Everton entered the freezing Easter weekend of 1986 in pole position, but having just been dealt the blow of Neville Southall being out for the remainder of the season after suffering an  injury while on international duty.

On Saturday, March 29th, they faced Newcastle United at Goodison. 1-0 up with moments to go, Newcastle were awarded a penalty, but Peter Beardsley uncharacteristically missed, and so Everton ended the game victorious, a win made all the sweeter when learning that their nearest challengers, Liverpool, had only drawn away to a high flying Sheffield Wednesday side, themselves in with an outside chance of a run for the title at this point.

Then, on March 31st, Easter Monday, they travelled to Old Trafford for what some felt was a title decider, although by then Manchester United had dropped to 3rd place and were seemingly on their way out, after looking like they’d walk away with the league earlier in the season. A 0-0 draw unravelled, in weather better associated with Christmas holidays than with Easter.

The big games kept on coming for the blues, too, as their next match was the FA Cup Semi Final, against the aforementioned Sheffield Wednesday, at Villa Park.

While a win at Old Trafford would have obviously been better, a point away to fellow challengers in their intimidating ground was a decent return. It also meant 2 clean sheets out of 2 for Southall’s deputy, Bobby Mimms, which would be a massive boost for him and also give the defence confidence in their keeper. What’s more, surviving that late penalty scare in the Saturday game was the sort of break that is usually the mark of a championship season. Yes, Everton looked primed to take the title from here.

Sadly it didn’t work out that way. In truth, Everton didn’t do too much wrong, it was more that Liverpool did everything right, winning every match from Easter Monday onwards and amassing 11 wins from their final 12 league games, almost unheard of back when the league was a lot more competitive and getting results on the road much harder.

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Going in to that weekend, aside from the 4 challengers already mentioned, Arsenal and Chelsea were also only a few points off the top (although 2 heavy defeats over the holiday weekend put paid to Chelsea’s title ambitions), and while, when glancing at the table, West Ham looked to be off the pace , they had games in hand on the teams above them which, if they won, would propel them into the fray, which proved to be the case, their winning run-in all the more impressive considering they had to play 4 matches a week throughout the final month of the season.

1985-86 is known on the pitch for Liverpool winning the double and for the World Cup that followed in Mexico. And, with it being the first year of the UEFA ban, and with the TV blackout for the first half of the season, it’s can also be considered the darkest point of English football. Which is a shame because it produced possibly the most exciting title race ever (has there been a season before or since in which over half a dozen teams were in with a realistic chance of being champions going into the Easter weekend?!)

Just a pity about the outcome.

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Reader Comments (3)

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Derek Thomas
1 Posted 06/04/2023 at 08:58:59
While we were still adapting / trying to fit in people around Lineker - the very early 2-3 Derby did for us.
If we gain 1pt; they lose 2pts and the League's ours - no matter what they do.

Re. The Cup Final - less said the better.

Danny O’Neill
2 Posted 06/04/2023 at 18:47:47
Thank you for that trip down memory lane David.

I recall the run in. As a teenager, I remember it being in our hands but we choked a bit as Liverpool went on an incredible run.

But still we were in it until the end.

I remember thumping Southampton at home. Five or more goals? Stood in the Gwladys Street and the crowd getting exited because someone in the Main Stand had a radio and suddenly generated a belief that Liverpool were losing. These were the days before smart phones and constant internet connective at the tips of your hands.

It was not to be, but we still went into the last game with hope. We won our last game and had Liverpool not won theirs, we'd have been champions as we only missed out by 2 points.

And then the 10th of May 1986. A dark day.

It seems ridiculous now and probably alien to a generation that I was totally gutted we only finished as runners up in the League and runners up in an FA Cup Final.

But that is my expectation for Everton. We may not win everything, but we compete for honours.

They won't beat the expectation out of me as long as I breath.

John Raftery
3 Posted 06/04/2023 at 21:09:50
I was at the game at Old Trafford and came away quite happy with the draw. The rest of our fixtures didn’t look too difficult, on paper at least. Of course it is the easiest games on paper which often prove the most difficult.

I remember being absolutely gutted when we lost 1-0 at Oxford on the night Gary Lineker left his boots at home, or something like that. He missed two or three one on one chances before Oxford scored their late winner. On the same night our neighbours were winning at Leicester leaving them in pole position and knowing a win at Stamford Bridge on the last Saturday of the league season would give them the title.

At the Southampton match I remember a stupid woman sitting at the front of the Main Stand next to the church dancing and waving her radio leading many of us to think Liverpool were losing. When the truth was confirmed by somebody with a radio near us in the Street End we realised she must have been a Red.

I think our problem that season was an over-reliance on the prolific Lineker. On the very few occasions when he wasn’t firing we didn’t quite have enough crucial goals coming from the rest of the team. We came up short but only marginally so. What wouldn’t we give to have so few problems in the present era?

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