were prepared to soak up everything Everton could throw at them. There was plenty of it but much too predictable to worry the massed Derby defence, marshalled superbly by Paul McGrath. The 37-year-old was again in towering form, coping well with the threat of Duncan Ferguson and anyone else who cared to take him on.

Everton's main offensive ploy of looking for the willing head of Ferguson played right into the hands of the wily veteran and keeper Martin Taylor, making his league debut, was rarely troubled until Everton's final, frenzied assault. Yet Taylor was highly active compared with Neville Southall at the other end. The Welshman was tipped for the axe for this match and would surely not have minded sitting it out as he was idle much of the time.

In Ajsosa Asanovic, Derby had the classiest player on the pitch but the Croat seemed happy to amble leisurely through the match when Derby desperately needed his class to earn them something. Yet, just when Derby looked as though they had held out, a furious scramble in their box saw Ferguson go close but, when they failed to clear, David Unsworth put the ball back in, the big Scot nodded down and Watson cracked it home.

Three Monster Large Points

Guy McEvoy: It became apparent to me at the Arsenal match that Everton have lost at home every single time I've used the escalator up to the Top Balcony. Therefore today, for the good of the team if not my lungs, today I dutifully trundled up the mountain of stairs. So there you have it. The reason for the victory.

In fairness it may not have been exclusively my stair climb; a splattering of promising play coupled with a touch of team spirit, plus the sheer mental will of 32,000 watching fans could also have been contributing factors. As could the complete lack of any meaningful opposition.

The starting line-up had a few surprises. Both Thomsen and Parkinson had obviously come through the late fitness tests with the green light, Big Nev was between the sticks despite Gerrard reportedly having recovered, and Michael Branch got an all too rare first team start ahead of Graham Stuart.

First Half

Straight from kick-off, it became apparent that Derby had come to Goodison lacking any real ambition. With the absence of the dangerous Sturridge, they choose to play a lone man up front, which was always going to look an awkward balance against three Blue centre-backs. It also quickly became apparent that 'closing men down' was not Derby's strong point to put it mildly and we were to be afforded the luxury of space to get something of a passing game going.

Throughout the half it was a tale of not exactly menacing but at least probing Everton pressure. Duncan always looked lively and got himself involved in the game, but the clearest chances were forced by Earl Barrett. Yes, Earl Barrett: he twice came close with headers. This would be shocking enough normally but I had a couple of quid on him to get the first goal at 66-1 which meant that my reaction to the one that flashed just wide might have seemed slightly over-stated to those sitting near me.

Michael Branch only once managed to shake off McGrath (who had stuck to him like a limpet throughout) and found himself on a promising one-on-one for the second game running. This time the ball wouldn't drop for him in time and so again he couldn't extend his so far disappointing goal return.

Derby only really had one half-heated shot on goal in the whole half (admittedly because of fine defensive work on our part), and the most entertainment they had provided the crowd was when two of their midfield had tried to sandwich Joe Parkinson, both missed, and crashed head first at great speed into each other leaving them both requiring treatment.

The signs were all positive for Everton, but that we ended the half with nothing on the score-sheet was symptomatic of a team that has niggling self-doubt.

Second Half

The change at half time, as Joe's tradition dictates, was to sub Branch for Stuart. To be fair, I could see the logic: Branch had never got into it and perhaps someone who could drop back a bit would stop the attention from McGrath. It may well have worked had Everton continued to play the same game they had in the first half, but for some reason in the early second-half, the long ball and pass-back-to-Nev curses crept in for a frustrating 20 minutes. The down-beat nature was reflected in the near silent crowd.

Only in the final 25 mins, after Ferguson couldn't get on the end of a long ball and so kicked an advertising hoarding in disgust, did the crowd suddenly ignite. And when they did, it was the full glorious Goodison roar. The pulse quickened, and you could all at once feel the sense of urgency passing on to the players from the desperate in the stands.

Everton shifted up a gear and it was suddenly like a ceaseless game of pinball in the Derby box. It wasn't skilful stuff but it was at least passionate. Those of us who'd seen this happen at the end of the Leeds game last week wouldn't let our hopes rise too much, and our caution was underlined after a Duncan shot was saved only to be unwittingly deflected goalwards by a Derby Defender to, in turn, be unwittingly deflected away from goal by Terry Phelan.

Finally, the goal that the pressure demanded came and from the most unlikely of sources. As the umpteenth ball was pumped into the Derby box, and the umpteenth desperate flail of feet failed to get it near the goal, it took the umpteenth quick defensive clearance. But who charged to the loose ball with the sweetest sweep of an assured left foot to hammer into the bottom right corner? Dave Watson. I can't help but feel that the man who is spirit, determination and will-to-win personified has been a bit off the boil recently. By God, it was good to see it all come back.

Somehow in all the jubilation (which is exactly what the scenes were), Clause Thomsen managed to floor himself, and the stretcher bearers were called to remove him. This saw the introduction of Marc Hottiger meaning that Barrett (effortlessly) shifted to centre midfield. The final minutes of the game (and then the eternity of added-time) got pretty fraught as we seemed to decide to defend what we had and invite them to have a pop, but Derby had never seriously looked like they wanted to take anything from this match and so the boys in blue held on.

These are three monster large points. The team performance was little different to that we gave at Leeds, the difference being the will (or lack of) shown by the opposition. In the end, the only thing that matters is the result: three points from a scrappy one-nil win are worth the same as three points from a classy seven-one rout when they add them up in May. Next week, we're going to have to dig for more of the same, and then a little bit more too.

Individual Performances

A bit of help for the Blues

Richard Marland: It was my baby daughters christening this weekend and consequently we had a visitation from some of my wife's family from Dublin. Included in this visitation was my wife's sister and family, husband who is a red, eldest son age 10 who is a red, and twins aged 9 -- one of whom is red, the other being a Manc. Being over in England they decided to take in a Premiership game, they wanted to see the RS, but, tough titty, they were away, I then convinced them that it was too difficult to get tickets for the Mancs and that they should come to Goodison with me.

With the lads still being of a relatively impressionable age I still harbour hopes of converting them to the true faith, that seeing the grandeur of Goodison Park, hearing the crowd in full voice and seeing the team in full flow would inspire them to become life long Evertonians. Unfortunately, Saturday's game against Derby was not the sort of game to inspire a Road to Damascus style conversion.

Prior to the match the good news came through that Phelan, Parkinson and Thomsen had all passed fitness tests, the absence of the suspended Speed was covered by playing five at the back, two in central midfield, Barmby playing behind the front two, and Branch getting the nod ahead of Stuart to partner Dunc. Derby for their part were missing their two strikers Sturridge and Willems, and also Stimac at the back. This match was definitely there for us to take.

First Half

The first half went almost totally to the Blues. Without being particularly good, we dominated Derby, but without really creating any clear cut chances. We certainly had plenty of good attacking opportunities but frequently the final killer ball was missing.

Surprisingly Barrett looked like our most likely scorer, on three occasions he ghosted in at the far post to win headers, one he put just wide, one was saved by the keeper and one he was impeded by another Blue shirt (this was something that became something of a feature of our game, in our anxiety we often had players getting in the way of each other in the Derby penalty area). So half time arrived without the deserved goal.

Second Half

The second half brought a change as Stuart was brought on for Branch in a straight swap. I know that there is a belief that Branch should be given a run in the team, but today I thought it was correct to substitute Branch.

Branch hadn't done anything particularly wrong, it was just that he had shown his inexperience too often, drifting offside, constantly getting out-manoeuvred by McGrath (giving another master-class in positional play and reading the game). Hopefully 45 minutes against someone like McGrath was good experience for Branch and give him the realisation that he still has much to learn.

The early second half actually saw Derby's best period of the match as we lost our way somewhat. That wasn't anything to do with the substitution, more a general tightening up by Derby, and the introduction of an increasing edginess to our performance. We soon reasserted our dominance of proceedings but unfortunately reverted once again to a mind-numbing long-ball game.

We weren't making any kind of progress down either flank, Phelan was missing the support play of Speed and Barrett as usual was just left to his own devices. In the middle Parkinson didn't have the match fitness do anything other than his defensive duties, Thomsen just wasn't at the races and Barmby was yet again struggling to impose himself on the game.

So without the wit to do anything else we started to launch it repeatedly at Dunc. It was tedious stuff and the game had 0-0 written all over it although the thought did occur that maybe Derby could knick one.

With 10 minutes remaining, Route One finally bore fruit. Yet another Long-ball was launched at Dunc, yet again he won it in the air. This time though the ball fell nicely to Dave Watson in their area and Waggy unleashed a 10 yard, left foot screamer into the Derby goal, 1-0, thank you God.

Somehow amidst all this Thomsen got injured, I didn't see what happened but he was left lying on the floor in considerable pain, and indicated immediately that he needed substituting. Hottiger came on for him and went to right back and Barrett went into midfield.

The last 10 minutes became a distinctly edgy affair. Derby pressed without any great conviction, and never really looked like scoring, but the way our defence has played of late we were taking nothing for granted.

Unsworth caused the most consternation with a firmly struck pass to Hottiger, this was deep in our half and Hottiger was surrounded by players, why Rhino should decide that now was the time to start our passing game only Rhino probably knows. Fortunately. despite the referee's mysterious injury time, we held on for three deserved and much needed points.

Coming away from the ground the lads told me that Everton was now their second favourite team, and that that was the best match that they had ever been to. (It should be noted here that it was only their second match ever, the first being a Shelbourne - Notts Forest pre-season friendly which Forest won 9-0, so they don't have too much to compare it against). Maybe there's still a chance of a conversion, I'll continue to do my bit though I'd appreciate a bit more help from the Blues.

Players' Performances

Team 5 Play like this against Man Utd and we will get murdered. We were poor, unimaginative in attack and unconvincing in defense. The use of the long ball in the second half was brain-numbing stuff. But, at least we won.

The Everton Rollercoaster

Robbie Newton: I've come to expect that supporting Everton is like going on the Big One in Blackpool once a week -- it's full of ups and downs, twists and turns and at the end of it, you can feel a bit sick.

Today we had the full works -- ups and downs, anguish and anxiety, sick of the predictability and eventual joy at the win.

First Half

We deserved to win but in the end we were a bit lucky. The first half was one of real frustration. It would have been no injustice if we had gone in 3- or 4-0 up at half-time. We created plenty of chances -- but it was notable that all of them were headed chances.

Those chances weren't taken and at times it looked like we were going to pay for it. Earl Barrett had the best chances -- notice the plural -- but both of his headers were saved. His odds of 66-1 to score the first goal are looking more and more generous as time passes.

Duncan Ferguson had the best other chance but his header glided over the bar. The Everton players were very nervy and everything was hurried. It was evidently clear that we needed someone to put their foot on the ball and have a go at the opposition.

In saying that we were unlucky to go in goalless at half-time, the same could also be said of Derby. They counter-attacked well and it seemed they had the beating of our defence. Every time the ball went in our box you could sense the unease around the ground -- there's not many who have confidence in our defence. Let's just be thankful that Mr Sturridge was suspended.

Michael Branch had been quiet in the first half, but he hadn't been given any kind of service -- it was more long-ball stuff with the occasional passing move broken down before it had barely started.

Second Half

Branch didn't re-appear in the second half. If it was because of injury then fine. But if it was a tactical decision then not fine. His confidence has been dented after his miss at Elland Road last week and subbing him after just 45 minutes today was not the perfect way to tell him that his manager has faith in him.

His replacement was Graham Stuart -- another odd decision. Paul Rideout was the man who changed the game at Leeds last week when he came on and so he, in my opinion, was the man, if any, that should have come on.

Anyway, into the second half and Derby started to come more and more into the game without ever really threatening. In particular, Aliosa Asanovic was outstanding. He bossed the midfield and was at the heart of everything Derby did constructively. The same could not be said of an Everton midfield which seemed to be carrying an unfit duo of Parkinson and Thomsen.

Goodison was hush-hush quiet for the majority of the game. The tension could almost be touched and the relief on the faces when Watson scored the winner ten minutes from time was obvious.

It didn't seem to be our day. There were two or three goal scrambles during the match and the ball just wasn't going to go in.

Eventually it did and thank God. If it hadn't, then 0-0 would have been a nightmare result with United, Liverpool, Villa, Tottenham and Chelsea all to play.

Dave Watson, who has been out of form for a while now, got the all important goal. A scramble in the Derby goal-mouth with Stuart unable to put the ball away, Thomsen having a dig only to see it blocked, and then in comes Waggy with a 10-yard left-foot volley and Goodison erupts.

The decibels are now at a deafening level as the ground breaks into full voice and the players are on a high. Typical then that they couldn't bloody add to the lead and make the last five minutes a bit easier to watch! Ah, the life of Blues.

Exiled Blues can at least sleep easier now. That is how important today's result was. A win was absolutely vital. We're on 36 points now -- just 4 points from that 'safe' mark. And with Leicester still to play at home, things are looking a bit rosier (especially considering we should have a new signing or two soon -- unless Joe's blagging his head off again) although we should never have been in this position in the first place.

Individual Performances

Crowd Psychology

Neill O'Brien: Yet another game in which the home crowd were subdued to the point of being eerie. What a difference to the Forest Game.

Derby supporters were 500 in number and managed up to the point of Watson's superb volley, to support their team with all the pride that they could muster, taking the piss out of Everton's support as often as possible. The Park End as usual enquired who the ***** are you !!!!! to the Derby fans before quietly slipping back into jeering the team in blue.

Then all of sudden wait! Ferguson kicks the advertising board in frustration, the Park End goes wild, cries of "Everton, Everton, Everton" ring around the ground, the Gwladys Street rally in response and Yes! WATSON scores!!!

A delay of 5 mins ensues, while Thomsen is carried off, the crowd go silent again, willing the referee to blow for full time and jeering every Unsie mistake.

Could the events of a stirred crowd and a Everton Goal be just a coincidence. I think not. The team grew in confidence as the crowd willed and pushed them on for glory, Lets end this season on a high and get behind the Team .

On another note Barret was my man of the match.

Quote of the day "I wondered what my left foot was for" Watson talking to Dunc on the way back to the dressing room.

Not much of a game, but who cares?

Steve Bickerton: Not much of a game, but who cares -- we got the points!

We dominated the first half without really making much impression. Two excellent efforts from our most fearsome forward, Earl Barrett (!?) and a couple of attempts sent wide by Duncan summing up our only real opportunities. Taylor's scariest moment in the Derby net being an early back-header he had to push wide. At the other end, only a long-distance lob that Nev pushed over the top troubled our defence to any great degree.

Overall view of first half - promising but could take the chances better. Man of the half Barrett.

The second half saw Branchy substituted from the off with Stuart taking his place. Probably a good move this as McGrath had used all of his experience to nullify Branchy's enthusiasm -- he still has a lot to learn at this level. The difference was obvious with Stuart throwing himself into things more but we still lacked any real punch up front.

Launch it to Dunc and hope for the best seemed to be the order of the day. It finally it paid off, though. After a procession of lamentable errors in front of the goal by the forwards it was left to a defender to show them how it was done. We were so much on top that Watson seemed to be camped in the Derby half when we again got the ball forward. Dunc rose and nodded it back and down and Watson pounced to drive the ball home. Oh how we roared (at last!). What followed was one of those all too common sights lately, with a substitution (ours) nearly doing all the damage.

Thomsen, who'd been a yard slow all game was injured in the build up to the goal and was carried off to be replaced by Hottiger. Barrett, who'd covered the whole of the right side tirelessly all game was moved into the middle right and Hottiger slotted in behind him. Suddenly we looked sloppy at the back. It seemed to me that the roles should have been reversed with Barrett maintaining his stranglehold on the Derby left and Hottiger pushed into a defensive role in front of him to give the last man more protection against Asanovich, Derby's only threat on the day, without the suspended Sturridge.

The onslaught seemed to last forever with the referee adding on an enormous amount of time, I've no idea where it came from.

In the end we deserved the points, should have had more goals and maybe we can go on from here, a confidence-booster before the big one next week.

My man of the match was Barrett with Parkinson in midfield and Ferguson up front pushing him close. Barmby looked to be getting back into things first half but drifted away in the second. Overall a solid performance.

Waggy's Left-Foot Screamer

Steve Kirkwood: Z Cars was back on Saturday, as was some of the spirit we've been missing in recent months. Chief among the most committed were recent scapegoats, Barmby and Unsworth, as Everton battled deservedly through for three points.

Starting with Nev in goal (Gerrard on the bench) and a back three of Short, Watson and Unsworth, wingbacks Barrett and Phelan. The midfield of Thomsen, Parkinson and Barmby, supported the front two of Ferguson and Branch.

It was clear from the start that no-one was under the mis-apprehension that this game was a mid-table end of season game. Joe said it was massive, and from the start the approach was hard, no-nonsense and direct. Too much so, sometimes as Ferguson's head became sore from the long balls directed at him, when the imagination and energy of his teammates was lacking.

Whatever, the first half was ours -- chances for Ferguson, Barrett Barrett again and Barmby were all misplaced over or past the goal. Their centre-back caused most consternation with a back header the keeper did well to knock round the post. Then Barrett (again) and Thomsen managed to head wide, Ferguson and Branch both fluffed chances - at our end, Nev had tipped over one cross and the we had another nervous moment when Asanovic (I think) hit one wide from three yards.

So, we had the play, but the Derby keeper's knees were dirty as a result of his own players -- McGrath especially was playing to his normal high level.

Stuart replaced Branch at the start of the second half, and we played towards the Park End in what were blustery conditions. (There goes my first goal bet...).

Derby are showing more in the first 15 mins, which is not to say that they showed much. Far from it -- a 5-3-1 formation showed what they wanted, and only Asanovic demonstrated real adventure -- he can play a bit.

Parkinson lets fly from 20 yds, just past the post, but the thoughtful play of the first half is now firmly replaced by the long hopeful ball as our confidence ebbs and Derby's grows.

At this stage, 0-1 was a likely result -- our team performance was personified by Ferguson, looking for the options, there appeared only to be one, and when it failed, we stumbled back to the beginning again.

Stuart who was working hard, was fed by Barmby after 70 mins. He tried to chip it over the keeper who makes his first serious save. We are unlucky. a minute later, after what seemed to be a 3-min scramble, Duncan stumbles around a body or two and the ball goes wide off his shin - I reckon he had 5 chances today, but didn't get one on target.

The crowd are getting more frantic, the noise is not bad for 32,000, but just when it seemed that 0-0 was on, Ferguson leaps, the ball plops down for Watson who hammers it low into the right hand corner with his left leg. (Collectors corner: the last left foot goal by Dave Watson was 1991 vs Liverpool in the 1-0 2nd relay after the 4-4 draw!!!)

Thomsen is carried off after twisting his knee in the celebrations.. Then Derby decide to save the game, and it gets really frantic, Nev is called into his first real action but to no avail, thank God. We had to win it, we did. Clean sheet and 3 points, not the quality that counts etc, its the result. OK, maybe, and there were plenty of promising signs (see below) but Derby's lack of forward ambition made it easier. Lets be positive

Home support 6; Away support 6 (1000 of em); Referee 5, very odd!

Watson ends frustration

James Mossop, Electronic Telegraph:  DAVE WATSON, the old soldier of Everton who knows all about the good times and bad times at Goodison Park, spun a rare piece of magic 11 minutes from the end and you would have thought by the din that the championship had been won. Instead his goal, when he drove a left footer into the bottom corner after big Duncan Ferguson knocked the ball down to him, merely edged Everton a few steps away from the strugglers near the bottom of the table, leaving Derby still among them.

The promise of an early goal filled Goodison with the kind of optimism rarely felt in recent weeks -- the last of 12 Premiership matches producing only one win and creating a mood of dissent in the blue half of Merseyside.

The start produced everything but the goal. Two crosses by David Unsworth, one of them admittedly mishit, gave Ferguson and Earl Barrett chances to hit the target they both missed. Derby's Jacob Laursen almost helped them to go in front with a headed back-pass that his goalkeeper, Martin Taylor, somehow scrambled away for a corner at the last second.

Ferguson had another attempt, hanging in the air to meet Nick Barmby's driven centre. The ball flew high when the goal would have been as spectacular, given Ferguson's leap and pronounced flick of the head.

The longer Everton went without a goal, the more old anxieties began to set in, and there was more frustration when Barrett, flying in to meet yet another cross from Unsworth, looked up to see Taylor clutching his header.

As Everton continued to hurl themselves at the barricades it seemed a score would be inevitable. The opening that should have brought deliverance came when Barmby sent Gary Rowett scurrying up the wrong alley to pull the ball back for Joe Parkinson, who was unmarked 16 yards out, but he missed it completely.

Neville Southall's role as a spectator in the Everton goal was briefly interrupted when Aljosa Asanovic tried to lob in from 30 yards from the touchline. The old-timer retreated to flick it over his bar.

As disenchantment spread among the home fans all the noise was coming from the few hundred Derby supporters sensing they might be going home with a valuable point. Graham Stuart, a second-half substitute for Michael Branch, had the ball hooked away from him in front of goal.

At last, after a series of desperate scrambles in the Derby goalmouth, Watson buried home the winner.

Report Copyright The Electronic Telegraph

Barmby nudges Everton awake

Dave Thomas, Sunday Times: WHETHER THIS win for Everton will reverse their prolonged dip in form is debatable. For long periods they lacked ideas and variety. That the winner came from a Duncan Ferguson knockdown rifled in by Dave Watson was no surprise, then. Everton have scored so many goals through or with Ferguson's head. Fortunately for them, Derby lacked any kind of ambition.

So often when two teams play a similar formation ­ in this case 3-5-2 ­ gridlock occurs. The difference between them was Everton's use of Nick Barmby further forward, behind his two strikers.

The early skirmishes that broke out around Derby's penalty area were mostly a result of Barmby's movement. Once or twice he started or was involved in some neat passing moves that either didn't quite click or ended up in a decent cross. Inevitably Ferguson headed one of them at goal and Earl Barrett another.

In fact, the more Barmby was involved the better Everton looked, which has, for the most part, been the crux of their season. Since beating Derby at the Baseball Ground in December Everton had won only one of the last 12 League games, and Barmby simply hasn't been bold enough, prompting one local wag to suggest if he is not careful he will be arrested for being a spectator who has encroached the playing area.

Everton's slide, though, has not all been due to Barmby. Their defence was sometimes nervy, sometimes short of a bit of finesse, which explains Joe Royle's chase for the West Ham defender, Slaven Bilic. Still, Derby attacked so little it didn't matter that much. The closest they came in the first half was a stab by Ashley Ward that was blocked.

The more the game meandered along, the more Barmby meandered. Where before Everton had resembled a decent side, they now gave the impression of a team low on confidence and low on ideas. There was a moment, though, when Barmby did what he is best at. He picked up possession, ran at his opponents, then angled a pass into Graham Stuart. He should have scored but his shot was blocked.

In those few seconds Barmby elevated Everton. Much of their short-term future rests on his shoulders.

Report Copyright The Sunday Times

Watson rewards air force

Stan Hey, Independent on Sunday:  Those who are urging the Tories to try a change of tactics in order to win the election could try practising their spin-doctor skills on Joe Royle, who seems determined to stick to a single policy -- getting the ball into the air for Duncan Ferguson -- as the sole means of keeping Everton in the Premiership.

The fact that this monolithic strategy finally delivered the goods 11 minutes from time, when the captain Dave Watson pounced on a Ferguson knock-down to drive his first score of the season, will probably be seen as the ultimate justification, especially as this win was only Everton's second in their last 13 games.

With five of their remaining eight matches at home, Everton should now be safer than a team with their recent poor record is entitled to be, and if they can keep up this process of what the American tennis coaches term 'winning ugly' then the fans may not regard this season as a total write-off.

Indeed, the signs are that supporters brought up on the ball-playing skills of Alan Ball, Colin Harvey and Kevin Sheedy have bought the new reality. At an early stage of yesterday's match David Unsworth shaped for yet another cross for Ferguson, and there was an audible groan from the crowd as the ball went along the turf.

They needn't have worried as Everton resumed their aerial bombardment of Derby's goal, with even Nick Barmby looking to get the ball into the air as his first instinct.

With Derby severely weakened by the absences of Dean Sturridge, through suspension, and Robbie Van der Laan and Igor Stimac, through injury, Everton were rarely challenged to come up with anything creative anyway as Derby filled the space in numbers.

Barrett, with two far post headers, and Ferguson, with several others, posed the main threat on goal, although Ashley Ward did have a close- range shot blocked and Aljosa Asanovic saw Neville Southall back-peddle furiously to tip over his 45-yard lob from the left touch-line.

For the second half Derby responded with some effective tactical changes as Lee Carsley was moved into central midfield and Asanovic was pushed up to give support to Ward. For Everton, though, apart from Graham Stuart coming on, there was virtually no change in method.

Just once, on 72 minutes, when Barmby spotted Stuart's run and played him in with a delightful angled pass, did somebody start playing football. Had Stuart's shot on the run beaten Martin Taylor a change of policy cold have followed. Instead, Everton played the law of averages with Ferguson's head and were rewarded, if that is the right word, when, shortly after his flick had been cleared from the line, he knocked a header down for the advancing Watson to drive a low, left-foot shot past past Taylor.

To his credit, Everton mamager Joe Royle admitted afterwards: 'It had all been getting a bit desperate, and it was certainly not a vintage win. But nobody could deny that we deserved it. If we can get to 40 points we can start planning for next season.' Time for a change then, perhaps?

Everton can breathe easy

David Maddock, The Times:  JOE ROYLE, the Everton manager, has the appearance of a favourite uncle: red-faced and cuddly, with a string of reassuring quips. That he can still pull off such an act after a game like this is credit to his composure. There was little hint, outwardly, of the pressure that he described as "bursting out of Goodison Park at the moment".

Only Royle's voice betrayed him as he reflected on an important victory, the faint flutter at the end of his conversation revealing a marked sense of relief. Massive relief, in fact, because this victory has all but extinguished the possiblity of relegation. They could still go down, of course, but only if unmitigated, wide-screen disaster were to strike.

For Royle, it means an opportunity to address the panic of recent weeks, a chance to plug the holes that have appeared so close to the waterline. Many judges felt that the appalling display against Arsenal, two weeks ago, had signalled the end of his career as manager.

It was a wrong assumption, and now he at least has the time to bring in a few players, to perhaps shape a side over the remaining matches of the season that will offer real promise.

He knows it. "You could feel the tension building around this place, and that win has really taken the pressure off us," he said. "It means we can enter the transfer market on our own terms. We can buy players we really need rather than going out to get stop-gaps."

Royle's immediate response will be an attempt to lure Trevor Sinclair away from Queens Park Rangers in a bid to restore balance to the right side of the team. In his programme notes, Royle also hinted at even bigger fish to be fried. "I can certainly say that some of the names we have looked at would open people's eyes," he said.

He will have to close a deal soon, because victory cannot disguise the fact that the present squad will never disturb Manchester United or Liverpool. Against an admittedly desperate Derby County rearguard, they simply flung long balls forward.

Credit, then, to their perseverance, because the tactic finally worked in the 78th minute. Another hump into the box, another nod down by Duncan Ferguson and Dave Watson provided a captain's inspiration by firing home.

"We were very disappointed at the end of it because, even though they had most of the ball, they were just lumping it forward, and our attacking situations were more dangerous," Jim Smith, the Derby manager, said.

He had a point, but his argument was undermined by the performance of Aljosa Asanovic, his Croatia international midfield player, who, barely minutes into the match, appeared to have given up.

With Derby now sucked into the relegation mire after this defeat, Smith said: "We are looking at 39 points really, and we have got five home games left, so that must be our saviour. We have to get the two wins we require from those home games."

Report Copyright The Times

Watson's less than elementary winner

Guy Hodgson, The Independent:  The tone of the day was set by turning on to Radio Four and hearing a vicar endorsing theft from supermarkets. What could follow that? A Stagecoach rail timetable without the word 'cancelled' on it? An Everton victory?

After one Premiership success since 16 December any win would have come as a thunderbolt. Which must have crossed Claus Thomsen's mind, too, because the Everton mid-fielder was so bewildered when his side scored his jump for joy injured his ankle, forcing his withdrawal. There was no word on the number of home supporters who swooned with the shock.

Joe Royle also had reason to be disorientated. The manager had spent the winter trying to locate plus points from minus results so it was a surprise when he did not stumble over unfamiliar words like 'goal', 'victory' and 'points'. Instead he could look forward with another alien concept: optimism.

'You can feel the tension going,' he said. 'We can now try to bring players into the club on our own terms. There is no need for stop-gaps.' Now, or in the summer? 'Both,' he replied, enjoying the chance to puzzle after his long-standing role as puzzled.

In the context of the unusual outcome the goal that won this tedious match was wholly appropriate. Dave Watson has scored with his left foot before -- once. The rest of the time it has acted as a prop for the knarled and trusty right limb that has spent 17 years scaring the life out of strikers. When Duncan Ferguson headed the ball down to his captain, however, the ball could hardly have been hit more sweetly into the corner of the net.

'It was the first time we had lost the marking,' Jim Smith, the Derby manager lamented, and his defenders could hardly say the move that led to the goal had come as a surprise. Everton's predictability has been overstated -- they are just as capable of firing in crosses from the left as well as the right -- but you would have thought the visitors would have come to terms with the tactic after 78 minutes practice.

Think again. As Smith will have to as he weighs up his pursuit of a safety target of 39 points. 'Five of our remaining eight games are at home,' he said, 'and that's going to be our security. We have to get the two results we need there.'

Which should be no problem if Aljosa Asanovic deigns to throw himself into the fray with the same enthusiasm he flings his hands into the air in despair at his colleagues' shortcomings. The Croat was, by some distance, the most gifted player at Goodison but the energy he generated on Saturday would not have powered a torch.

Moody, petulant, lazy; take your pick to describe him. Overseas imports have discarded the 'Johnny Foreigner' prejudices that proclaim they will not perform when the going gets tough. Asanovic, however, might be the exception that proves the rule on this showing.

Royle sips at humble table

David Hopps, The Guardian:  Succumb to the hype and the Premiership is the greatest marathon in the world, the ultimate test of a team's talent and resolve. That might be true for those at the top. Everton and Derby are just conscious of a never-ending slog towards safety.

Since Everton won at Derby in mid-December they had embarked on a sequence of one win in 12 league games. When their manager Joe Royle confessed that this merited victory against the same opposition, however welcome, was 'hardly vintage' he might have said the same about a cheap Hungarian wine; Everton, bombarding Derby's area with a succession of high crosses, were a robust, unappealing blend.

Even Dave Watson's winning goal, sweetly struck with his left foot 11 minutes from time, was not without mishap, Claus Thomsen twisting his ankle as he leapt in celebration and being carried off on a stretcher. As the Dane's performance in mid-field had been strikingly pedestrian, he would have been better not drawing attention to himself.

Derby are only three points clear of the bottom three, a particularly uncomfortable position considering that two of the sides below them, Forest and Middlesbrough, are showing signs of life. They fielded a lonely striker, Ashley Ward, and hoped to steal a point. No manager adopts a 'needs must' expression more convincingly than Jim Smith but it was desperately limited stuff.

In Aljosa Asanovic, their one constructive player of true quality, Derby also have a foreign import who does nothing to discourage the worst knee-jerk prejudices. Mindless running will rarely save a side from relegation but mindless walking, in which Asanovic seemed particularly well-practised, is yet more useless.

Asanovic might have put Derby ahead before half-time had Ward been perceptive enough to lay the ball back to him. But his most committed period, early in the second half, came only after a combined verbal assault from the Powells. Darryl frustratedly admonished him when one move broke down, leaving Chris to contribute something between a supportive ruffle of the hair and a slap across the back of the head.

On both sides, the perpetual failures of a never-ending season were evident as players repeatedly retreated into the security of their own pessimistic worlds.

Results and League Table

Sunday, 16 March 1997

CHELSEA                 6-2    SUNDERLAND                24,027
Zola(38) Sinclair(43)          Stewart(58) Rae(60)           
Petrescu(51) Hughes(78,90)
Di Matteo(90)

Saturday, 15 March 1997

ASTON VILLA             0-0    WEST HAM UNITED           35,992

BLACKBURN ROVERS        3-1    WIMBLEDON                 23,333
Gallacher(7,26,58)             Ekoku(39)
EVERTON                 1-0    DERBY COUNTY              32,140
LEICESTER CITY          1-3    MIDDLESBROUGH             20,561
Marshall(47)                   Blackmore(9) Juninho(27) Beck (36)
Cole(19) Poborsky(61)
NEWCASTLE UNITED        4-0    COVENTRY CITY             36,571
Watson(12) Lee(45) Beardsley(pen:76) Elliott(87)
NOTTINGHAM FOREST       1-1    LIVERPOOL                 29,181
Woan(30)                       Fowler(4)
SOUTHAMPTON             0-2    ARSENAL                   15,144
                               Hughes(41) Shaw(72)
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR       1-0    LEEDS UNITED              33,040

Wednesday, 12 March 1997

LEEDS UNITED            0-0    SOUTHAMPTON               25,913 

SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY     2-1    SUNDERLAND                20,294
Hirst(42)                      Stefanovic(63) Ball(28)
WEST HAM UNITED         3-2    CHELSEA                   24,502
Dicks(pen:55) Kitson(68,90)    Vialli(26) Hughes (87)

Tuesday, 11 March 1997

BLACKBURN ROVERS        1-1    NOTTINGHAM FOREST         20,485
Gallacher(64)                  Haaland(18)

Table after 16 March 1997

Club                          P    W    D    L   GF   GA   GD  Pts
Manchester United            30   17    9    4   59   33   26   60
Liverpool                    30   16    9    5   51   25   26   57
Arsenal                      31   16    9    6   51   26   25   57
Newcastle United             29   15    6    8   58   35   23   51
Sheffield Wednesday          30   12   12    6   39   35    4   48
Aston Villa                  30   13    8    9   35   27    8   47
Chelsea                      29   12   10    7   50   43    7   46
Wimbledon                    28   12    8    8   40   35    5   44
Leeds United                 31   11    7   13   24   32   -8   40
Tottenham Hotspur            29   11    5   13   35   38   -3   38
Leicester City               29   10    7   12   34   41   -7   37
Blackburn Rovers             29    8   12    9   32   28    4   36
Everton                      30    9    9   12   37   43   -6   36
Derby County                 30    7   11   12   31   45  -14   32
Sunderland                   31    8    8   15   28   47  -19   32
Coventry City                31    6   12   13   26   43  -17   30
West Ham United              29    7    8   14   27   39  -12   29
Nottingham Forest            31    6   11   14   26   47  -21   29
Southampton                  29    6    8   15   37   48  -11   26
Middlesbrough                28    7    7   14   40   50  -10   25*

* Includes 3 pts deducted from Middlesbrough for illegal match postponement  

This League Table Update provided by Lawrence "Leagueman" Breakey

This Match Report Compilation was prepared by Michael Kenrick for Marko Poutiainen. 19 Mar 1997