Stuart Roberts presents the depressing story of
yet another season-long struggle against the drop for England's longest serving
SEASON REVIEW, 1997-98
The Messiah was back. Howard Kendall had once again accepted the gargantuan
task of rebuilding Everton, and, having done a fine job of strengthening
Sheffield United, it seemed as though his personal problems were behind him.
During an all too brief close season Kendall had still managed to bring in
players who were highly regarded, if a little inexperienced. In John Oster
he had acquired the services of one of football's brightest upcoming stars
and young Irish hopeful Gareth Farrelly joined from Aston Villa. The Croatian
international defender Slaven Bilic had previously agreed to join the club
from West Ham, a deal that was to be completed after he had helped steer
the Londoners to safety. Utility defender Tony Thomas had also signed from
neighbours Tranmere Rovers.
The Goodison crowd greeted the team with the optimism that goes hand-in-hand
with a new season as the players took to the pitch for the first game against
Crystal Palace. After a bright start,
when Everton should have taken the lead on several occasions, the always-menacing
Attilio Lombardo put Palace in front and they never looked back. Graham Stuart,
playing out of position as a fullback fouled Lombardo clumsily in the
eighteen-yard area and the game was effectively over when Bruce Dyer converted
the subsequent penalty kick. A late Ferguson header was all the blues could
manage in reply.
The second game brought Everton their first points of the season and the
odd sight of David Unsworth in a West Ham shirt.
Unsworth had signed for West Ham as part of the deal that took young midfielder
Danny Williamson to Goodison Park. Everton won the game 2-1 with goals from
Graham Stuart and Dave Watson. Manchester United
were the next visitors to Goodison and went home with their now customary
win with a 2-0 scoreline.
The first away game of the season was at the new Reebok Stadium in
Bolton. This was a match covered live by satellite
television, and in spite of a good performance by the Blues, an unusually
entertaining goalless draw was shrouded by a controversial incident that
is talked about by Bolton fans to this day. Following a corner, Bolton managed
to scramble the ball over the goal line, but the referee and linesman failed
to spot this. It was a poor piece of work by the officials, although justice
was done, as Neville Southall was clearly fouled by Nathan Blake immediately
prior to the incident. However, if the goal had been allowed to stand and
the result had stayed at 1-0 to Bolton, then Wanderers would have survived
relegation at Everton's expense.
A defeat at another new ground, Pride Park, the new home of
Derby County soon followed and Everton dropped
into the relegation zone for the first time. A win, a loss and a draw against
Arsenal respectively were sandwiched by a 6-0
aggregate win against Scunthorpe United in
the Coca-Cola Cup. Two heavy defeats followed. A 4-1 thumping in the Coca-Cola
Cup at Coventry followed hot on the heels of
a 3-1 reverse at Sheffield Wednesday.
Everton were in 18th position and at a very low ebb as
Liverpool were the visitors to Goodison Park.
Although Everton had enjoyed the upper hand in recent games against the old
enemy, even the most die-hard fan could not have hoped for a performance
of such command and quality from the inexperienced blues. An own goal by
Neil Ruddock and a stunning solo goal by teenager Danny Cadamarteri were
scant reward for a performance of verve and style that had the cumbersome
Liverpool defenders chasing shadows. Goodison's largest crowd of the season
of 40,112 went home savouring a wonderful 2-0 victory.
An improved performance in the league game at
Coventry saw the blues return north with a
well-earned point, and in true Everton fashion the blues managed to upset
the applecart in the next match as well.
Southampton have traditionally been whipping
boys at Goodison, but a near post header from Matthew Le Tissier and a superb
run and shot from wunderkind Kevin Davies gave the Saints a thoroughly deserved
Successive defeats at Blackburn,
Aston Villa, and
Chelsea and at home to
Spurs had the alarm bells ringing at Goodison
and Everton were well worthy of their 20th out of 20 position. The game against
Spurs was to mark the end of an era. Veteran goalkeeper Neville Southall
made his final appearance for the club after a glittering career that spanned
the best part of two decades. The man was a legend for most Evertonians and
while new boy Thomas Myhre, signed from Viking Stavanger in Norway, appeared
to be an able deputy, 'Big Nev' will always hold a very special place in
the hearts of the Goodison faithful.
Draws against Leeds and
Wimbledon, while providing two useful points,
could not lift the malaise over Goodison, although had Gary Speed converted
his penalty at Leeds the pressure on manager Howard Kendall would have been
alleviated greatly. It was not to be however, and Everton went to
Leicester City knowing that it had been a year
since their last away win. Once again, defying logic, the blues fought their
way to what would have been a valuable point, but the Leicester goalkeeper
Keller had a sudden rush of blood to the head and tumbled youngster Cadamarteri
over in the penalty area. In spite of the now common apoplectic fit from
excitable Leicester manager Martin O'Neill, the referee Jeff Winter pointed
correctly to the penalty spot. To Gary Speed's credit he again shouldered
the responsibility of taking the kick, and although Keller got a good hand
to the shot, the ball found the net and the massive travelling support from
Everton began their Christmas celebrations a week early.
A predictable defeat at Old Trafford on Boxing
Day was followed by a valuable 3-2 win against
Bolton at Goodison, with new Captain Duncan Ferguson
leading by tremendous example with a superb hat-trick. This was sadly to
be the end of Andy Hinchcliffe's Everton career, as a move to Sheffield Wednesday
soon followed. The manner of his departure was in stark contrast to that
of Gary Speed, which is covered later on in this review. Hinchcliffe didn't
ask for a move, nor did he particularly want to leave but as the club needed
the money he was prepared to sacrifice his place at Goodison. A real pro
if ever there was one.
A disappointing home defeat in the FA Cup 3rd Round by
Newcastle was bad enough, but Everton nemesis
Ian Rush scored the all-important goal after coming on as a substitute. As
Rush came onto the field, the eerie sound of 20,000 Everton fans saying
simultaneously 'oh God, he'll score the winner I guarantee it' reverberated
The free-transfer signing of French forward Mickael Madar from Deportivo
La Coruna was greeted with great excitement by Everton fans. Rumours of his
ability and fiery temper led to comparisons with Eric Cantona, and there
is no doubting Madar had a big hand in the subsequent survival of the blues.
Indeed, he scored on his debut in a 3-1 win away at
Crystal Palace and also had a hand
in two of the goals in the next game, a rather surprising win against a very
strong Chelsea outfit also by 3-1.
The win against Chelsea was to be the last game Gary Speed played for Everton.
Citing disciplinary and training ground problems throughout the club, Speed
demanded a transfer. To make certain that he got his move quickly he refused
to travel to West Ham with the team, failing to turn up for the coach journey
south. He was eventually granted his big money move to Newcastle United.
His selfish attitude compares very unfavourably to that of Andy Hinchcliffe
and even more so when one considers that Speed was supposed to be an Everton
Draws in the aforementioned game at West Ham
and at Barnsley left Everton in 15th place when
disaster struck. Derby County were the visitors
to Goodison Park and were being summarily outplayed when Duncan Ferguson
was held back when through on goal. The Scotsman's reaction was to lash out
with an elbow at Costa Rican forward Paolo Wanchope who made the most of
the situation with an astonishing piece of play-acting. Nevertheless, the
referee correctly sent Ferguson off, and Tony Grant, who had been playing
so well, immediately picked up an injury that would keep him out for the
rest of the season. Derby then took the lead to culminate the worst five
minutes of the season for Everton. The match finished 2-1 to Derby, but the
knowledge that Ferguson would miss a large part of the run-in meant that
all the relegation nightmares came flooding back. Ferguson's last contribution
for a month was a valuable goal in the 1-1 draw at
Ex-Liverpool midfielder Don Hutchison joined the fray after a transfer from
Sheffield United and made his debut in an awful 0-0 stalemate with
Newcastle United. This game was most memorable
for the abuse meted out to Gary Speed who had so recently left the club under
such a cloud. A defeat at Southampton in
a game Everton should have won comfortably led to nervous glances over the
shoulder. Everton were in 16th position and time was running out.
A scrappy 1-0 win against Blackburn Rovers
when John Spencer, a loan-signing from QPR made his debut, lifted the pressure
slightly, but in the next game Everton were destroyed by Dwight Yorke and
Julian Joachim in a superb Aston Villa
performance. Villa ran out 4-1 winners, but no one could have complained
if they had scored a couple more.
A 1-1 draw at struggling Tottenham Hotspur was
the precursor to a massive result for the blues in the next game.
Leeds United were the visitors to Goodison, and
a goal from Don Hutchison and Duncan Ferguson's first goal since his four
match suspension saw off the Yorkshiremen to the tune of 2-0.
Draws against Wimbledon and
Leicester meant that Everton were by no means
safe, but a win against inconsistent Sheffield
Wednesday would be enough to guarantee the blues their safety. Unfortunately
Paolo Di Canio had not read the script and he single-handedly destroyed Everton
with a mesmerizing performance. Panic had begun to set in. Unless Everton
could get something at soon-to-be-crowned champions Arsenal they would go
into the last game of the season occupying one of the relegation slots.
Arsenal duly despatched a dispirited Everton
side 4-0 and, while the Gunners were being presented the championship trophy,
the horror among the sullen Everton fans was clear. The blues were in the
relegation zone with one match to go. Against Coventry
City they would have to get a better result than did Bolton at Chelsea.
If Bolton were to win at Chelsea, then Everton were down irrespective of
what the blues achieved against Coventry.
The match started in the most dramatic fashion, with Gareth Farrelly belting
a volley into the Park End goal with an astonishing shot. The law of averages
suggested that sooner or later Farrelly would get one on target, but his
timing was perfection personified. Amid rumour and counter-rumour of events
in West London, the game continued at a good pace. The news was confirmed
that Bolton had gone a goal behind, and the Everton fans started to celebrate
Everton were given a wonderful chance to secure the three points and almost
certainly ensure that Premiership football would be played once again at
Goodison Park next season. A dubious penalty was awarded when Danny Cadamarteri
went down after appearing to be pushed, but Everton fans were not going to
argue. Nick Barmby stepped up after a long protest from the Coventry team.
He was clearly unnerved as his penalty was well saved by the Coventry goalkeeper.
No matter, as long as the results stayed the same we would be safe.
Of course, Coventry were to equalise on their next attack, a header from
Dion Dublin should have been palmed away by Norwegian goalkeeper Thomas Myhre
but his attempt to catch the ball resulted in it slipping from his grasp
into the back of the net. Meanwhile at Stamford Bridge, the Bolton fans relayed
this information to their team, urging them to seek the equaliser that would
guarantee them safety. Bolton were committing men forward when a quick Chelsea
break lead to Gianluca Vialli making it 2-0 to Chelsea, and as long as Everton
could hold out at 1-1 then we were safe. This they duly did and the scenes
after the game were reminiscent of Wimbledon in 1994, another last gasp survival.
Relief soon turned to anger at the mismanagement of the club, and long and
loud protests against deeply unpopular Chairman Peter Johnson were heard.
Once again, the familiar words of 'never again' were uttered by fans leaving
Get rid of these ads and support ToffeeWeb
Bet on Everton and get a deposit bonus with bet365 at TheFreeBetGuide.com