Season 1995-96 was an enigmatic one for Everton. Sometimes we were brilliant, others, well, we were not so brilliant...
After the FA Cup and Charity Shield successes, and the purchases of Andrei Kanchelskis and defender Craig Short for a total fee of £8.1M, expectations were high amongst Evertonians. Ray Harford, manager of Champions Blackburn, even tipped us as an outside bet for the title! That comment was made following our Charity Shield success against his team, as we ran out worthy 1-0 winners, courtesy of a Vinny Samways goal in the second half.
The League campaign started with a trip to Stamford Bridge to face Ruud Gullit making his debut for Chelsea. Despite having chances to win the game, we failed to score, but managed to get a creditable point in a 0-0 draw. August proved to be quite a good month, gaining 7 points from a possible 12. The only real disappointment was the first home defeat inflicted by Arsenal, who won the game 2-0, and with great comfort. Our first win of the season against Southampton at home in which club record signing Kanchelskis made his debut, was quickly followed by the first away win at Manchester City, both games finishing 2-0.
September, however, was an awful month for the Blues. We failed to register a single win in the league, losing at home to Manchester United, away to Nottingham Forest, and away at West Ham. At this point, nothing was going right. In just his third appearance for Everton, Andrei Kanchelskis broke a shoulder, ironically against his old club, Manchester United. Despite progressing to the next round of the European Cup Winners Cup, we were unconvincing in knocking out Icelandic part-timers Reykjavik, eventually winning 6-3 on aggregate. We won 3-2 in Reykjavik, but in the 2nd leg the Icelanders levelled the tie at 3-3 by taking a shock 1-0 lead, although we eventually won the game 3-1.
Unfortunately October didn't get much better. The football world was stunned by the Scottish Crown Court's decision to uphold a jail sentence given to our £4M striker Duncan Ferguson, for three months, following an incident in Scotland where he head-butted his opponent, John McStay then of Raith Rovers, in a league match for Glasgow Rangers.
On the pitch the month started with another defeat, this time at home to Newcastle, the final score being 3-1 to the league-leaders. Humiliation swiftly followed when first division Millwall came to Goodison and knocked us out of the Coca Cola Cup, winning 4-2 after extra time, following a 0-0 draw at the Den in the first leg, two weeks earlier. Next up were bottom team Bolton at Burnden Park. Kanchelskis made his return, but we still struggled, and only a late Paul Rideout goal earned us a point, in a dour 1-1 draw.
Following that game was our first real test in the Cup Winners Cup a tie against Dutch Cup Winners Feyenoord. The Dutch side somehow scraped a 0-0 draw at Goodison, and then in the return leg at the beginning of November won 1-0 courtesy of a Regi Blinker goal. Ironically, Feyenoord was the scene of our only previous European triumph, in the same competition, in 1985. Back in the league, we drew 1-1 with Tottenham at home, but then played possibly our worst performance of the season, as Aston Villa won 1-0 at Villa Park. By now, we were as low as 14th in the table. Our lowest point came after the Newcastle game, when we dropped to 16th, one place above the relegation zone.
November, however, was the turning point. The form and influence of Graham Stuart and Andrei Kanchelskis proved invaluable, and they spearheaded our pursuit of UEFA Cup qualification in the league. We collected 10 points from 4 games, which included wins over Champions Blackburn, and neighbours Liverpool at Anfield. Kanchelskis scored his first goals for us in the derby, and by the end of the month, Graham Stuart had scored 5 goals in 11 starts. In the home game against Sheffield Wednesday Paul Rideout suffered a horrendous facial injury, and he didn't really recover mentally from that incident for the rest of the season. November was also the month that Duncan Ferguson was released from Barlinnie prison, and he received a hero's welcome on his return to Goodison, saluting the crowd before the Sheff Wed game. He wasn't fit enough to play yet...
December had its ups and its downs. Three wins, two defeats, and one draw was the record in a topsy turvy end to the year. Our only draw of the month was away to Tottenham a good result against the side placed 3rd in the division at the time. We had chances to win the game, but failed to put any of those chances away, and in the end drew 0-0. The three wins all came at home, firstly West Ham were beaten 3-0 as Ferguson made his return as a second-half substitute, then Middlesbrough, fourth in the league and with the best defensive record in the country, were tonked 4-0, and four days later we beat Leeds 2-0, despite having Dave Watson sent off on 31 minutes, by which time we were 1-0 up. The two defeats were disappointing as we went down to ten-man Newcastle 1-0, and then we lost at Coventry 2-1.
The New Year started well with a 3-2 win at Wimbledon, that after being 3-0 up with just twenty minutes on the clock. The FA Cup defence started on January 7, but we didn't start it too well. Second Division Stockport came to Goodison and were extremely unlucky not to pull off a shock victory. We played diabolically, and were grateful to have another chance. The game ended 2-2, but it could have been worse. We won the replay 3-2, John Ebbrell scoring a last-gasp winner in a frantic finish, which saw two goals in thirty seconds. Alun Armstrong cancelled out our two previous efforts, after the home side had taken the lead in the first half.
Chelsea visited Goodison in-between the Stockport games, and got a 1-1 draw out of an exciting game. We then got a superb result at Arsenal, winning 2-1, despite trailing to an Ian Wright wonder goal at half-time. Port Vale were our next FA Cup opponents, and they too came to Goodison and almost snatched a victory, but as Stockport did, went away with a 2-2 draw. They though, were quite thankful for another game. Ferguson had put us 2-1 ahead with a minute to go, but in injury time, substitute Ian Bogie tried a shot from thirty yards which deflected off Watson, and looped over Southall and into the net.
February was probably the most disappointing month. After beating Man City 2-0 at home, and then drawing 2-2 at Southampton, humiliation followed. We were knocked out of the FA Cup in the replay at Port Vale, as we lost 2-1 in an absolutely diabolical performance. The score line was in a way actually quite pleasing, because it could, and should have been more. It still didn't detract from the humiliation of being knocked out by a struggling first division side, and manager Joe Royle described the day as a "Watershed in the history of Everton Football Club", thus implying that changes would and will be made.
Defeat at Old Trafford further dampened the atmosphere at Goodison, but a 3-0 win over Nottingham Forest raised a few more smiles. We also completed the signing of Marc Hottiger in February. The Swiss International right back was signed from Newcastle for £800,000, but he would have to wait 50 frustrating days to make his Everton debut, as the PFA stalled on granting him a renewal on his work permit, because he hadn't been a regular at Newcastle this season.
March, once again, proved to be an inconsistent month. We could only manage a draw at home to struggling Coventry where Hottiger made his debut, followed by a draw against a depleted Leeds side at Elland Road, and a shock defeat at the hands of Wimbledon, before we pulled off a superb double against the reigning champions Blackburn at Ewood Park. We ran out 3-0 winners in a game dominated and dictated by Tony Grant and Andrei Kanchelskis. Grant played his finest game for us yet, and Kanchelskis simply tore Jeff Kenna apart, scoring two and having another disallowed. Surprising, considering before the game AK told Joe Royle that he wasn't match fit, and would probably have a quiet day. Unbelievably, it was his pace and power that Blackburn couldn't cope with! Amokachi scored the other goal.
April was a good month, spoilt only by a poor defeat at QPR, which effectively ended our pursuit of UEFA Cup qualification, the Londoners ran out 3-1 winners. Bolton were defeated 3-0, thanks to goals from Hottiger, Amokachi, and Kanchelskis. In the home derby, we drew 1-1. Kanchelskis put us 1-0 up in the first half, but we missed a host of chances to put the game beyond doubt, and in the second half Liverpool got a deserved equaliser. It was a good result considering three of our players Ferguson, Ebbrell and Amokachi were all playing with pain killing injections. John Ebbrell was superb, setting up the goal, and working tirelessly, and was just pipped to the post by Barry Horne for the MoM award.
Our final away game of the season was at Sheffield Wednesday, and it proved to be our best away performance as we ran out 5-2 winners. Kanchelskis grabbed his first hat-trick for us, and he also had another strike ruled out, and hit a post! Amokachi put as ahead on three minutes, and Hirst's equaliser was quickly cancelled out by John Ebbrell, before AK took over. Degryse netted a consolation for the home side. Grant also hit a post, as he ran the rule over the midfield, and Graham Stuart was unlucky not to register his 15th goal of the season.
Our final game of the season was at home to fourth placed Aston Villa, who had just won the Coca Cola Cup. Pending other results, we still had a chance of UEFA Cup qualification. We had to beat Villa and hope that Arsenal were held by already relegated Bolton, and also that Newcastle got a result at home to Tottenham. All looked rosey on 80 minutes as we were 1-0 up, and Bolton had taken a shock lead at Highbury, and Newcastle had levelled things at St James' Park, after going 1-0 down to a Jason Dozzell strike. Unfortunately, Arsenal scored two goals in the last four minutes at Highbury and therefore won 2-1, and so claimed the last UEFA Cup place.
Or is it? Rumour has it that the FA are trying to appeal against the decision to take one UEFA Cup place away from English Clubs. If that extra place was re-gained we'd be in Europe next season, for sinishing sixth in the table. Had it been last season, we WOULD have been in Europe, but as always we got the rough end of the stick.
ALL IN ALL IT WAS A PROGRESSIVE SEASON, WITH ITS HIGHS AND ITS LOWS. PARTICULALRY PLEASING WAS THE AWAY FORM AND THE GOALS FOR COLUMN. DISPLEASING WAS THE HOME FORM, AND THE DEFEATS IN CUP COMPETITIONS. THE LADS CAN GIVE THEMSELVES A BIG PAT ON THE BACK AFTER A HARD AND GOOD SEASON'S WORK. AND WHO KNOWS, WITH THE PURCHASE OF ONE OR TWO NEW PLAYERS, WE MAY WELL BE CELEBRATING A TROPHY SUCCESS THIS TIME NEXT YEAR...
FINAL POSITION - 6TH
Highest Attendance - 40,127 ( v Aston Villa (h), 4/5/96 )
Biggest Win - 5-2 ( v Sheff Wed (a), 27/4/96 )