Everton Logo Everton 0 - 0 Aston Villa
Half-time: 0 - 0
Aston Villa Logo
FA Carling Premiership 98/99 - Game 1
Saturday 15 August 1998
Goodison Park, Merseyside
Att: 40,112
« Fortuna Sittard (a) Ref: Alan Wilkie Leicester City (a) »
1998-99 Fixtures & Results League Position: 12th Premiership Results & Table
EVERTON: Collins, Cleland,
Aston Villa:   Dacourt, Materazzi
  LINEUPS Subs Not Used
EVERTON: Myhre, Cleland, Ball, Short, Materazzi, Tiler, Barmby, Dacourt (76 Hutchison), Collins, Ferguson (c), Spencer (64 Cadamarteri).
Unavailable: Parkinson, Grant, Bilic, Phelan, Ward, Williamson (injured); Jeffers, (suspended).
Gerrard, Watson, Branch.
Aston Villa: Bosnich, Scimeca, Southgate, Barry, Charles, Taylor, Hendrie, Thompson (74 Draper), Wright, Joachim, Yorke. Oakes, Grayson, Vassell, Petty.
  Yellow Cards Red Cards
EVERTON: Short, Dacourt, Ball, Hutchinson.
Aston Villa: Scimeca, Joachim, Hendrie.

Guy McEvoy Cut out the long-ball crap, Walter
Martin O'Boyle Sod's Law
Jenny Roberts Blue Blood runs deep...
THE SUNDAY TIMES Collins' penalty miss darkens Everton's day
by Chris Lightbown
THE TIMES Everton put Scottish formula to the test
by Peter Robinson
ELECTRONIC TELEGRAPH Everton left stunned by Yorke's brilliance
by Alyson Rudd
THE EVERTONIAN Blues draw comfort from the revolution
THE GUARDIAN Link to Football Unlimited Match Report
SOCCERNET Link to SoccerNet Match Report
CARLINGNET Link to CarlingNet Match Report

Cut out the long-ball crap, Walter
Guy McEvoy
Sunshine; A multitude of new away shirts; Hope etched on the faces of the throngs of Evertonians; It could only be the first game of the season.

Same old climb up the top balcony stairs, same old sour-faced girl selling the hot-dogs, same old season ticket faces around me, and hopefully – a new look Everton.

They teased us a bit before the team came out. Underlining the new Scottish connection, the wit that controls the music decided to launch into Z-Cars from a bag-pipe medley belted out at full blast down the tannoy. It was a nice touch, but, to play the full 12-inch remix was probably overdoing it a bit. The crowd was nicely whipped into a frenzy after the first verse of pipe-music but started to loose it considerably by the time verse 14 came on. Then, thank god, just when we thought the pipes would never end, Z-Cars kicked in, the frenzy returned and the players strolled out to a thumping reception.

It was great to watch the new boys as they got their first glimpse of a full Goodison Park. It clearly affected them all as they all walked round, obviously pumped up, giving each other high fives and yelling encouragement.

First Half

That adrenaline rush saw the team through the first fifteen minutes during which we saw some very promising and purposeful Everton play. Everyone was involved in this opening purple patch and we deserved to get something from it.

The momentum was stolen when we fluffed the clearest chance of all. A long ball to the midget-worker Spencer saw him skillfully collapse from the slightest of touches and John Collins stepped up determined to make his debut memorable – a feat he achieved. What he had done against Brazil in front of a billion people he failed to repeat against Villa in front of 40-odd thousand. Bosnich made a decent looking save, and we were left to digest our first disappointment of the campaign. Cynic that I am I'm sure we've many more to come.

I tried to get over the disappointment by trying to figure out the game plan. It was a reasonably familiar shape, filled with unfamiliar faces. Walter has gone for the three centre backs; Tiler, Materazzi and Short. Ball and Cleland played as Wingbacks. Collins, Barmby and Dacourt took the midfield, Spencer was chosen to partner captain Ferguson.

The game started to slow down, but Everton still had by far the greater portion of play. Villa looked nothing special, and the display of Yorke suggested the Midlands Club should bite off Martian Edwards arm for the reputed £10 million on offer.

If I supported someone in the habit of winning, I wouldn't have been bothered by the score at half -time. The play had been one way and any repeat in the second half would surely see us take maximum points. But Everton aren't used to winning, and I feared our failure to capitalise while in front would cost us dearly.

Second Half

Inevitably then, Villa finally got themselves into the game. The second half saw more open play, and this suited Villa who only looked dangerous when hitting us on the break. Having said that, we did have two good chances fall to Ferguson, one was turned over the bar by Bosnich the other was feebly hit into the arms of the time-wasting Australian. In the general malaise, despite the new flair injected into the team, we did drift back into the all too familiar long-ball crap. Hopefully Smith will be having a word with our central defense to stamp out this unnecessary trait before our next outing.

We needed some enthusiasm and Smith turned to Danny Cadamarteri; off came Spencer. Danny's positional play is shocking, but such is his appetite to get involved and see the ball that this more than makes up for it. In the final dying seconds he came inches from turning in a Ball long throw.

So that was that. First point on the board. I don't think we really learned all that much from the encounter, it was in truth, a dull game. The highlight for me was watching Oliver Dacourt. He reminds me of a stronger version of Tony Grant. If this is what we can come to expect, then that, at least is one piece of the jigsaw that can stay put.

Individual Efforts

  • Myhre 6 - Had nothing to do all game, yet managed to do a David James impression on at least three occasions. Get some new grips on those gloves Tommy lad.
  • Cleland 7 - Very competent debut. Composed. Looked for the ball. Can cross it too. More of the same please.
  • Tiler 6 - All the defence were very good in the first half when they kept Villa out of it, they only looked weak in the second when Villa ran at them, and I thought Carl looked the most vulnerable.
  • Materazzi 6 - Saw some of why he is rated, including a header from a corner that could well have crept in. Also made some positional errors and daft passes that we can chalk down to first-day nerves.
  • Short 6 - Did some crap things, but then he also made Yorke look useless. Hope he features in Walter's plans. Gets a relatively low mark for being the biggest culprit in launching long-ball crap.
  • Ball 6 - Very quiet game by Bally's standards. Didn't have that absolute aura of total self-assurance that he emanated last season. Hopefully a blip caused by playing with unfamiliar team-mates. Odd flash of why he will play for England even in this poor game.
  • Dacourt 8 - Man of the match. Caught the eye out of the new boys. He stays routed in the middle third of the field in true midfield-general style. Can pass, can hold the ball and can tackle. Best thing about the game from an Evertonian's point of view. Limped off.
  • Collins 6 - Started off excellent, then completely faded it out of it. By the end of the game I actually scanned the pitch to find him thinking he must have been subbed. Get that match fitness up and I think he'll be one hell of an asset.
  • Barmby 6 - Started off like a man possessed. Thought he was well up for it. Thought that in all this new creativity he might finally find himself his niche. Trouble was, at the end of the game, if you ask yourself what were all the good things that Everton did, Barmby doesn't seem to be involved in any of them.
  • Spencer 6 - An honest effort that returned little for us. Good dive for the penalty – that apart, for all the motoring his little legs did, he doesn't look either a creative player, or a 15-goal a season man. What was wrong with Madar?
  • Ferguson 7 - A funny game for the captain. Missed two routine efforts but his best work was in holding up the ball. Pity there was no-one who wanted to take advantage of this work when it has been done. Continues to improve his ability to use his awkward size frame to shield the ball which treated us to a couple of entertaining runs. Still Ferguson darting down the wing and laying off a chipped cross to Spencer seems to have a certain irony too it.
  • Cadamarteri 7 - Our game lifted when he came on, so credit where it is due.
  • Hutchinson 7 - Came on when Dacourt hobbled off and was a solid enough replacement.

Sod's Law
Martin O'Boyle
Why is it that the first day of the season is always bright and sunny? No matter where you are in England, you're virtually guaranteed sunshine. And why is it that the very next day (when you invite your mates round for a barbecue) it's always raining?

Sod's law... call it what you will.

Why is it that lately whenever Everton are awarded a penalty, they miss it?

Sod's law...ask any Everton fan.

Arriving in the Upper Gwladys half-an-hour before kick off, I looked out onto the Goodison turf. A chill ran through my spine. The last time I was here there were thousands of people dancing on the pitch, digging up turf and chanting for Johnson's head.

We had survived in the Premiership by just four clear goals and we were chanting: "And it's Everton.... Everton FC... Are by far the greatest team... the world has ever seen!"

I love Everton. I live and breathe Everton, but there was no way on earth that chant was true... we had survived by the skin of our teeth and there was HK telling us not to expect a busy summer in terms of transfers.

Enter Walter Smith. I don't need to tell you any more.

The pitch looked magnificent; like a carpet. Exactly like one of those vile green carpets that were in fashion in the 70's.

Nevertheless, it was an immaculate playing surface – it's a shame that Carl Tiler doesn't use the ball on it more often instead of hoofing it up to Big Dunc, who by that time has two or three defenders guarding him.

"Now I must tell you that there are noise monitors all around the ground...." boomed the man on the PA system. "All of the grounds in the Premiership have them installed during today's matches. Let's try and beat all of them as we welcome the teams on to the pitch."

It was like something which I tell my (for want of a better word) 'Music' Group of infant children. Now, let's try and raise the roof as we sing "Three Blind Mice." It always has the desired effect and it did at Goodison. Some strange bagpipe music was met with a deafening roar. It was only thirty seconds later when I realised that it wasn't Z Cars. It certainly was rousing and it heralded the new dawn of the Scots.

However, after three minutes of hearing a dead cat having his stomach pumped, I was beginning to get a little agitated and I wanted my 'Z-Cars' – I was not to be disappointed. The roar produced by the crowd could have beaten any in the Premiership.

If there were any noise monitors in the ground, they would have gone off the scale.

The match was to be refereed by Mr Alan Wilkie, another 'yellow card happy' referee. Seven players were booked in total and I'm surprised that the incident which led to the penalty did not warrant a sending-off for the Villa defender.

Every Everton supporter in the ground (except myself) welcomed the penalty. However, even at 17 years of age, I bury my face into my Dad's shoulder whenever we have one.

"Who's taking it?..." I mumbled. "Collins." "Ah no, not on his debut."

I had prepared myself for the worst before the ball had been struck.

The 60 year old man (I refer to simply as Dad), must have been bemused at the fact that his son, for whom he paid the £120 to watch Everton all season, was shying away. He moved his shoulder... I watched.

Never again will I watch a penalty.

After the opening half-hour, Goodison seemed to go like a mortuary. It was like watching Match of the Day with the sound down, nerves were beginning to fray and players were being picked out for criticism.

Half-time came, and so did a "brand new game to excite all Evertonians." Bert Butcher had the chance to win a car if he could hit two goalposts in three attempts. The competition winner, with a name not unlike something from Roy of the Rovers, failed in his quest.

The best entertainment which came from half-time was when the blonde female assistant tripped over the microphone wire and fell flat on her face. Actually I tell a lie... it had to be: "Manchester United 0 Leicester 1."

Five minutes into the second half, Cleland found Duncan lurking at the far post. The cross was precise, but lacked power for the big man to convert. He flung his head in the direction of the ball, connected, and this produced a stunning acrobatic save from Bosnich.

Bosnich, unlike new hero Olivier Dacourt, was not making the best of friends with the Street End. His penalty saves, combined with his blatant time wasting towards the end of the game resulted in two empty Coca-Cola bottles being hurled at the Nazi-loving Aussie. If I had my way, it would have been a brick!

Perhaps Villa should have had a penalty in the second half when Hutchison fouled Hendrie in the area, but perhaps John Gregory should keep his over-enthusiastic mouth shut. The new Villa manager seems to have worryingly permanent symptoms of verbal diarrhoea....

The full-time whistle went. Bosnich raised his arms in triumph at the Street End. Another empty cola bottle was thrown in his direction as he ran off to applaud the visiting fans.

It's promising.

Martin's Man of the Match: Olivier Dacourt

Even though he stayed on the pitch for just seventy-five minutes he made a lasting impression on my mind. His ability to tackle, combined with a '3-D' vision was at moments; breathtaking. He certainly endeared himself to the rest of the Everton faithful...after all (as a Radio Merseyside DJ said) if it had been Gareth Farrelly who had taken that free-kick which sailed about fifteen yards high and wide of the goal, would he have got a round of applause???

His calf strain worried me slightly, but fret yee not... he will be in the squad for the game against Leicester.

Blue Blood runs deep...
Jenny Roberts
On Friday, we rushed home from our holiday a day early to support our beloved club on the first day of a season which we desperately hope will differ immensely from the months of torturous under-achievement which we were forced to tolerate last year. On the ferry, we met two Evertonians, one a very small boy. "How many goals will Duncan Ferguson score?" we asked. "Four....." replied the child, then adding "teen!"

This was just one example of the abundance of infectious optimism which reigned Goodison yesterday. Most of the newspapers had predicted around 10th for our final place, and had stressed that we would certainly not be staving off the demons of relegation again. Of course, miracles are not expected – mid-table would be satisfactory, and perhaps we could even push for a European place, or a good cup run.

The first players to grace the turf during the warm-up were given rapturous applause, and soon after, the entire squad were there before us. We sought out Cleland, Dacourt, Materazzi and Collins fervently, with enthusiasm that was an unbelievable contrast to the reception which the majority of Howard's buys were subjected to last year.

We were told that there was a competition to see which team has the loudest fans, and that there were sound sensors around the ground to measure the volume!

Gradually, all of the players disappeared down the tunnel, the one-2-oners crowded around the entrance, blocking our view, and the pitch was cleared. Silence ensued – it was 2.55 – and we waited for Z-Cars. Suddenly, the sound of bagpipes filled Goodison Park as a tribute to the arrivals of Smith, Cleland and Collins.

Finally, Walter's welcome finished, and the whistling notes of Z-Cars pierced the air. Our heroes ran out onto the beautiful turf. This was it, the new beginning, with a world-class midfield and a strengthened defence.

We met the names of the Villa side with intimidating jeers and whistles, and our own with encouraging, inspiring cheers. Myhre was welcomed back after his unjustified spell on the Norwegian bench during summer (Why Grodas, Egil Olsen, why??), Ball was made a hero after impressive performances for the England U-18s, and Cleland was welcomed. Short, Tiler, Barmby and Spencer were given the usual Goodison greeting, and the crowd erupted with joy when the names of Dacourt, Materazzi, Ferguson, and John Collins were announced.

Before there was adequate time for the actual realisation that we had truly signed quality players to sink in, Wilkie blew for kick-off, and we were advancing towards the Park End. We dominated the game, and consistently resembled a side battling for its place at the top of the Premiership. At this stage of the season, we were!

Aston Villa looked pathetic, and all that I remember of their first half attacking is that they had about three corners, which were all coped with quite well by our defence to a certain extent. Obviously, with two new defensive players who had not yet played a league game together, there were going to be a few mistakes. Fortunately, these relatively rare errors did not lead to concession.

Villa's best chance of scoring came when Yorke clashed heads with Short, who never looked 100% again, and was therefore liable to make some extra mistakes. I was watching Yorke with particular interest, especially as Manchester Utd. are chasing his signature. I conclude from watching this £16 million rated attacker, that, if he is worth this amount, then John Spencer is priceless. The minute favourite of Smith's certainly had far more possession, and managed to provoke a Villa defender (Southgate, I think), into tripping him inside the box.

"Penalty!" We all exclaimed, and turned our eyes to Wilkie. He pointed to the spot. We all leapt into the air, and cheered ecstatic as if the score-board had already been adjusted to read "Everton 1 Aston Villa 0." Even Spencer celebrated with Ferguson. I

could barely look as the players decided who would take it, but hoped that our four debut players would be spared the risky task. Perhaps Spencer himself, or a defender.... Unsworth would have been useful..... But no, John Collins stepped forward. Memories of Hutchison flooded back, and although I murmured the words "Come on John," with everyone else, I was unbelievably reluctant to watch him take it.

Bosnich went the right way, and a string of rebounds were furiously stabbed in the direction of the net, but they amounted to nothing. Michael Ball had come up for the penalty, and kept on giving chances to Collins, who was unable to convert them into goals.

I held my head in my hands, and did not dare to lift my eyes again until play had resumed. I cannot remember us having a single corner during the first half, and my suspicions were hardly confirmed by Match of the Day's 85-second feature on us – including interviews.

Duncan managed a couple of decent headers, Spencer made a few runs towards goal, only to be tackled by a defender before reaching his destination. Michael Ball had one excellent chance from outside the box on the left wing, but it flew hideously wide, and was sadly closer to the corner flag than the back of the net.

Our new signings were all impressive during the first half, although I felt that Cleland had not performed as well as Dacourt, Materazzi and Collins.

"Ollie" Dacourt won possession admirably. He is like a slightly more skilful Barry Horne or Joe Parkinson, because he can tackle, and also run with the ball once he has won it. He was involved in every one of our free kicks, and is able to strike the ball fiercely and mercilessly at the goalkeeper. I also saw him...... wait for it....... pass the ball on the ground! Finally, a player who does not adhere to the "boot it up in the vague direction of Duncan's forehead" rule.

Collins also impressed me, and Ball worked well with him. Whenever young Michael tackled, but was unable to run with the ball, because he was surrounded by Villa players, he was able to tap it across to Collins, who was always in space. This gave Ball the opportunity to stay back, as during the first half, there was a frightening gap on the left side of defence. If the Villa attacker got past Ball (which was unlikely, but nevertheless a risk), he had the whole wing to himself, and only Myhre would be able to stop him.

Fortunately, our goalkeeper played quite well, despite dropping the ball when there were Villa players in the box, which was, needless to say, very dangerous. He looked reliable apart from that incident. At one point, one of our defenders was being pursued by a Villa attacker, and as he came increasingly close to conceding a corner, he put in a cross-style ball to Myhre. We held our breath nervously, as the ball curled in towards the goal. Tommy terrified us by coolly chesting the ball down, as if he was in training. The crowd managed a laugh, but we were distracted by the contemplation of how embarrassing that ball could have been.

Tiler and Short played sensibly, without any real disasters to mar their performances, despite Short's head injury, which we had feared would affect his play.

Barmby and Spencer ran at the Villa defence continuously, and looked quite exhausted during the second half. They proved themselves each to be a good foil for Duncan. Spencer often came surprisingly far back to help Ball out with that worrying gap.

The defence and midfield made Duncan much more comfortable. He was finally able to concentrate on being a forward, and not having to worry about getting back to defend. We finally have other players who are able to stand beside Myhre on the line, which will assist Duncan's goal tally immeasurably this year.

During the first half, we were promising, and should have been 2-0 up. As the scores were announced, we cheered to hear that Manchester Utd. were 2-0 down at home to Leicester!

The second half arrived, and Cleland came to life. He put in countless crosses, and ran down the wing constantly. Duncan also attacked, instead of waiting in the box, which was all very well, but he was crossing to John Spencer, and later Danny Cadamarteri – valuable members of our side, indeed, but hardly noted for their aerial abilities.

Ferguson also chose to drop further back in the box when we had corners, placing himself in the middle, instead of in a position where he could jump for a header, accidentally/deliberately take the goalkeeper out, and enable a team-mate to score.

When Cadamarteri appeared for the evidently tiring Spencer, he was like a breath of fresh air. This was the Danny that I admired against Chelsea on the last day of the 96-97 season. The Villa defence could not cope with him and, had we discovered how to beat Bosnich, we would have done so with several goals, all set up by Danny.

With about 16 minutes left, I muttered "Dunc had better hurry up if he's going to get his fourteen goals." The minutes gradually faded away, with consistent Everton domination, and failed attempted assaults on the goal.

These "attempted assaults on the goal" would have been doubled in number had Mark Bosnich not chosen to waste time. At one point, he was standing, waiting to take his goal kick, when he spied a team-mate in the box with him, tying his lace. He proceeded to wait for about a minute for him to finish and to slowly jog off before resuming play. All this time the crowd were roaring at the referee to book him, but our pleas were ignored.

If Villa play a single game with a referee who books for time-wasting, they had better make sure that they have a decent substitute goalkeeper on the bench, because Bosnich will be seeing red. He could have been booked for delaying every single one of his goal kicks during the last ten minutes.

While we were once again waiting for him to take a kick, he turned around, and the Evertonians behind the Gwladys Street goal became absolutely furious. Perhaps Bosnich made a rude and provocative gesture at them?

The whistle came eventually, with Villa no doubt considering themselves fortunate to have escaped with a point. John Gregory (when interviewed on the aforementioned brief Match of the Day coverage) made some dubious appeal for a pathetic attempt by one of his team to pinch a penalty, saying it would have been nice to take all three points. How arrogant!

Villa were about as far away from taking three points from us as we were from playing a Championship decider against Coventry at the end of last season. This side is going to require time – maybe weeks, maybe months to gel. We need to be patient and wait. However, once the team is organised, and WS has clearly decided upon his first-choice eleven, we will be a very, very exciting team to watch. The fans have not lost their passion, the players have not lost their commitment.

If Everton Football Club was a country, our players would be described as true patriots.

Collins' penalty miss darkens Everton's day
by Chris Lightbown, The Sunday Times
EVEN given the strangeness of opening days, this was an ominous result for Everton. Villa barely attacked them and an awful lot of Everton's problems revolved around the man they believe to be their greatest asset, Duncan Ferguson. To get the supply he needed, Ferguson had to keep running out to the flanks or the depths of midfield and that left his team with nobody to fill the vacuum he had created.

Ferguson almost broke through twice in the fourth minute and seemed to be on his way. A minute after that, John Collins put a free kick his way or rather, inevitably, his head's way. In the absence of John Spencer, who was swirling everywhere except where Ferguson needed him at that precise moment, Ferguson headed down to his own feet. A not unreasonable shot followed.

For prolonged periods, Everton's attacks came in bouts while Villa's came hardly at all. Ferguson kept moving off to various oddball spots, turning and dispatching the ball towards where he should have been. Such was Everton's enthusiasm that this almost worked. Indeed, after eight minutes, it produced a penalty.

Ferguson looped a long pass towards the scurrying figure of Spencer and, for once, Gareth Southgate dealt with it rather uncleverly. As Spencer thumped the turf, Mr Wilkie awarded a penalty and Collins, making his debut after a £2.5m transfer from Monaco in July, stepped up to take it.

Mark Bosnich seemed utterly unfazed while the impression given by Collins was that he was not going to score. So it was. He shot rather tamely to Bosnich's right and the goalkeeper dived on to the ball with solidity and certainty. It was going to take more than that to get past him.

For brief spasms, Villa got beyond clearances of the ball from Bosnich's back yard. But Dwight Yorke was dreadfully out of sorts. In the circumstances of his £16m on-off move to Old Trafford, this was not utterly surprising. We are all human and Yorke played like a man with an immense amount on his mind.

Then Ian Taylor robbed Collins some way into the Everton half and Villa spluttered into life. Well, almost.

So tight was Everton's marking of both men and space that all Villa could do was shunt the ball around between themselves on the right-hand side of the pitch before slapping a predictable channelled ball into the left side of Everton's defence, which Carl Tiler cleared as effortlessly as such a feeble effort of penetration required. Everton fizzed and popped their way down the pitch, with quick-fire bursts of passing, stalling in cul-de-sacs. Essentially, the combination of Riccardo Scimeca, Southgate and Gareth Barry was letting nothing reach Bosnich.

When Marco Materazzi finally contributed something to Everton's attack, it was a tame header past Bosnich's somewhat untroubled left post.

Ferguson tried yet another dash down Everton's right flank and, with characteristic determination, got past the two men trying to hem him in. But not for the last time, all he could manage from such a confined platform was a cross which went nowhere while only the hyperactive Spencer was waiting in the penalty area. Impressive it was not.

Villa did not have a meaningful shot on goal until the 62nd minute, when Yorke put a scorching effort narrowly over. But at least by then they were getting into things at that end of the pitch.

Some of this stemmed from Lee Hendrie moving further upfield and finally passing with some of the aplomb his youthful feet are capable of. But the gridlock would not shift. Most of Yorke's runs were diagonal and snuffed out long before he could get the ball to Julian Joachim who was usually waiting in the wrong place anyway.

When Everton finally got through the wall of chain-mail in front of Bosnich, the goalkeeper kicked a Ferguson header over by arching his body back, in mid-air, at the very last moment. The sun was in his eyes and making saves of any sort was something of a trial.

Villa's spluttering flow improved after Mark Draper came on but Everton remained handicapped by their need to have Ferguson playing in two places at the same time.

When it comes to shooting alternatives, Olivier Dacourt's idea of marksmanship seems to be attempting spectacular things from about 30 yards out, be they feasible chances or not.

Villa will undoubtedly improve. But for Everton, things do not look so good.

Report © Times Newspapers Ltd

Everton put Scottish formula to the test
by Peter Robinson, The Times
FOOTBALL can be many things – dramatic, controversial, depressing, uplifting, tense and tedious to name but a few –but at Goodison Park on Saturday, it was just strange. A collection of oddities from start to finish. A rather unnerving way to start the season.

Take the few, eager minutes before the 1998-99 FA Carling Premiership extravaganza actually got under way. Outside the ground, it looked like Liverpool, from the banks of the Mersey to Stanley Park, but inside, no. The sound of pipes and drums scarred the air, caterwauling as they do at countless military tattoos. This was Glasgow, not Gwladys Street, Ibrox, to be precise, same blue shirts, same true blue traditions.

The reason was, presumably, Walter Smith, the new manager. Formerly in residence at Rangers, where he oversaw an era of domestic dominance, he has been handed the task of reviving Everton and the dismal cacophony was supposed to make him feel at home. Not just him, either, but Archie Knox, his assistant, and Alex Cleland, a Rangers player last season. And Messers Ferguson and Spencer, former Rangers men both. It looked a thin and slightly desperate attempt to recreate Scottish success south of the border.

The game itself turned on an early penalty. No complaints about the decision, Scimeca pulled down Spencer, but when Collins struck the kick, Bosnich dived, saved and although Cleland shaved a post from the ensuing scramble, Everton's best chance of a goal had gone after eight minutes.

A lucky guess by Bosnich? Probably not. Collins scored from the spot during the World Cup and his effort was shown on television at lunchtime. John Gregory, the Aston Villa manager, saw it, Bosnich almost certainly did too, so when Collins followed the same routine, the goalkeeper was forewarned.

The rest was much of a muchness, Everton starting well, with Dacourt, in midfield, the best of their four debutants. Southgate was comfortably the man of the match at the heart of the Villa back three, but Yorke appeared to wish he was somewhere else. Villa should have had a penalty at the end, when Hendrie's legs were swept from under him, but the truth is those decisions are rarely given away from home.

So, to the press conference to hear what the participants thought of it all. Well, perhaps in a perfect world. In this case, a fortunate few were shepherded downstairs while the rest were confined to their quarters high in the stands. As the managers fielded questions, so the suffering shunned stood on chairs, craning their necks towards a couple of feeble white hi-fi speakers that were relaying the conversation below, scribbling down odd phrases while exchanging glances of mute disbelief. Brian Rix would have loved it.

What Walter Smith thought of his first taste of the Premiership was hidden in a few mumbled inaudibles that never made it as far as the not-very-loudspeakers, but someone who was there reported that he said something about Scottish and English football being not that different. Which, bearing in mind the Highland Fling before the kick-off, was explicable, if not a lot else.

Report © Times Newspapers Ltd

Bosnich stands firm before the big guns
Alyson Rudd, Electronic Telegraph
THE CLAIM that size does indeed matter has been plastered over Godzilla billboards all summer, but Mark Bosnich, the Aston Villa goalkeeper, was not convinced as he turned in a brave and faultless display against the aerial assault of Duncan Ferguson.

Indeed, but for Bosnich Everton would have begun the new season with more to shout about, as he also saved John Collins's penalty kick.

There was much to commend this fixture, before kick-off at least. Yet it was a disappointment. While Everton struggled to rid themselves of the air of desperation that marked their efforts last season, Aston Villa struggled to wake up to the fact the new Premiership campaign had begun at all and the net result was a match low on enchantment.

Everton showed that they are a team who do not give up without a fight, but we knew that already. Villa sparkled only rarely and had they been without Dwight Yorke, would have glistened hardly at all.

'Raise the roof with Yorkie' flashed onto the Goodison scoreboard and the Villa fans did, pleased just to see the striker after a prolonged, and no doubt for them painful, campaign by Manchester United to buy the highly valued striker.

The advert was for a chocolate bar of course, but the player with cachet for the day was most definitely Yorke. His 15 goals last season might seem a miserly way to repay a £16 million valuation but he simply does not give away possession – a priceless commodity.

To welcome in the Everton management team of Walter Smith and Archie Knox, the public address system went bagpipe crazy and the loudest cheers were for fellow Scots Ferguson and Collins on his debut. It was almost a dream start for Collins - no shirker at moments of pressure as his penalty against Brazil in France proved - who stepped up to take the spot-kick awarded after Riccardo Scimeca pulled John Spencer to the ground.

Collins opted to replicate his World Cup moment, however, and that must have helped Bosnich. He pushed Collins's low strike onto the upright. Alex Cleland attacked the loose ball but his powerful shot clipped the outside of the post. Smith felt that Collins found the pace of the Premiership a jolt to his system but the former Monaco midfielder prompted most of Everton's best chances. A curling free kick found the unmarked Marco Materazzi at the far post but the Italian defender wasted the opportunity.

Smith's new French midfielder Olivier Dacourt made an immediate impact, keen to strike from any distance and dictate the flow. There is no doubt that the midfield trio of Dacourt, Collins and Barmby holds promise.

Cleland, who in his manager's view coped much better with the game's pace, opened the second half by pushing the ball through the legs of Alan Wright, and then raced on and delivered an excellent cross for Ferguson, whose header was high, powerful and on target, but Bosnich was having one of his supreme afternoons.

Then at last Villa showed some urgency. Yorke tested Thomas Myhre with a shot on the turn and then Myhre handed Villa a chance with some clumsy distribution, only Yorke was offside. The visitors even started to string passes together with confidence and one particular neat move deserved better than Alan Thompson's scuffed shot.

Report © The Electronic Telegraph

RESULTS  (Game 1)
Saturday 15 August 1998
Blackburn Rovers     0 - 0  Derby County

Coventry City        2 - 1  Chelsea
Huckerby, Dublin            Poyet  
Everton              0 - 0  Aston Villa

Manchester United    2 - 2  Leicester City
Sheringham, Beckham         Heskey, Cottee
Middlesbrough       0 - 0  Leeds United

Newcastle United     0 - 0  Charlton Athletic

Sheffield Wednesday  0 - 0  West Ham United

Wimbledon            3 - 1  Tottenham Hotspur
Earle, Ekoku (2)

Sunday 16 August 1998
Southampton          1 - 2  Liverpool
Davis                       Riedle, Owen
Monday 17 August 1998
Arsenal              2 - 1  Nottingham Forest
Petit, Overmars             Thomas

LEAGUE TABLE (after 17 August 1998 )
Club                          P    W    D    L   GF   GA   GD   Pts
Wimbledon                     1    1    0    0    3    1    2    3
Coventry City                 1    1    0    0    2    1    1    3
Liverpool                     1    1    0    0    2    1    1    3
Arsenal                       1    1    0    0    2    1    1    3
West Ham United               1    1    0    0    1    0    1    3
Leicester City                1    0    1    0    2    2    0    1
Manchester United             1    0    1    0    2    2    0    1
Aston Villa                   1    0    1    0    0    0    0    1
Blackburn Rovers              1    0    1    0    0    0    0    1
Charlton Athletic             1    0    1    0    0    0    0    1
Derby County                  1    0    1    0    0    0    0    1
Everton                       1    0    1    0    0    0    0    1
Leeds United                  1    0    1    0    0    0    0    1
Middlesbrough                 1    0    1    0    0    0    0    1
Newcastle United              1    0    1    0    0    0    0    1
Nottingham Forest             1    0    0    1    1    2   -1    0
Southampton                   1    0    0    1    1    2   -1    0
Chelsea                       1    0    0    1    1    2   -1    0
Sheffield Wednesday           1    0    0    1    0    1   -1    0
Tottenham Hotspur             1    0    0    1    1    3   -2    0
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© Michael Kenrick 1998
Last updated: 20 Aug 98