As part of our Everton Classic Game Rewind, the entire site coverage is taking you back to the fateful weekend of 19th-21st May, 1995 (more details here). Here’s the match preview for tomorrow’s FA Cup Final.
A May day out at Wembley seemed like a pipe dream just six months ago, with Everton rooted to the bottom of the Premiership and staring relegation in the face.
But the arrival of Joe Royle as manager sparked a dramatic revival in fortunes that saw the Toffees avoid the drop and reach the FA Cup final for the first time in six years.
After losing nine of their first 16 games of the season in all competitions under Mike Walker, Everton have lost just six times in 33 matches under former Toffees striker Royle.
Top scorer Paul Rideout scored the crucial goal against Ipswich a fortnight ago to secure Everton’s place in the top flight with a game to spare, and they now bid to lift the cup for the first time since 1984.
The trip to Wembley comes just 12 months after another dramatic moment in the club’s history, when the Toffees fought back from 2-0 down to beat Wimbledon 3-2 and avoid relegation on the final afternoon of the season.
Holders Manchester United, who thrashed Chelsea 4-0 at Wembley a year ago, will be desperate for a win to salvage their season after the crushing disappointment of missing out on the league title on the final day of the Premiership campaign.
Alex Ferguson’s side could only draw 1-1 with West Ham at Upton Park, meaning Blackburn secured the title by one point despite their 2-1 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield.
Defeat at Wembley would be a double blow for the Red Devils, and mean they end the season without silverware for the first time in six seasons.
The turning point of their campaign looks to have been on January 25, when Eric Cantona launched a kung-fu kick at a fan in the stands during a league game against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.
The Frenchman is currently serving an eight-month ban because of the incident and won’t be able to return until the end of September.
Everton 1-0 Manchester United - February 25, 1995
Duncan Ferguson was the hero for Everton on sunny afternoon in early February. The young Scotland striker towered above the United defence to head home Andy Hinchliffe’s corner to send the Gwlady’s Street into delirium and secure a much-needed three points in the battle against the drop.
The Road to Wembley
Third round: Everton 1-0 Derby Sheffield United 0-2 Man Utd
Fourth round: Bristol City 0-2 Everton Man Utd 5-2 Wrexham
Sixth round: Everton 1-0 Newcastle Man Utd 2-0 QPR
Semi-final: Everton 4-1 Tottenham Man Utd 2-2 Crystal Palace
Semi-final replay: Man Utd 2-0 Crystal Palace
The biggest selection poser for Joe Royle surrounds Duncan Ferguson. The Scot has not played for two months because of a groin injury but was able to take a full part in training this week. Daniel Amokachi, the hero of the semi-final, is also pushing for a start, though he is most likely to begin the game from the bench.
Earl Barrett, signed from Aston Villa earlier this year, is cup-tied, meaning Matt Jackson will slot in at right back.
For Manchester United, the key selection issue is Ryan Giggs. The young Welsh winger has been struggling with a hamstring injury but is likely to be given as long as possible to prove his fitness.
What they said
Everton manager Joe Royle: “When I went there (to Everton) in November, if you promised me then that we were going to survive and go to Wembley I would have taken that.
“We are here to enjoy it. (but) Having gone this far, lets go and win it.
“This is the first time we have been totally focused on the cup through all the rounds and hopefully if we perform like we did in the semi-final, which is our best performance of the season against Tottenham, it will be great game.”
Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson: “We have to play well to win. Everton have been in this dogfight for months to get out of relegation and the players are familiar with that type of game.
“Some of the greatest managers never took their team to Wembley, they never got the chance. Some of the greatest players never played in an FA Cup final, so you never take for it granted.
“It’s the the most exciting part of you life to take your team out in THE stadium in the country. I’ll be really proud to take them out and I hope it is really a good day for us.”
The threat of relegation has loomed large over Everton for the majority of the season, so their trip to Wembley represents the first time they can play with real freedom and with nothing to lose. All the pressure will instead be on Manchester United, who will not want to end the season with nothing. They are favourites for a reason though and possess plenty of firepower, even without Eric Cantona.
But, as February’s victory at Goodison Park showed, Everton can be more than a match for the Red Devils on their day. If they can keep it tight at the back, there is no reason why they cannot snatch a crucial goal at the other end,