Great Escape anniversary offers perspective

Posted by Luke O'Farrell

Clive Brunskill/Getty ImagesThere was pandemonium at Goodison in 1994 when the final whistle blew in Everton's remarkable final day 3-2 comeback win over Wimbledon.

On course to finish in the familiar position of 'best of the rest', Everton look set to fall narrowly short of European football. The failure to strengthen in the January window has left the squad running on empty; the team lacks the energy and tenacity present in the early stages of the season.

- Howard demands strong finish

Lacking the necessary strength in depth, the number of draws and a crippling inability to win on the road have merely compounded the problem. However, while this season peters out, the 19-year anniversary of the greatest of escapes shows the progress made (on the pitch) since the dark days of the 90s.

On this day in 1994, just seven years after securing a ninth league title, Everton were staring into the abyss of the Football League. Somehow, against all the odds, Everton won 3-2 at home to Wimbledon and the result maintained the club's Premier League status by the thinnest of margins.

The 1993-94 campaign actually began in positive fashion with Everton winning their first three league matches; the Blues won just nine of the remaining 39 matches. If those three wins had raised hopes, three consecutive defeats swiftly dashed them.

After wins over Oldham and Liverpool threatened to stabilise the season, an embarrassing 5-1 defeat against Norwich ensured the wheels fell off. Ironically, prior to becoming the worst post-war manager in Everton history, Mike Walker was the very man who masterminded the Norwich win at Goodison.

Already in chaos due to the dreadful league form, the mayhem snowballed on 4th December 1993. In his second spell at the club, Howard Kendall resigned following a failed attempt to sign Manchester United forward Dion Dublin; Kendall walked away after the Everton board refused to sanction the £1.7 million bid.

Needing time to find a replacement, the short-term fix was first team coach Jimmy Gabriel. Thrust into a thankless task, Gabriel went seven matches without a win, losing six of them, with Everton failing to score in six of the seven matches.

After impressing at Norwich, Mike Walker took the Everton job in January 1994. Swindon received a 6-2 thrashing in his first league match, but this was the falsest of dawns for the Walker reign.

Enduring a wretched run between March and May, Everton were on the brink of relegation having won one and lost seven of the last 10 matches. Heading into the final day fixtures, the Toffees needed to beat Wimbledon and hope other results went in their favour.

Failing to read the script, the home side found the situation crumbling around them in the early stages. Anders Limpar inexplicably handled a corner in the penalty area; Dean Holdsworth beat Neville Southall to put the visitors ahead.

A disastrous start became a catastrophic one in the 20th minute. Defender Gary Ablett deflected the ball into his own net and relegation beckoned. Trudging off at halftime, Everton were just 45 minutes away from the unthinkable.

Seconds after the break, Limpar redeemed his first half error. The Swedish winger won a penalty, which Graham Stuart coolly converted. Stuart then turned hero at the other end to clear a Holdsworth effort off the line.

The comeback embers began to burn brightly with just a third of the match remaining. Scoring three Everton goals at an average of one every 49 matches, Barry Horne provided a real blot from the blue in the 67th minute. Unleashing a swerving 25-yard drive into the top corner, Horne levelled the match at 2-2 and Everton had 23 minutes to find a winner.

Man-of-the-match Stuart duly obliged in the 81st minute; few Evertonians will care that Hans Segers really ought to have saved it. Having managed the greatest of escapes, Walker remained in charge for the 1994-95 season.

After the events of the previous campaign, Everton could only improve, or so it seemed; Walker somehow destroyed that train of thought. Leading the team to their worst ever start, as Everton remained without a league win until November, Walker was sacked after just six wins in ten months.

As the current side frustratingly crash against the glass ceiling above them, it is nothing compared to the events that defined the bleak 90s. The 1995 FA Cup win provided brief respite, but another final day escape waited in 1998.

Settling for mediocrity is not the Everton way, which is why finishing above Liverpool is irrelevant since the reward is sixth place and no European football, but it is pleasing to see a side on the coattails of Europe rather than the fringes of relegation.

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