Everton: Five famous matches part 5

Lets turn to my fifth and final famous and crucial Everton game in the recent past as we move into the 1990s.

This match is one that I attended, and it took place in May 1994 as Everton were peering over the precipice of relegation from the Premier League.

As you may have guessed, this game is that one against Wimbledon on the last day of the season, as Everton faced a do or die match at the end of a horrendous season.

Go back to August 1993 and Toffees fans felt plenty of trepidation as the second season of the new Premier League began.

The Blues had hardly set the world on fire the previous campaign, with the only meager highlight of a pretty awful season, beating Liverpool at Goodison Park with the winning goal coming from ex-Reds player Peter Beardsley.

Manager Howard Kendall was back at Goodison Park, but he was struggling to recreate his eighties success and Everton were mired in mediocrity.

One club that had done much better was unfancied Norwich City, who had finished third and qualified for Europe in the UEFA Cup, for only the second time in their history.

Ironically the first time they had qualified in 1985, they had been denied the chance to compete because of the Heysel stadium disaster, which led to English clubs being banned for five years and of course meant Everton were prevented from quite possibly winning the European Cup.

Anyway as the 1993-94 season began, Nowich embarked on a great adventure in European football, which culminated in them putting out Bayern Munich, including a celebrated win in Germany, and almost defeating another fabled European giant, Inter Milan in the next round.

Meanwhile the Blues were enduring another frustrating and disappointing campaign and as results fell away, eventually  Kendall was sacked, so ending his second spell as Blues boss.

In January 1994, after some contract wrangling with his Chairman, Mike Walker left Norwich and then took over as the new Everton manager.

Many Blues fans, including myself, hoped that he would be able to inject the same kind of high energy, attacking spirit that his Norwich side possessed, into Everton.

Alas that didn’t happen and the Blues quickly started to slide down the Premier League table as it seemed like nothing would arrest the club’s decline. By May, Everton were in dire trouble and starring relegation in the face.

They had to win their final match of the season to have any hope of staying up, although other results would still be crucial. So Wimbledon arrived on the final Saturday of the season for a massive game, the Blues biggest match in years.

The Londoners were in terrific form and were aiming for a top six finish with a win, so they still had something to play for and the task that faced the Toffees was considerable.

Wimbledon’s style was direct and abrasive, and from the kickoff they showed they were in no mood to give Everton any leeway. They actually scored just a few minutes into the game when Dean Holdsworth slotted home a penalty despite Neville Southall getting his fingertips to the ball.

The Blues were looking toothless and badly lacking in confidence, while all the frailties and weaknesses that had characterised their season, were on display.

Then disaster struck, as following another dangerous Wimbledon attack, a shot found its way towards the goal, and trying to clear it, a despairing Gary Ablett could only push the ball into his own net; 0-2.

I still remember sitting in the stand and thinking at that moment, ‘that’s it we’re down’.  It didn’t seem possible for the Toffees to come back from this. Then I recall slowly hearing a chant of ‘Everton, Everton’ ringing round the grand old lady as Blues fans collectively realised this was the moment for them to play their part in reviving the team.

And it worked, as gradually Everton came into the match while the so-called ‘dogs of war’ in midfield, Barry Horne and John Ebbrell began to get to grips with Wimbledon.

Then Tony Cottee, a striker who had frustratingly failed to fulfill his billing at Goodison Park, burst into the box, was brought down by a Dons player, and a penalty was awarded.

The decision was a controversial one, then and now, and it certainly doesn’t look a very strong shout if you watch the footage again. In fact today, I’m sure VAR would overrule it on review, (well of course they would it’s Everton!).

Anyway, Graham Stuart stepped up and calmly slotted home from the spot for a vital goal. His ice-cold approach was marvelous to see and the goal gave renewed hope to a packed ground.

But despite this, there was still a long way to go and another Wimbledon goal would surely have killed the game off as halftime approached.

However it was Everton who scored again, and a most improbable goal it was too. As I mentioned, Horne and Ebbrell were competing hard in midfield and it was Horne who won the ball, advanced, and then suddenly unleashed a venomous 25 yard drive that flew into the corner of the net.

Nobody could recall seeing him do anything like that before, but it seemed to encapsulate the Blues new-found determination to find a way, any way, to win this game.

Goodison Park was bouncing now and although Wimbledon were still a threat, the wind seemed to have gone out of their sales after that spectacular strike.

Stuart scored again later in  the second half to make it 3-2, and despite some incredibly nervous final minutes as heart-rates soared, Everton held on for a precious and improbable victory.

Evertonians poured onto the pitch as the final whistle went in ecstatic celebrations, but there were still anxious moments as everyone waited for confirmation that Sheffield United had lost and so Everton were well and truly safe.

I don’t remember much of the rest of that day, as myself and several friends retired to the pub for quite a few pints that afternoon and evening!

Horrifically the Blues would do this all over again four years later as they again needed a result on the final day of the 1997-98 season to survive.

After a 1-1 draw at home to Coventry, other results, particularly Bolton’s defeat at Chelsea, meant the Toffees stayed up again by the skin of their teeth on goal-difference.

That outcome was much more controversial than ’94 as Bolton had been held 0-0 by Everton at their ground earlier in the season and had a perfectly good-looking goal disallowed, which had it stood, would have meant they survived and the Blues went down instead.