This Week: 20 Years Ago

A first win over Leeds for 5 years. First double over them since the 1950s, if not longer!

David Hardman 03/02/2023 3comments  |  Jump to last

Oh, how we laughed.

Leeds United were the visitors to Goodison Park, having just come out of a disastrous transfer window (the first January one in the England, if memory serves).

Having lost Rio Ferdinand in a high profile move to Manchester United the previous summer, their other star centre back, Jonathon Woodgate, was sold to Newcastle in January. Robbie Keane was sold to Tottenham just before the previous window closed (and didn’t we just know it, as he bagged a hat trick when Spurs beat us 4-3 a few weeks before this game), while another Robbie – Fowler – was sold to Man City at the deadline this time.

And these are just the high profile players who departed. There are no doubt numerous fringe players who would have also been sold around this time that I can’t even remember.

So it’s fair to say that Leeds were a shadow of the promising young side that had participated in the 4-4 draw just over 3 years earlier.

Chants of “where’s your money gone” (and possibly “where’s your Woody gone”) were heard throughout the game, along with “you’re getting sold in the morning” to individual Leeds players.

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The supporters’ good humour was no doubt helped by what was happening on the pitch, Tomasz Radzinski’s performance in particular.

With injuries leaving Leeds even more depleted in the centre of defence, Danny Mills was playing as a makeshift centre back, and gave away a penalty when he and Radzinski chased a 50 yard ball into the box. It was a dubious decision – the sort that goes against you when you’re having a bad time, as Leeds were. David Unsworth, as he so often did, converted the penalty with a poise and grace that was completely at odds with the rest of his playing style, sending the goalkeeper the wrong way and deftly placing the ball so far in the corner that it’s unlikely the keeper would have reached it anyway.

Radzinski doubled Everton’s lead with a goal that was apparently his trademark at Anderlect but only rarely seen in an Everton shirt, picking up the ball to the left of the goal and striking with his instep to place the ball in the far corner. It was a nice pass from Li Tie that made this goal possible.

First win over Leeds for 5 years. First double over them since the 1950s, if not longer!

Everton had entered December 2002 in 3rd place, but after just 1 win in 10 matches in all competitions (including that cup humiliation by Shrewsbury), it looked like the season might simply fizzle out.  This victory over Leeds was their third league win in a row, and had them once again believing that a European place was possible, maybe even the Champions League.

With hindsight, it was always a bit of a superficial position, because Everton had to play the top 5 teams during their last 7 matches (and one of the other 2 games was away to Fulham – it was only the Cottagers’ 2nd season back in the top flight , so no-one knew at the time what a bogey fixture this  would turn out to be for years to come!). 5 defeats in these 7 games saw Everton drop from 4th to 7th in the final weeks of the season, a disappointing end to what had been a promising campaign, but realistically it was the table correcting itself rather than the blues blowing it.

It was quite an insult, though, to see a then mid-table Man City side enjoying UEFA Cup football the following season, courtesy of the “fair play league”.

That said, given Everton’s small squad size and struggles in 2003-4 (as “second season syndrome” took a grip of David Moyes), it’s perhaps a good thing they didn’t qualify at this time.

As for Leeds – Terry Venables left the club not long after this game. Peter Reid took over and things improved in the short term – I remember them scoring 6 against a usually solid Charlton side. They produced a surprise win at Highbury in May to confirm their Premier League status, and ironically hand arch rivals Man United the title in the process.

In the long term, though, their problems continued. Further sales that summer, most notably Harry Kewell to Liverpool, left the club in a dire predicament. Peter Reid was gone before 2003 was out, and although they made a fight of it, they were relegated with a couple of weeks to spare – I seem to remember Everton’s safety only being assured when they were mathematically down, meaning that awful defeat at bottom club Wolves that same weekend didn’t have much bearing.

Anyway, the few established players that hadn’t been sold yet – Paul Robinson, Ian Harte, Alan Smith, Mark Viduka – all left, and despite reaching the playoff final in 2006, they were relegated to the 3rd tier a year later, and were then hit by a 15 point deduction that made an instant return nigh on impossible.

They did eventually find their way back to the Championship in 2010 (care of a stellar season by Jermaine Beckford, who joined us on a free immediately after their promotion).

It took them another decade to return to the top flight (and when they did, their supporters couldn’t fully enjoy the moment due to the pandemic).

They were about level with Everton last season, both sides going into the final week in need of points to assure survival.

Now, they finally get to look down the table at Everton, and, as first Richarlison and then Gordon are sold and not replaced, the tables have well and truly turned.


I’ll end with a trivia question – one player who featured in that match in 2003 is still playing now. Name him. 

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Reader Comments (3)

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Lee Courtliff
1 Posted 04/02/2023 at 20:47:07

And, in 2004 we were safe from relegation with about 5 or 6 games left to play and we lost all of them. Which means that 17th place finish, whilst obviously poor, wasn't quite as bad as it first looks.

I enjoy these articles, please keep posting them. Cheers.

Dennis Stevens
2 Posted 04/02/2023 at 21:24:16
I think you're correct on both points, Lee.

It's got to be Milner, surely.

We lost the last 4 matches in a row, having only drawn the previous 2, & any momentum was lost as we achieved safety. Other clubs below us were still scrambling to survive & a few overtook us, including Blackburn Rovers & Manchester City who both beat us in those last 4 matches. In fact, City only leapfrogged us on the last day of the season. The bottom 3 all ended up 6 points adrift of us & it never felt like any kind of relegation scrap to me, just a poor season.

Little did we know that this would be the pattern under Moyes for a few years as we yo-yoed between top-half and bottom-half finishes. Luckily for him, Kenwright stuck with him and things stabilised to the regular competing to the "best of the rest" type finishes to the season that he's more fondly remembered for.

Lee Courtliff
3 Posted 04/02/2023 at 21:44:10
That's right, Dennis, we did yo-yo for the first 4 seasons under Moyes. 7th, 17th, 4th then 11th place finishes shows just how contrasting those seasons were.

But after that, we were Top 6 for 3 years in a row and played some good stuff, especially in the 2007-08 season. And if it wasn't for injuries to Jagielka, Arteta and Yakubu a year later, we could quite possibly have won the FA Cup!

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