As part of our continued look at Everton’s history I had a delve into the archives to find a Premier League rarity – an Everton win over Manchester United – and one of the moments Duncan Ferguson will always be remembered for.
Seventeen years ago this coming Saturday - February 25 - Manchester United arrived at Goodison Park entrenched in a title battle with Kenny Dalglish’s big spending Blackburn Rovers.
Alex Ferguson’s men – double winners the previous year - had also reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup thanks to a 3-1 win over Leeds United six days earlier. Everton had also booked their place in the last eight with a thumping 5-0 victory over Norwich.
But with the league back on the agenda it was the battle against relegation that was at the forefront of Everton’s mind as they took to a muddy Goodison pitch that had clearly suffered through the harsh winter.
With no Paul Rideout in the side manager Joe Royle had opted for a 4-5-1 formation, with Stuart Barlow and Anders Limpar pushed wide to try and supply the crosses for Duncan Ferguson in the middle.
Despite being isolated for much of the game, Ferguson as a constant menace, never giving United centre-backs Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister a moment's rest.
In the middle of the park Royle’s ‘dogs of war’- Barry Horne, Joe Parkinson and John Ebrrell – worked like terriers to close the United players down.
In my opinion those players had a lot more skill then people gave them credit for. The ‘dogs of war’ tag, coined by Royle, painted an unfair picture – in particular on Parkinson, who I feel was close to an England call-up before his career was cruelly ended by a serious knee injury in 1997.
Critics liked to accuse the players of playing anti-football and while Royle’s tactics were designed to disrupt the rhythm of a more skillful opposition, it was hardly the thuggish tactics some made it out to be.
It was Ebbrell who arguably had the best chance of the first half, but with almost too much time and space inside the box, he hesitated and his eventual scuffed shot rose agonisingly skywards and over the bar with the goal gaping.
At the other end, United were starting to show why they were one of the best teams in the country. Ryan Giggs in particular was causing problems down the left and while Andy Cole had not enjoyed the best of start to his United career, the Everton fans carried the constant fear that this was the afternoon he got back on track. Still, Everton were quietly satisfied heading into the half-time break.
The second period continued the theme of the first half, United having the bulk of possession but struggling to wrestle free of the Blue bodies that swarmed around them whenever they got near to the Everton penalty box.
It was Everton who had another great opportunity though; Barry Horne's unleashing a fizzing effort from 25 yards that cannoned off the crossbar, briefly evoking memories of his famous strike against Wimbledon the previous year.
Meanwhile, Limpar was having one of his more exciting afternoons, buzzing down the left flank and keeping United full-back Denis Irwin pinned back.
It was from one of his crosses caused panic once again in the United box, with Bruce seemingly hauling back Ferguson as they stretched for the ball at the far post. Much to the Toffees players’ and supporters’ frustration the referee only gave a corner, but that frustration would turn to joy moments later.
Andy Hinchliffe’s corners had developed into a formidable weapon during that season – think Rory Delap’s long thows but with more success and greater skill. His in-swingers were the most threatening, curling viciously in towards the goalkeeper who would see two or three Everton players converge on him right underneath his cross bar.
On this occasion though Hinchcliffe opted for the far post, but it did enough to outfox Peter Schmeichel, who thought about coming for the cross but then hesitated, leaving him stranded off his line. Ferguson meanwhile had got the run in on his marker and rose to power home the header at the far post, beyond a helpless Schmeichel, and a leaping Paul Ince, who found himself tangled in the Gwladys Street net.
While Ince was busy untying himself from the goalmouth Ferguson ran celebrating long the side of the Family Enclosure in one of the most iconic images of Everton’s recent history – shirt off and twirled above his head before showing his Everton tattoo to the Goodison faithful.
With 30 minutes of the game to play it was not the time to sit back and to be fair Everton doggedly tried to keep pushing forward. But the temptation often proved too much and with the Toffees backline retreating, United gained more possession. This was increased when the speedy Andrei Kanchelskis came on, offering them a twin threat down each flank.
Their best chance fell to new-boy Cole, but despite being in space inside the area his scuffed, low sidefoot shot was poor and one befitting that of a player with low confidence. Southall was able to stick a boot out and deflect the ball away.
In the end Everton dug in to claim a memorable win which gave them the platform to successfully beat the dreaded drop that had looked inevitable when Royle took charge back in November.
For Ferguson it perhaps cemented his position as an Everton legend, even if such moments of magic in the future were less frequent than we had all initially hoped for.
Little did we know at the time but it would not be the final time the two sides would meet that season, with the 1995 FA Cup final also being contested between the two sides. And perhaps this result gave the players the belief that they could defeat the Red Devils on a greater stage.
Everton: Southall, Barrett, Watson, Unsworth, Hinchcliffe, Ebbrell ( Samways 71), Horne, Parkinson, Limpar, Ferguson, Barlow.
Manchester United: Schmeichel, Irwin, Bruce, Pallister, Sharpe, Ince, Keane, McClair (Kanchelskis 66), Giggs, Cole, Hughes.