You would be hard pressed to find an individual player who had such a monumental impact on Everton’s destiny in such a short space of time, certainly in the Premier League era, than Kevin Campbell.
The striker’s magical goalscoring spell at the end of the 1998-99 season dragged the Toffees away from relegation danger just as it looked like they would finally fall through the trapdoor.
It was 20 years ago today – 11 April 1999 – that Campbell scored his first goals for the club against Coventry to spark their dramatic revival.
Walter Smith, who succeeded Howard Kendall in the summer of 1998, had spent significant sums of money to try and ensure there wasn’t a repeat of that last-gasp escape against Coventry the previous season.
In came the likes of John Collins, Marco Matterazzi, Ibrahima Bakayoko and Olivier Dacourt for big money and big wages. But even with the addition of those new faces, Everton’s form barely improved.
The controversial sale of Duncan Ferguson in November – allegedly sold behind Smith’s back by chairman Peter Johnson to appease the banks – only added to the renewed sense of crisis around the club.
Campbell joined towards the end of March on loan from Turkish side Trabzonspor with the club sliding towards the bottom of the table.
The former Arsenal man was desperate to leave Turkey after he was racially abused by the club’s chairman, who labelled him a “cannibal”. With Everton looking for an experienced striker to play alongside the emerging Francis Jeffers, it was a move that suited all parties.
He made his debut against Liverpool at Anfield at the start of April, the Toffees going down to a 3-2 defeat, their first loss against their bitter rivals for five years. Two days later the side were beaten 2-1 at home to relegation rivals Sheffield Wednesday.
Everton had led for much of the game but two horrendous defensive errors from David Unsworth and then Materazzi gifted the Owls the points and condemned the Blues to a fourth straight defeat.
There was a real feeling of despair around the club after the game, not just because of the result, but the manner of it. Those kind of horrible defensive mistakes have relegation stamped all over them.
The result saw Everton tumble into the relegation zone with just six matches remaining and they looked incapable of turning their form around.
As a result, Goodison was a nervy place when Coventry arrived the following week, just as it had been against the same opposition 11 months previously.
The Sky Blues were three places and six points ahead of Everton and knew a win would take them onto the “magical” 40 point mark. For the Toffees, it was pretty much win or bust.
Everton started the brighter of the two teams and took the lead shortly before the half hour. Nick Barmby mis-controlled Scott Gemmill’s first-time pass but Campbell was able to seize on to the loose ball, round goalkeeper Magnus Hedman and fire into the open net.
It was a game high on effort but low on quality. Coventry, in truth, barely threatened but with the Sheffield Wednesday defeat fresh in the mind, the supporters were not going to take anything for granted.
Nerves were frayed still further when Materazzi was shown a second yellow card with five minutes left, the Italian famously bursting into tears while leaning against the advertising hoardings and comforted by supporters sat behind him.
Thankfully, the game and the points were secured minutes later when Barmby collected Tony Grant’s neat pass and crossed low for Campbell, who beat Hedman at his near post.
There were scenes of frenzied celebration at the final whistle as the ice cold hand of relegation seemingly eased its grip on the Toffees once more.
There was light at the end of the tunnel again, with the win lifting Everton out of the relegation zone and on to the path to survival, thanks mainly to Campbell.
He would go on and score twice in each of his next two matches as the Toffees beat Newcastle 3-2 and Charlton 4-1 to move eight points clear of the drop zone.
A defeat at Chelsea followed, but results elsewhere meant Everton’s Premiership status was secure anyway.
The following week, in front of a much more relaxed crowd, Everton wiped the floor with West Ham, Campbell scoring a hat-trick in a 6-0 win.
His goalscoring exploits saw him named Premiership Player of the Month for April, the first loan signing to ever pick up the reward.
Everton ultimately finished the season in 14th place, largely thanks to the extraordinary efforts of Campbell, who earned himself a permanent £3million transfer to Goodison that summer with his place in Toffees folklore already secured.