On Boxing Day 2004, Everton had just beaten Manchester City at Goodison Park and had already put an impressive 40 points on the board; however, by the beginning of April 2005, that tally had only increased by 11 points. Despite that poor return, Evertonians were still dreaming about their team qualifying for the Champions League in the 2005-06 season.
A home defeat to Blackburn, and another to their city rivals at Anfield in March, had further dented the confidence of all connected to Everton; the opening fixture in April at relegation-threatened West Brom would have to be won to put the Blues back on track.
Mark O’Brien, in his regular column in the Daily Post, summed up the jittery mood of the fans when he opined:
Mark O’Brien’s worst fears were proved correct as Everton were beaten by a single Zoltan Gera headed goal after an hour of the game and, due to Liverpool’s victory over Sam Allardyce’s Bolton, it appeared to have made Champions League qualification a two-horse race between Everton and Liverpool, with the Blues only having a single point advantage with seven matches remaining.
Is this the weekend where Liverpool, buoyed by their victory in the derby, close the gap between themselves and Everton to a mere one point, or will the Blues and Bolton conspire to restore our lead to a far more respectable six or seven points?
Both sides are starting to resemble Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed at the end of Rocky II now: punched out, knackered and just about holding on for the final bell. The end's in sight, and it's now down to who can cling on grimly and scrape together just enough points to take that much-discussed fourth place.
James Beattie, who had missed three games due to suspension, was in line for a recall for the West Brom match but due to an injury he had suffered in training prior to that match. News broke that he would be ruled out for at least a month as manager David Moyes revealed: “James tweaked his medial knee ligaments in training and it looks as though he'll be out for three or four weeks.
“Initially, we thought he had only bruised his knee after a fall in training but he felt it again when he started some shooting work afterwards. We took him for a scan which revealed ligament damage. It is very disappointing because we have only been able to make very limited use of his resources."
Not that James Beattie had made the sort of vital contribution the supporters had hoped he would since his £6M arrival from Southampton in January.
If matters on the pitch were fraying the nerves of Evertonians, then the shenanigans off it would also be testing their resolve. Since the eve of the season, fans had been hearing of new investment into the club via the Fortress Sports Fund. Head of the fund, Chris Samuelson, confirmed, “The Fund is completed and registered.”
David Prentice reported in the Liverpool Echo:
It was claimed that Paul Gregg's refusal to endorse the proposals was delaying an EGM to vote on the issue. Gregg, however, insisted that the delays were not down to him, and that, “The whole Fortress exercise has made a mockery of Everton.
“As a director of Everton Football Club, I am not aware of any formal offer having been presented.
“As a director, I have not received any proof of funds - or that they even exist. And as a board member, I would like to know where the funds are coming from.
“Speaking as a director of the club, I would like to know whether the people who are supposed to be investing are the kind of people that a club with the history and tradition of Everton Football Club should be dealing with.
“I think we have been led down the garden path and that the whole exercise has embarrassed the club.”
Gregg admitted he has had serious reservations about the Fortress Sports Fund since it was first proposed last August, but that he did not want to rock the boat until the current season has ended.
“The Fortress saga has dragged on for 10 months without delivery,” he said. “There will be an opportunity at the end of the season to discuss the club's future, but until then, I think every Evertonian's ambition should be to support David Moyes and the team and see us achieve our best league placing for years.”
Earlier in the season, David Moyes had spoken about the need for investment and the difficulty that clubs similar to Everton were having in the money-driven Premier League.
“Twenty years ago, before the introduction of all the Sky money and the Champions League money, you would see clubs like Ipswich and Nottingham Forest coming through and enjoying success at the top of the table.
“But that doesn't tend to happen now because, if you are in the top group, you are generating more money every year than the other clubs and so they are falling further behind.
“The only chance of changing that cycle without a serious investment of money is by having one year of decent success which you can then build on.
“If you could get one year where you can qualify for Europe, that could then give you the opportunity and maybe a little money to entice players of the right standard to the club. That can kickstart things.
“And that is what we are hoping to do. We need to give ourselves a chance of being able to make that lift up the ladder in an attempt to stay up there more often.
“If we could do that this year, it would be a massive bonus, particularly considering where we were last season.”
At least Evertonians could console themselves with the fact that this Everton team at Goodison Park could be a match for most teams and, given that their next trio of fixtures were at home, there was still hope that their European dream could be fulfilled. Crystal Palace were another team trying to stave off relegation from the Premier League so the result could not be seen as a foregone conclusion for Everton.
The Palace game had been switched to the Sunday because an important national event was taking place on the Saturday – No! not Charles and Camilla’s wedding, but the Grand National at Aintree.
The 9-year-old 7/1 favourite, Hedgehunter, ridden by Ruby Walsh and trained by Willie Mullins, won the race by 14 lengths, in a time of 9 minutes 21 seconds. 40/1 shot Royal Auclair finished 2nd, from 66/1-rated Simply Gifted in 3rd.
Evertonians flooded into Goodison Park on that sunny Sunday, buoyed by Liverpool’s narrow defeat at Manchester City the previous afternoon. If Moyes's side could secure victory, they would open up a four-point lead on their neighbours in the race for Champions League qualification. Andy Hunter in the Daily Post reported on the match:
Before kick-off, Everton would have accepted victory at any price. Long before the final whistle, as Mikel Arteta unveiled a dazzling array of tricks and Goodison laughed loudly at the prospect of Champions League football, David Moyes's side had rediscovered the resolve, the purpose and the style that swept them into contention in the first place.
Yes, it was only Crystal Palace and stiffer tests and twists await, but the return of the feelgood factor should not be under-estimated at this juncture of the season. Especially with Vaughan writing another chapter in this extraordinary season.
At 4:36 pm, the Birmingham teenager walked onto the Goodison pitch and into the history books. Not content with breaking Joe Royle's 37-year record as the youngest player in Everton history by 11 days, he walked off the pitch 20 minutes later with two more achievements to his name.
When he capped another flowing Everton move with his team's fourth goal in the 87th minute, Vaughan, at 16 years and 271 days, became the youngest goalscorer in Premier League history. More importantly to the Goodison faithful he removed the name of Rooney from the honour of Everton's youngest ever goalscorer in the process.
And, in a celebration that should bring a tear to the eye and hope for the future, he did not make the ghastly mistake of proclaiming undying love for the club on a T-shirt.
It would be another 10 days until Everton would be in action, due to their upcoming league opponents, Manchester United, being involved in the FA Cup semi-final at Cardiff. The Mancunians – who had knocked Everton out of the competition – easily booked their place in the final.
Meanwhile, Liverpool had the opportunity to close the gap on Everton when they faced Spurs at Anfield, but to their chagrin and Everton’s joy, Spurs managed to hold the reds to a draw and therefore, when Everton took to the pitch on the Wednesday evening, they started with a 3-point advantage over their Merseyside rivals.
Despite Liverpool’s triumph at Fratton Park, the 3-point lead remained intact, as Everton beat Man Utd on one of those magical nights, under the lights, at Goodison. BBC sport gave the following account of the evening’s proceedings:
Everton employed Ferguson up front, and it was a tactic that worked to perfection as he rolled back the years to terrorise United. But it was former Everton star Wayne Rooney - roundly jeered on his second return to Goodison Park since his contentious move to Old Trafford - who almost broke the deadlock after only six minutes. He tested Nigel Martyn with a powerful 20-yard drive, but the veteran Everton goalkeeper was equal to the task.
Everton were competing fiercely all over the pitch, in sharp contrast to their tame FA Cup defeat against United earlier this season. Roy Keane and Tim Cahill were involved in a series of collisions, but it was Everton's Mikel Arteta who was first to be booked by referee Phil Dowd after a series of infringements.
Wes Brown came to United's rescue to stop Everton taking the lead after 32 minutes, clearing Cahill's overhead kick off the line after Joseph Yobo's header caused confusion in the penalty area.
The game was swinging from end to end and Martyn had to show safe handling eight minutes before the interval to hold on to a drive from Cristiano Ronaldo. Rooney carved out an opportunity for Scholes after 48 minutes, but Martyn produced a crucial block for Everton.
Ferguson, who had earlier clattered United goalkeeper Tim Howard, was then cautioned for a wild challenge on Darren Fletcher. But he was the hero rather than the villain after 54 minutes, meeting Arteta's free-kick with a trademark header to send Goodison Park wild.
United pressed for an equaliser, and Martyn was again forced to parry a powerful drive from Ronaldo with 20 minutes remaining. Ferguson's side were then reduced to 10 men when Neville ridiculously kicked the ball at a spectator and was shown a straight red by referee Dowd.
Rooney was carrying the fight to Everton, and he was inches away from an equaliser with Martyn well beaten. And as United slumped to defeat, Scholes was also sent off for a second bookable offence, a wild kick at Kilbane.
Everton: Martyn, Hibbert, Yobo, Weir, Watson, Carsley, Bent (Osman 76), Arteta, Cahill (McFadden 86), Kilbane, Ferguson (Beattie 80).
Subs Not Used: Wright, Vaughan.
Booked: Arteta, Ferguson, Hibbert. Goals: Ferguson 55.
Man Utd: Howard, Gary Neville, Ferdinand, Brown (Silvestre 72), Heinze, Fletcher (O'Shea 76), Keane, Scholes, Ronaldo, Rooney, van Nistelrooy.
Subs Not Used: Smith, Fortune, Carroll.
Sent Off: Gary Neville (72), Scholes (90). Booked: Scholes, Ronaldo.
Att: 37,160 Ref: P Dowd (Staffordshire).
Following the game, David Moyes was enthusiastic towards the Goodison faithful, saying, “They were awesome. I don't think I've witnessed a better atmosphere this season. There have been a few good nights over the road recently but I think this was up there. We were excellent, and the fans responded to the effort of the players.”
Everton completed their trio of home matches against Birmingham City and Scott McLeod of the Echo set the scene:
Everton can book a return to Europe with four games of the season to spare if they beat Birmingham tomorrow.
Victory against Steve Bruce's men at Goodison will guarantee the Blues will finish at least seventh - securing a UEFA Cup spot for next season. It will be the first time for 25 years that Everton have been permitted to take part in European competition as a result of their final league position.
However, despite Everton’s heroic performances on the pitch during this season and the failure of the usual suspects to find consistency in the league, the club’s Champions League qualification was under threat by the governing bodies due to Liverpool’s progress to the latter stages of the European competition.
David Prentice gave his thoughts on the conundrum that faced the English Football Association:
The fixture with Birmingham City kicked-off at lunchtime due to Merseyside police’s concerns about other events taking place in the city on St George’s Day. As is often the case with Everton, its ability to disappoint so quickly after raising supporters hopes, was evident just 5 minutes into the encounter with as Scott Mcleod observed:
While the Everton and Liverpool juggernauts career relentlessly on towards a Champions League collision, the FA have adopted their usual stance, heads down, oblivious or unconcerned by what's going on under their noses.
Liverpool are now just three draws and a couple of successful penalty shoot-outs away from becoming European champions. Everton's stunning defeat of Manchester United has left them favourites for fourth place in the Premiership – which gives the FA's chief executive, dyed-in-the-wool Kopite Brian Barwick, a head-splitting dilemma.
Which club would represent the Premiership in the Champions League next season?
Emile Heskey, who has never played with such vigour in a red shirt at Goodison before, set the tone for the day after just five minutes. He received a pass on the edge of the box from the outstanding Jermaine Pennant, turned David Weir and fired low and hard into the far corner of Nigel Martyn's goal. The fear in the press box was that it could prove to be the most important goal he had ever scored for Liverpool.
Fortunately for Everton, Duncan Ferguson, the hero from the United game, came on as substitute and he managed to find the net after a goalmouth scramble to rescue a precious point for the Toffees in the dying embers of the game. Later in the day, that point became even more valuable as Liverpool succumbed to Crystal Palace and Bolton had been held to a draw at Villa Park.
However, those results were tempered by the news from the Echo who reported:
Any possibility of Everton and Liverpool both competing in the Champions League next season has been ruled out by UEFA.
European football's governing body is adamant that England can have no more than four clubs taking part in the tournament. It means one of the Merseyside teams will miss out should the Reds lift the European Cup next month and the Blues finish fourth in the Premiership.
UEFA chief executive Lars Christer Olsson appears to favour the Blues' cause, but insists the final decision will rest with the FA. He said: "There is no way England can have more than four teams, so we would refer it to the English FA to make the decision if it arises. Normally I would say it is more important if you are qualified through your national league position than if you have won the competition."
An FA spokesman said today: "We have not formed a decision on this as yet and discussions with UEFA will continue to take place." The final decision would be taken by the FA board.
The day after this unwelcome news, Everton secured European football due to Arsenal’s victory over Tottenham, which meant Everton couldn’t finish any lower than seventh and therefore the UEFA Cup beckoned, but all at Goodison wanted that to be the minimum achievement as they sought Champions League football.
Meanwhile, Paul Gregg sent his congratulations to Everton after their qualification for Europe – as it was claimed the Goodison director had sought to oust manager David Moyes. Everton chief executive, Keith Wyness, revealed how during last summer's power struggle with chairman Bill Kenwright, Gregg had been looking at potential alternatives to take over the Goodison helm.
Wyness said: “It is thanks to the determination and focus of the manager and squad that we are in a position where we can celebrate being in Europe once again.
“But, very clearly, the chairman also deserves a great deal of praise because, while another director wanted to change the manager last summer, the chairman and Jon Woods stood firm and supported David Moyes.
“When the pressure is really on, that is when you are tested, and last summer Bill Kenwright stood firm by David Moyes despite another director seeking a change. We should now thank him for that vision.”Craven Cottage was the next port of call for the Blues in their Champions League quest, but it hadn’t been a great venue for the Toffees as they hadn’t won there since Alan Ball scored the winner on his debut way back in 1966. Unfortunately, the trend of Everton returning pointless from Craven Cottage continued as the BBC summarised:
Collins John scored from close range after 15 minutes and former Everton striker Brian McBride's towering header added a second before the interval. Fulham had midfield man Papa Bouba Diop sent off for two yellow cards, but held on to assure Premiership survival.
The result of the Fulham match was not to prove as costly as it might have, as both Liverpool and Bolton failed to win their matches. A simple four points from the three remaining league games would be enough to achieve Champions League qualification – but, would Everton be good enough to get those points? And even if they did – would the FA and or UEFA allow them to take part in the ultimate club competition?
For more details of any of the games mentioned above or indeed any Everton match during the last 25 years, ToffeeWeb has a huge array of information and match reports plus line-ups etc just click on ‘Seasons’ then select ‘Past Seasons’
Reader Comments (4)
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1 Posted 01/04/2020 at 19:23:33
This would be the pinnacle of Moyes's over-long spell for me. The victory over Man Utd – just look at that team!
I'd forgotten how long the Fortress Sports Fund saga dragged on. Maybe it was ridiculed from Day 1, but amazing how outspoken Paul Gregg was – shows you the club have become a lot better at 'controlling the narrative', as Paul the Esk would have it.
Patrick, when I formatted your piece for the webpage, it wasn't always clear where your quoted newspaper items ended. Let me know if I got anything wrong that you want to change.
2 Posted 01/04/2020 at 19:42:43
I remember seeing Samuelson, being introduced to the AGM, by Kenwright, and my first thought was that he was an extra off Emerdale Farm, so I'd definitely say the Fortress money was being ridiculed from the first day by some, and maybe helped Mr Kenwright step up his due-diligence, to help him find out that the man in a one bedroom flat in Manchester, wasn't being serious!
3 Posted 01/04/2020 at 20:00:13
Michael - the formatting is fine as far as I can tell but many thanks for your help and comments. Perhaps for the next one I could signal where the extracts start and end.
4 Posted 02/04/2020 at 21:50:25
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