I have delved into the Everton archives to try and fill the footballing void. But rather than pick out the obvious classic matches, I thought I’d review some games that tend to slip under the radar, starting with a belter of a match against Leeds in 1999…
The dying embers of the 20th century were a turbulent time for Everton
Disaster was only narrowly averted in May 1998 when a 1-1 draw against Coventry City kept the Toffees up on the final day goal difference. That summer, Walter Smith replaced Howard Kendall and went a transfer splurge that we later discovered was funded purely by credit, prompting the controversial sale of Duncan Ferguson in the November in order to appease the banks.
By the spring of 1999, the Toffees were once again in a relegation battle, only for the signing of Kevin Campbell to spark yet another great escape. However, big money imports such as Olivier Dacourt and Marco Materazzi had to be sold in the summer to reduce the club’s still uncomfortably high overdraft.
But, miraculously, the remaining players seemed to click, with Smith was able to fashion them into an efficient, functioning unit at the start of the 1999-2000 season.
On 24th October, 1999, the Toffees were seventh in the table with 17 points from 11 matches going into a game against Leeds United.
Before kick-off, Smith was presented with the Manager of the Month award following an unbeaten September that included a 1-0 win against Liverpool at Anfield, still Everton’s last victory across the park.
Leeds, meanwhile, were flying. The Whites were a point clear at the top of the table having won their last 10 matches in a row. David O’Leary had cultivated a team full of talented youngsters such as Alan Smith, Lee Bowyer, Harry Kewell and Jonathan Woodgate, furnished with old heads such as Nigel Martyn, David Batty and Lucas Radebe,
The result was an absolute thriller that had pretty much everything.
Campbell put Everton in front after just four minutes, collecting John Collins’ pass just inside the area before curling a magnificent finish into the top corner.
Leeds hit back 11 minutes later. Australian Harry Kewell, who was a constant threat down the left wing, fired a dangerous ball across the box that was tapped home at the far post by Michael Bridges.
Three goals in nine minutes would follow as the game spiralled into a maelstrom of attacking finesse and defensive calamity.
The Toffees restored their lead shortly before the half hour with a goal of laser-like precision. Michael Ball, Mark Pembridge and Don Hutchison combined to send the ball like an arrow through the heart of the Leeds defence to Campbell, who beat Martyn with a dinked finish.
Seven minutes later, Kewell attempted a cross-shot from the left flank that deceived Paul Gerrard and looped into the net.
Gerrard, signed as Neville Southall’s long-term replacement three years previously, was enjoying his most consistent run in the side and was capable of moments of brilliance. But with it also came moments of misjudgement that meant he was never going to fill the Welshman’s shoes on a permanent basis. Little did we know at the time, but the next man to truly claim the Everton number one shirt for his own was in the opposite goal that day...
Everton would go back in front for a third time shortly before the break, Hutchison bobbling the ball into the corner after Radabe’s looping header fell into his path.
Hutchison and Radebe would be involved in the game’s most controversial incident early in the second half. The South African appeared to bring Hutchison down as he was clear on goal, though the referee deemed he had managed to get a slight touch on the ball and waved played on.
Leeds took full advantage of their reprieve with a delightful equaliser.
Darren Huckerby’s fizzing cross looped up invitingly for Bridges on the edge of the area, and the striker fired in a fine dipping volley into the top corner.
The Yorkshire side then went ahead for the first time in the game with 18 minutes left. Woodgate meeting Ian Harte’s corner with a header that kissed the crossbar and then in.
Defeat would have been cruel on Everton given their contribution to the game. So, thankfully, they snatched a point in the dying seconds. David Unsworth’s free-kick from the left found David Weir at the far post, and his header beat Martyn to send Goodison wild.
The Scot later admitted he thought Everton had won the game given the see-saw nature of the match. A draw was perhaps the fair result though, with both sides contributing to a thrilling encounter.
Leeds would go on and finish third to qualify for the Champions League, where they would reach the semi-finals the following year. However, financial mismanagement at the top of the club prompted a fire-sale of players that ultimately led to their relegation in 2004.
Everton, meanwhile, spent much of the season in the top 10, but two defeats from their final two matches of the season saw them drop to 13th - their lowest position since August.