Everton Logo Everton 1 - 1 Wimbledon
Half-time: 0 - 1
Wimbledon Logo
FA Carling Premiership 1998-99 – Game 27
Saturday 27 February 1999
Goodison Park, Merseyside
Att: 32,574
« Leeds United (a) Ref: Neale Barry Newcastle United (a) »
1998-99 Fixtures & Results League Position: 15th Premiership Results & Table
EVERTON: Jeffers (56') Full: David Weir
Wimbledon: Ekoku (14')
   LINEUPS  Subs Not Used 
EVERTON: Myhre; Weir, Watson, Materazzi, Ball; Oster (83' Branch), Dacourt, Unsworth, Barmby; Jeffers, Cadamarteri
Unavailable: Hutchison (suspended); Dunne, Grant, Bilic, Cleland, Ward, Williamson, Phelan, Parkinson (injured); Degn (ill); Bakayoko (International Duty); Gerrard (on loan).
Simonsen, Jevons, Branch, O'Kane, Short.
Wimbledon: Sullivan, Cunningham, Perry, Blackwell, Thatcher, Earle, Ekoku, Roberts, Gayle, Hughes, Euell (Ardley, 32'). Kimble, Heald, Kennedy, Cort.
   Yellow Cards  Red Cards
EVERTON: None (for the first time this season!)
Wimbledon: Roberts (42'), Thatcher (87').

Richard Marland All Shook Up
Steve Bickerton Wimbledon there for the taking
Rob Bland Majority of possession but to little effect
THE SUNDAY TIMES Jeffers earns vital point for Everton
by David Walsh
Smith shuffles without turning up trumps
by Neil Bramwell
THE TIMES Jeffers shows Smith he is man enough for task
by Stephen Wood
ELECTRONIC TELEGRAPH Everton lack the finishing touch
by Derick Allsop
THE EVERTONIAN Link to Daily Post Match Report

FOOTBALL UNLIMITED Link to Observer Match Report
SOCCERNET Link to SoccerNet Match Report
CARLINGNET Link to CarlingNet Match Report

 All Shook Up
Richard Marland
It was never going to be a classic: there was the Wimbledon factor, there was the patched up Everton team, and there was a horrible cold, blustery wind. It had scrappy game written all over it and, for the most part, that's what we got.

Already missing the suspended Hutchison, along with all the other injured players, Friday's news that Grant was likely to be missing proved to be true. If that wasn't bad enough there was also the unexpected absence of Richard Dunne. One player missing from each department of the team and yet another reshuffle. All this meant that we lined up with Myrhe in goal, a flat back four of Weir, Watson, Materazzi and Unsworth. A central midfield pairing of Dacourt and Ball with Barmby and Oster on the flanks and the teenage strike force of Cadamarteri and Jeffers.

First Half

We started quite brightly with Dacourt looking particularly good and hinting that he was going to run the game. Unfortunately, that didn't last too long as Dacourt started to get swamped in midfield. We still had the better of the play without wresting full control of the game from Wimbledon. Chances seemed to come to us at regular intervals, we even had an amazing number of shots on target, however none of them went beyond the routine for Neil Sullivan in the Wimbledon goal. Without exception they were all more or less straight at him and it seemed that we were giving him no more than routine catching practice.

Wimbledon came into this game not having scored in 6 and Ekoku hadn't scored since God's knows when. We should have known what would happen. Wimbledon hadn't had a sniff yet one long clearance a mistimed interception by Dave Watson, and suddenly Ekoku was clear he took the shot early and it found it's way into the back of the net via the inside of the post. A quality finish that belied his poor goal scoring form. From our point of view this one goes down to Dave Watson, quite why he tried to make an interception at full stretch instead of just shepherding it back to Myrhe only he knows.

There was one more scare for us in the first half when Dacourt hit the turf and injured his shoulder, he required quite a bit of treatment and it definitely affected his game. For a worrying moment I thought that he would have to go off which would have really left us up against it.

Second Half

For the second half, Walter switched Ball and Unsworth. Ball had looked totally lost in the first half and never came to terms with his midfield berth. Something had to be done and I guess that Unsworth was the only realistic option. The switch didn't make much difference to the balance of play, we continued to have the better of it and continued to carve out chances, but we were still finding Sullivan with monotonous regularity.

Just when I began to doubt whether we would ever find a way through, Cadamarteri and Jeffers combined to gain a well-deserved equaliser. Danny did well to break down the left, he had a bit of good fortune to beat the last defender before he delivered a telling cross which Jeffers met with his head. A good striker's goal as he found the space between the two central defenders, and his second in front of the Gwladys St End.

From here on in, there was only going to be one winner and that was Everton. The only question was whether we had the nous to gain another goal. Wimbledon were defending fairly well and we weren't really on top of our game. Walter started to change things round a little with Branch coming on for Oster. Once again Oster left the pitch to warm applause as once again he had impressed. Cadamarteri went wide right and Branch went in alongside Jeffers.

Branch didn't really do too much: a couple of promising runs but without any end product. However in the very last minute he won what should have been a clear penalty. He was put through into the box, as he ran across goal he should have taken the early shot. He didn't but, as he ran wide, Michael Hughes came in and clearly brought him down. Branch actually picked the ball up so convinced was he that he was going to get a penalty, alas the only foul our friend Mr Barry gave was against Branch for handball!

The only thing I can think of that went against Branch was that perhaps he was a little to eager to hit the turf, however this shouldn't disguise the fact that he was quite clearly fouled. That was practically the last action of the game as the referee blew for time and left the pitch to boos, hardly a new experience for Mr Barry at Goodison this season.

So in the end a hard-won point when really we should have got, and indeed needed, all three points. The nature of the team we had out was always going to make it difficult but everyone acquitted themselves fairly well. Despite yet another defensive reshuffle, we still looked solid at the back, and with Barmby, Dacourt, Oster and Jeffers continuing their good runs of form we always looked OK going forward. Hopefully we'll have some central midfielders back soon and also Don Hutchison. Today was a bit of a blip but the undercurrent of improved form was still in evidence. Don't be too disheartened.

Player Ratings

  • Myrhe 7 No real chance with the goal, a fairly competent if hardly over-worked performance.
  • Weir 6 Did OK went AWOL a couple of times. Didn't convince me as a right back.
  • Unsworth 7 Made a decent fist of two unfamiliar positions.
  • Materazzi 7 A few hairy moments today but lots of good solid defending.
  • Watson 6 Played well apart from his terrible gaffe for the goal.
  • Ball 5 First half he was awful – just not at the races. Second half he was better in a more accustomed left back berth but still short of his best.
  • Dacourt 6 Played reasonably well but lacked consistent support in midfield and was hampered by his shoulder injury.
  • Oster 7 Another bright lively display.
  • Barmby 7 Worked his socks off and got into a number of good attacking positions.
  • Jeffers 7 Should really have scored more than the one but this was another good performance full of intelligent movement and good touches.
  • Cadamarteri 6 Full of good honest endeavour but too few of his efforts provide any real danger for the opposition. Deserves credit for his part in setting up the goal.
  • Branch 5 Didn't do too much apart from win the penalty that never was.

Team 6 Not firing on all cylinders but that was hardly surprising considering the patched-up nature of the side. Never established a platform in midfield; even though Grant hasn't been at his best, we missed him today. This meant that we struggled to control the game and failed to get any consistent passing game going. Despite this we looked fairly comfortable at the back and had enough chances to have killed Wimbledon off.

Man of the Match – David Unsworth. I've been almost apologetic for thinking Unsie has been doing OK for us. Well, no more, I reckon he is proving to be an excellent buy for us and at the moment is playing really well. He will never make a central midfielder and he doesn't look like a natural left back but he gave a whole-hearted, committed display in both of those unfamiliar positions. As I overheard someone say coming out of the ground: "Just because he's got a fat arse doesn't mean that people should have a go at him. What's wrong with having a fat arse?"

 Wimbledon there for the taking
Steve Bickerton
Many are the times this season when the pundits have decided, in their collective wisdom, that Goodison Park would be no place for those wishing to see a feast of football and plenty of goalmouth action. This time I was almost prepared to stand in that corner. But the painful memory of my only missed home game of the season (How could they score 5? Especially as I'd arranged a break when we were scheduled to have no home fixtures! Who'd believe the cup could be so cruel?) made me feel slightly optimistic.

And yet, how could it be so? Wimbledon, whilst not having scored for umpteen hours, weren't conceding goals by the hat-ful either and, the Middlesbrough game apart, we weren't exactly troubling the scoreboard – though from the state of it during that game, it's probably just as well.

In those sort of circumstances, you know that today will be a special day. And so it proved.

A strange formation lined up for kick-off – not so much the 4-4-2, as Walter seems a little more comfortable with that at the moment, but more the personnel involved. With a plethora of absentees it read: Myhre; Unsworth, Watson, Materazzi, Weir; Oster, Ball, Dacourt, Barmby; Cadamarteri, Jeffers. The bench was reasonably young too, with Simonsen, Branch, Jevons, Short, O'Kane. All in all an average age of just over 24 on the field (even allowing for the old men – Watson 38 and Weir 28) and 22½. on the bench (even allowing for a 30-year-old Short).

First Half

The wind was blustery and blew towards the Gwladys Street in the first half, much to the discomfort of the home team. It wasn't so much that they couldn't handle it, early on at least, more it was just so easy for Wimbledon to hurl it up and let the wind take the ball out to safety.

This was pretty much the tale of the first half, as Everton pushed forward, playing neat controlled football at times, intricate, quick passing being the order of the day. It produced plenty of chances, too, with Barmby, Dacourt, Oster and Jeffers all having a go before the face of the game was changed beyond belief.

About 15 minutes had passed, 15 minutes in which the blues could have put the game beyond reach. They'd found shooting on target all too easy, sadly the target seemed to be Sullivan in the Wimbledon goal. Maybe on another day you'd have called it inspired goalkeeping – being in exactly the right place at the right time, but I don't think that was the case this time.

The one time there was a clear opportunity to score, in a one-on-one situation, Jeffers blazed the ball wide of the keeper's far post. Then the ball was cleared in the time honoured fashion, big punt from the back. No problem Waggy was there covering the ball out, just inside the home half. But that wind, it was not to be Waggy's friend today. It took the ball a bit further than the old war-horse had anticipated and it flew over his head.

Ekoku needed no second bidding. He was onto it and raced for goal. No problem, I thought as Weir raced to cover him. Race, of course, is a relative term. Race for Weir appears to be second gear to most. He had no chance. Ekoku let fly and seem to mis-hit the ball. Nevertheless, it found the inside of the post and Tommy was beaten. One record gone. Wimbledon, after their goal drought, with almost their first foray into the Everton half, were ahead.

But unlike on other occasions when heads have gone down, the youngsters kept up their workrate. All except Michael Ball, who looked lost as the game in midfield passed him by. Earlier in the year I thought he might prosper in the middle of midfield. How wrong I was...

Generally, we played well in the first half, without being able to miss the keeper (except when we missed the goal). Going in one down didn't seem too bad. The breaking of the Gwladys Street duck in the Coventry game, and the subsequent glut of goals at that end in the Middlesbrough match, allied to the wind in our favour, gave me some confidence for the second half. Surely we'd find the net with more ease this half?

Second Half

Walter changed things a bit, unusually for him, right from the start of the second half. The ineffectual Ball had been returned to his favoured left-back position, swapping places with the impressive Unsworth. What a difference that made! Secure at the back, Rhino on the charge and a bite in the middle.

And still we couldn't get a goal. Until Cadamarteri stopped playing the target man (why? he's not big enough) and played the winger that he should be. He forced his way down the left, passed two challenges, nearly tripped over but recovered to cross a ball from close to the by-line. It was nearly too high for Jeffers, but the youngster rose majestically to loop the ball over the stranded Sullivan. The ball was on target, it wasn't at the keeper and it was in the net. 1-1.

The game was there for the taking.

Barmby and Dacourt showed snippets of immense skill. Unsworth was a demon in his tackling and Oster dodged and tricked his way about. All on the floor. Wimbledon, though, had other ideas. Keeping the ball off the deck was their answer to the mobility and skill of the Everton midfield. Whenever the ball went up, they recovered it. Head tennis was their forte. It was a throwback to the Wimbledon of yesteryear.

It worked. We didn't have any real answer to it, no matter how we tried. The introduction of Branch for Oster (I had expected Cadamarteri to be the change) made little difference. Even on the wing, Cadamarteri was used as the target man. It still didn't work.

But right at the end, we should have snatched it. Branch made a fine run through the middle and was found by Dacourt. He had the opportunity to chip the keeper but delayed. Was it staleness, after all he's just back from another hamstring injury? Was it the fact that almost everything had gone straight to Sullivan and he wanted to make sure? Was it confidence? Whatever it was the chance was gone and Michael Hughes was upon him.

Branch was bundled over, his feet taken from under him, inside the Wimbledon box. He stood up clutching the ball, ready to take it to the penalty spot, after all the whistle had been blown. Imagine his, and the crowd's disbelief as referee Barry (I just had to mention the referee, didn't I?) gave handball. An opportunity to take all three points snatched away from us. The final whistle went almost immediately. You can guess the crowd's reaction to the Man in Black.

Man of the Match:

Quite a few played well. Dacourt continues to impress, even more so with no Hutchison to partner him. Barmby again got into goal-scoring positions, but, disappointingly, failed to find the net. The same could be said of Jeffers, till he scored. Cadamarteri did reasonably well in the holding role at the front. If this is to be future role, though, he needs more time in the reserves developing it, as all too often he went in the wrong direction, but he couldn't be faulted for endeavour. But my vote goes to David Unsworth. He was excellent at the back in the first half and continued his eye catching performance with a rumbustuous midfield display in the second.

Team Performance:

Not a commanding performance, due to the lack of goals. Had one of the early efforts gone in it could have been a different story, but, overall, promising. 4-4-2 seems to suit us far better than 5-3-2. Other results no doubt helped, but having the feeling at half-time that, despite being a goal down, we weren't going to lose, was far more telling than anything else about how confidence levels around the stadium, as well as in the squad, are rising. But will it be enough? The next month will tell us more.

And that special day I mentioned? No Bookings!

 Majority of possession but to little effect
Rob Bland
After witnessing both of last season's 0-0 affairs between today's two teams, I was a little apprehensive about making the journey today. Especially remembering back to the last time Wimbledon visited Goodison for what was one of the most boring games I have witnessed at our stadium.

However, reservations from the previous night, about the game probably being more entertaining viewed on Ceefax, were placed to the side and I decided to attend as usual. This was mainly due to the fact that Wimbledon have not been playing well away from home of late and they were also in the middle of a seven-week goal drought.

This nevertheless could have meant one of two things:

  1. We also would find it difficult to score... 0-0 or,
  2. What I was hopeful of – a couple of Everton goals.

With Jeffers and Cadamarteri upfront today, my expectations where more optimistic rather than confident, their pace and running off the ball would cause the Wimbledon defence a diverse puzzle compared to when Cadamarteri partnered Duncan Ferguson earlier in the season at Selhurst Park in a 2-1 victory.

As the teams were introduced to the crowd, it was easy to perceive that The Blues would be again lining up in the 4-4-2 formation. Due to the absence of suspended Don Hutchison, Danny Cad would be starting up-front with Jeffers. There was also a first start for new signing Davy Weir at right-back in place of Richard Dunne.

The match got under way and it was Everton who enjoyed the majority of the possession. Olivier Dacourt started in fine form and it was he who took charge of the midfield from the off, dictating where and to whom the ball would be going, despite Wimbledon's usual style of pressing and imposing themselves on the opposition.

It was in fact Dacourt who had the first attempt on goal when, from the edge of the box, he hit a curling shot to the top left of the Wimbledon goal that just did not drop enough at the end of its journey. "D'Oh!!" – as Homer Simpson would say – so near yet so far, as I checked my betting slip with Dacourt for first goalscorer at 22/1.

A couple more Everton chances went by the wayside until Wimbledon's Robbie Earle hit a typical Wimbledon ball – long, high and hopeful upfield. The ball looked to be dropping comfortably to Dave Watson just inside the Everton half, when the wind caught him out and he misdirected his header into the path of Efan Ekoku. As soon as he reached the ball, he hit it in mid-stride to the bottom left of Myhre's goal, and it was 0-1.

From then on, Everton piled on the pressure. However, throughout the afternoon, Sullivan was in excellent form, making most of the Everton attempts on goal seem effortless to stop. By far the most dangerous player to Wimbledon's defence was Nicky Barmby who at every opportunity ran at them only to see his attempts to equalise fall short.

There was also a first-half attempt for Davy Weir that went well wide, and a half-chance for Michael Ball, although Jeffers's cross was always going to be too high for him. So, by half-time, there had been plenty of Everton pressure... without a goal, while Wimbledon had two efforts... one had gone in.  The other Wimbledon effort was when Hughes stole in on the right, unmarked... catching Weir out of position, passed to Earle, who's shot went over).

Second Half

The second half started as the first had finished: Everton pushing forward to get an equaliser. And we were only to wait until the 56th minute. Danny Cadamarteri progressed on the left on one of his head-down-and-charge runs.  As he got to the box he, was met by a lunge from Perry; they both went down and the ball spat out from between them. This then prompted Cadamarteri to rise to his feet the quickest and cross from the byeline to Jeffers for a great header in unmarked: 1-1 The teenage striker had scored his first Premiership goal!

Everton again enjoyed the majority of possession but to little effect at the business end of proceedings. Despite Wimbledon spending most of the game defending, they again had a chance late on to steal the game when Ekoku made a balls-up of a chance – it would have been easier to score.

During the dying minutes of the game it was Everton who should have been claiming full points when Michael Branch rounded Sullivan and was brought down by Hughes in the box. However the ref, Mr Barry made himself unpopular again (after the Boro game), and gave a free kick to Wimbledon. The whistle went moments later and Mr Barry left to his deserved chorus of 'Boo's.

MAN OF THE MATCH Undoubtably Nicky Barmby..what a gem! Tireless running and at the heart of the majority of Everton attacks.

 Jeffers earns vital point for Everton
by David Walsh, The Sunday Times
THERE is a bleakness among the faithful at Goodison Park these days which never fails to express itself in disenchantment with the referee. Yesterday it was poor Neale Barry's turn, escorted to the tunnel by burly policemen and then criticised by Everton's manager Walter Smith soon afterwards.

All the angst stemmed from an incident in the final minute which Everton believed to be a penalty. Nobody had the benefit of watching a replay of Michael Branch's tumble but that did not diminish the certainty of the referee's accusers. Smith called it "a certain penalty". It was far from that.

With the teams locked at 1-1 and the game into injury time, Olivier Dacourt played a clever through ball for Branch who had only come on nine minutes earlier. Such was the quality of Dacourt's pass that Branch needed only to loft it over Neil Sullivan to score. He choose instead to go wide of the goalkeeper and then further delayed his shot, allowing Michael Hughes to make a challenge.

They collided, Branch went down and immediately claimed a penalty. Hughes thought he had got to the ball first and that the Everton player had stumbled. That was how it looked from the stand. Branch's fall seemed borne out of the frustration of a missed opportunity.

Everton might have just deserved a late winner but the draw was fair enough. Neither team had much right to complain and the home fans had no reason to moan about their side's effort for, having gone a goal down, Everton fought desperately to get back into the game, scored a smashing equaliser and never stopped looking for a winner.

There was much to like about their spirit. Forced to play two teenagers up front, Everton refused to be downbeat. Danny Cadamarteri and Francis Jeffers are skilful and tough enough not to be hustled out of the game. They did many fine things in the first half but could not finish their good approach work. They kept going in the second period and were rewarded with a marvellous equaliser.

There was also much to like about Dacourt's earnest and unusually disciplined performance in midfield. He was helped by Smith's decision to move the beefy David Unsworth from left back to the centre of midfield in the second half. Unsworth gave the team physical presence in midfield and allowed Dacourt to get on with the more subtle business of setting things up.

Wimbledon are still no soft touch, especially when they sneak a goal. They hadn't scored for seven matches before yesterday but Efan Ekoku's strike on 14 minutes was vintage Wimbledon, a throwback to the days when they played without a scintilla of sophistication.

When the ball came to Jason Euell inside his own half, his only concern was to get the ball upfield. He hoofed it, the ball hung on in the breeze, deceived Dave Watson and fell for Ekoku. He took a couple of steps forwards, fired with his left foot and the shot crept in off Thomas Myhre's near post.

Given Everton's scoring record at Goodison, giving away a goal is asking for trouble. Wimbledon settled for containment, standing off their rivals and, like an assured fighter, allowing them some free shots. For all Nick Barmby's industry on the left and the speed of Jeffers and Cadamarteri, Everton did not create many clear-cut chances.

There were plenty of half-chances, the best of which fell to Jeffers's left foot. Then when Dacourt and Barmby got reasonable shooting chances, they drove straight at Sullivan. Wimbledon reached the interval comfortably protecting their 1-0 advantage.

Everton were better in the second half. Unsworth's strength in midfield freed things up for others and the teenage strikers continued to dart and weave. It was right that Cadamarteri and Jeffers should have been responsible for the equaliser

Cadamarteri took on Chris Perry down the left, was checked by the defender's tackle but got back on his feet quickly to loop a right foot cross which Jeffers finished with a classy header. This was the 18-year-old's first league goal and it will not be his last. Everton scented three points and upped the pace again.

Sensing that they could now lose, Wimbledon rose to the challenge and final 35 minutes were marvellously competitive. Everton had two chances to win it, Wimbledon one. First Dacourt played Cadamarteri through and his left foot shot drew a fine save from Sullivan. At the other end Neal Ardley crossed for Ekoku who miscued his volley.

The last chance was Branch's, a lively substitute for the final 10 minutes and the protagonist in that disputed penalty incident. Arguments will continue about Barry's decision but Branch will realise he should have scored before falling over.

And the anger in Goodison Park was not confined to the referee. After the match a local radio station held its customary Saturday evening phone-in. Three phone-calls came from Everton supporters, all women, who expressed their disgust at the nature and level of racial abuse directed at Wimbledon's black players.

Now there is something to be angry about.

Report © Times Newspapers Ltd

 Smith shuffles without turning up trumps
by Neil Bramwell, The Independent on Sunday
Walter Smith's answer to an imbalance in his playing resources was sufficient to dominate a stale Wimbledon but not enough to turn enterprise into a deserved victory.

With availability heavily weighted in favour of defensive options, familiar problems in front of goal returned to Goodison Park. Perhaps predictably, luck played its part in both goals in everybody's tip for a goalless stalemate.

David Weir was handed his first start since signing from Hearts, slotting into the back four at right-back, while Michael Ball was pushed into the central midfield role. The suspension of Don Hutchison and Ibrahima Bakayoko's international duty left the Everton manager with little option but to combine a youthful strike pairing of Danny Cadamarteri and Francis Jeffers.

Wimbledon, without a goal in their previous four league games, had balance restored to their midfield with the return of Michael Hughes on the left.

Much of Wimbledon's build-up remained hampered by a blustery wind while Everton profited from neat midfield interplay focused around Olivier Dacourt, whose curled shot over the target was evidence of the home side's initial dominance.

Ironically, the prevailing wind played a major part in the opening goal, which served to lift Wimbledon spirits and work rate. A hopeful pumped clearance deceived the back-pedalling Dave Watson and fell into the path of Efan Ekoku. His first-time volley from the edge of the area was placed to perfection and sneaked in off the upright.

Everton were able to create the opening but could not deliver the killer instinct. Jeffers bamboozled Dean Blackwell but, after dribbling into an excellent position, the youngster dragged his attempt well wide. A David Unsworth cross then found Nicky Barmby creeping between two defenders but his diving header was without power and was directed straight into the arms of Neil Sullivan.

Wimbledon made an early substitution, replacing Jason Euell with Neil Ardley on the right flank, but Everton retained the upper hand. Dacourt thumped a drive at Sullivan and Barmby powered into a threatening position but opted for individual glory when Cadamarteri was in a better position. Wimbledon were only able to fashion one other realistic first-half chance, Hughes finding Robbie Earle on the left. He also opted for a shoot-on-sight policy but the floated attempt drifted just high and wide.

Although Wimbledon appeared more at ease playing into the wind after the interval, Everton forced their way back into the game with a large slice of good fortune. Strong running from Cadamarteri down the left culminated in an attempted cross that was half blocked by defender Chris Perry. The ball looped into the danger area forcing Jeffers to find all the power with an arching leap for a header at the far post which evaded Sullivan.

The goal gave the Everton strike force a new-found confidence and Cadamarteri forced a firm near-post save from Sullivan. While the persistent threat remained with Everton, Wimbledon were capable of the occasional surprise and the tangled legs of Ekoku, in attempting to volley an Ardley cross, presented a classic piece of Wimbledon mischief in the form of a snatched shot against the run of play.

Report © The Independent

 Jeffers shows Smith he is man enough for task
by Stephen Wood, The Times
FRANCIS JEFFERS is bony of body but stony of mind. At the age of 18, when nature and a selection of gym equipment has had little time to carve out a physique that can repel the defensive warhorses of the FA Carling Premiership, it is the mental prowess that separates growing men from the boys. That is why Everton, despite all their cautionary tales, believe Jeffers is a special player.

Jeffers's education in the game developed from a hero-worship of Andy Gray, the former Everton striker, even though he was only four when Gray last kicked a ball for the club, to shining at the Football Association's School of Excellence at Lilleshall. Goals have flowed at all levels but, such has been the chronic state of Everton this season that , Walter Smith, the manager, has tried to protect Jeffers from the depression surrounding the side.

It required, therefore, words rather than actions for Smith to give in to temptation. Initially, Smith, who only joined Everton last summer, was told by the staff at the club, who had seen Jeffers progress, that "young Francis could handle the pressures of the first team". From Jeffers himself came confirmation that he was ready. "I've played in front of 70,000 people for England schoolboys in Germany, so I didn't see why 35,000 at Goodison would be such a problem," he said.

And so it has proved. He scored his first league goal against Wimbledon on Saturday, a neat header to earn his team-mates a valuable point as their attempt to climb clear of relegation trouble continued. Danny Cadamarteri, Jeffers's teenage strike partner, supplied the cross for the goal and deserves special praise. For it was Cadamarteri who embraced the physical duties that Jeffers, to an extent, had to negate.

Smith commended the pair's contribution to the afternoon, but he is not a man to over-indulge. "Young players are a surprise for people," Smith wrote in the match programme. "In the weeks to come, Francis will face different defenders who will set different challenges for him." Smith will be grateful when Hutchison returns from suspension, and overjoyed if he can persuade Kevin Campbell, from Trabzonspor, or Michael Mols, a striker from Holland, to sign for the club.

However, in response to Smith's wariness, Jeffers's mature attitude is evident once again. "All I wanted was a chance," he said. "I'm not going to be a hero at 18. I'm confident in my ability, but I will never forget where I have come from, or where I'm at now."

Dave Watson, the Everton defender,misjudged a ball that caught in the wind to allow Efan Ekoku to open the scoring for Wimbledon after 14 minutes for the visitors' first goal in six matches.

Thereafter, their paucity of ideas suggested there could be another long wait until the next one. Instead, it was Everton who pressed for a winner, and could have had a penalty when Hughes appeared to trip Branch, the home side's substitute.

Report © Times Newspapers Ltd

 Everton lack the finishing touch
Derick Allsop, Electronic Telegraph
A POINT salvaged, two points squandered; relief mingled with frustration as Everton continued to flirt with the spectre of relegation at Goodison Park yesterday.

Walter Smith's team had the majority of the play and engineered enough opportunities to have put the issue beyond dispute, yet imposed a handicap on themselves by presenting Wimbledon with their first goal in seven matches.

An uncharacteristic misjudgment by captain Dave Watson, who lost the flight of the ball in a swirling wind, provided the opening and Efan Ekoku gratefully accepted it. Sheer persistence rather than inspiration forced an equaliser, headed in by 18-year-old striker Francis Jeffers.

At that stage, early in the second half, Everton had every right to believe they might take all three points. However, much as they exercised Neil Sullivan, the Wimbledon goalkeeper, they rarely extended him. Everton appealed in vain for a penalty deep into stoppage time, when their substitute, Michael Branch, slumped under a challenge by Michael Hughes, but it really should not have come to that. For all Jeffers' youthful exuberance and Nick Barmby's exciting rejuvenation, Everton transparently missed the perception of the experienced Don Hutchison, who is serving a suspension.

Wimbledon have been alarmingly devoid of ideas as well as goal power of late. Ekoku fluffed another chance in the second half, but Wimbledon would have to concede that a draw was the most they could have aspired to in the circumstances. Ekoku had despatched his 14th-minute goal with a conviction that has not been evident in Wimbledon's football for some considerable time. Even then there seemed little danger to Everton as the ball hung in the air and Watson positioned himself beneath it. To the veteran defender's horror, the ball was caught in the wind and he was left stranded as Ekoku ran through and scored with a low shot, which cannoned in off a post.

Jeffers retaliated with a penetrating run, only to drag his shot across the face of the goal. Barmby, arriving at the near post, or surging from deep, challenged Sullivan from almost every conceivable angle, yet to no avail.

Sullivan was finally beaten after 56 minutes, Danny Cadamarteri delivering a splendid cross from the left and Jeffers heading beyond the goalkeeper's lunge. Smith said: "I'm disappointed we didn't get full points on the balance of play. It was a bad goal for us to lose but I thought we had enough chances after that. We were bound to miss a player like Hutchison and it was asking a lot of the younger players."

Report © The Electronic Telegraph

 RESULTS  (Game 27)
Saturday 27 February 1999
Aston Villa           1 - 4  Coventry City         38,779
Dublin pen:55                Aloisi 25,72, Boateng 50,83
Charlton Athletic     0 - 0  Nottingham Forest     20,007
Chelsea               2 - 1  Liverpool             34,822
Leboeuf pen:7, Goldbaek 36   Owen 77
Everton               1 - 1  Wimbledon             32,574
Jeffers 56                   Ekoku 14
Manchester United     2 - 1  Southampton           55,316    
Keane 79, Yorke 83           Le Tissier 90
Sheffield Wednesday   3 - 1  Middlesbrough         24,534
Booth 12,79, Sonner 76       Mustoe 77 
Tottenham Hotspur     1 - 1  Derby County          35,392
Sherwood 68                  Burton 46
West Ham United       2 - 0  Blackburn Rovers      25,529  
Pearce 27, di Canio 31
Sunday 28 February 1999
Newcastle United      1 - 1  Arsenal               36,780
Hamann 77                    Anelka 36 

Monday 1 March 1999
Leicester City        1 - 2  Leeds United          18,101
Cottee 76                    Kewell 25, Smith 61

Tuesday 2 March 1999
Tottenham Hotspur     3 - 0  Southampton           28,580
Armstrong 18, Iversen 67, Dominguez 90
Wednesday 3 March 1999
Sheffield Wednesday   1 - 2  Wimbledon             24,116  
Thome 60                     Ekoku 8, Gayle 31

 LEAGUE TABLE (after 3 March 1999 )
Club                          P    W    D    L   GF   GA   GD   Pts
Manchester United            28   16    9    3   63   29   34   57
Chelsea                      27   14   11    2   41   22   19   53
Arsenal                      27   13   11    3   35   13   22   50
Leeds United                 27   12    9    6   41   26   15   45
Aston Villa                  27   12    8    7   38   31    7   44
Wimbledon                    27   10   10    7   32   37   -5   40
West Ham United              27   11    7    9   31   38   -7   40
Liverpool                    27   11    6   10   50   34   16   39
Derby County                 27    9   11    7   26   25    1   38
Tottenham Hotspur            27    8   12    7   33   32    1   36
Sheffield Wednesday          27   10    5   12   35   27    8   35
Newcastle United             27    9    8   10   35   36   -1   35
Middlesbrough                27    7   12    8   34   39   -5   33
Leicester City               26    7    9   10   26   36  -10   30
Everton                      27    6   10   11   20   29   -9   28
Charlton Athletic            27    6    9   12   31   37   -6   27
Coventry City                27    7    6   14   28   38  -10   27
Blackburn Rovers             27    6    8   13   27   38  -11   26
Southampton                  27    6    5   16   26   53  -27   23
Nottingham Forest            27    3    8   16   22   54  -32   17

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Last updated: 1 March 1999