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Everton will have to party like it’s 1999 to avoid the drop - but who can be their hero like Kevin Campbell?

The former Arsenal striker became an instant legend after his goalscoring heroics saved the Toffees from relegation

Everton v West Ham Kevin Campbell

Tony Blair was in Downing Street, Bill Clinton was in the White House. Internet was via dial-up and the Millennium bug was preparing to shut it all down.

Yep, things were very different in April 1999. Though at Goodison things were eerily familiar.

A grim home defeat by Sheffield Wednesday on Easter Monday saw the Toffees drop into the bottom three with six games to go.

Why is that significant now? Well, Everton have not been in the relegation zone with six games remaining since - until last weekend.

Another unwanted milestone in this most tortuous of seasons.

So what happened all those years ago? And does it give us hope for the next few weeks?

Rewind back to April 5 1999 and the Toffees were leading 1-0 at half-time against Wednesday, seemingly set for a morale-boosting win. But two horrendous defensive mistakes (sound familiar?) by David Unsworth and Marco Materazzi gifted two goals to Benito Carbone.

Soccer - FA Carling Premiership - Everton v Charlton Athletic Photo by Neal Simpson/EMPICS via Getty Images

It was fourth straight defeat for Walter Smith’s side, who had won just one of their previous eight games in all competitions. It meant Everton dropped to 18th on goal difference behind Charlton and Blackburn.

It was a sombre atmosphere around Goodison after the game (think the Wolves matches this season) and I remember being convinced there was no way out of this mess.

They were the lowest scorers in the league at the stage, with just 26 goals in 32 league games. A tighti-sh defence had mitigated their blunt at attack to an extent, but an increasingly porous backline saw the Blues slip down the league. They needed a hero.

Step forward, Kevin Campbell.

Campbell had joined Everton on loan from Trabzonspor at the end of March, inheriting the number nine shirt controversially vacated by Duncan Ferguson, who had been sold to Newcastle behind Smith’s back by chairman Peter Johnson the previous November in order to appease the banks.

It was hoped he could be the final piece in the jigsaw, bringing the best out of attacking players such Nick Barmby, Ibrahima Bakayoko and a teenage Francis Jeffers.

He drew a blank in his first two matches – against Liverpool and Wednesday – so there was little sign of the fireworks that was to come next.

Campbell would go on to score nine goals in just five games, with Everton winning four of those, to propel themselves to safety with a game to spare and earn Campbell the Player of the Month award for April, the first loan player to do so in the division’s history.

Everton ended the campaign in 14th place on 43 points, seven points clear of the bottom three, scoring 16 goals in their final six league games - as many as they had scored in their previous 15 Premier League matches.

So how did it all happen?

Kevin Campbell

Well the first game was a tense encounter with Coventry. Coming just a week after the Wednesday debacle it was a must-win match.

Thankfully they did so thanks to Campbell, who scrambled home the opener after half an hour, before sealing the points with two minutes remaining.

That game was also memorable for Materazzi being sent off (again) and bursting into tears while leaning on the advertising hoardings, before being comforted by Everton fans sat behind him.

Soccer - FA Carling Premiership - Everton v Coventry City Photo by Adam Davy/EMPICS via Getty Images

The following week was arguably the most eye-catching result. Newcastle were only a mid-table side but they had just reached the FA Cup final for the second successive year, thrashing Everton 4-1 in the quarter-final on route the previous month. Everton had also lost seven and drawn one of their last eight visits to the north east.

This time, though, they were 1-0 up inside a minute thanks to Campbell, who then doubled the advantage just before half-time. Alan Shearer’s penalty brought Newcastle back into the game but a sumptuous volley from Scott Gemmill, who had joined Everton at around the same time as Campbell, sealed the points.

Those back-to-back wins lifted the Toffees five points clear of the bottom three ahead of a huge relegation six-pointer at home to Charlton the following week.

The Addicks occupied the final relegation spot on 32 points so knew victory was vital if they were to reel in the Toffees, who were 15th on 37 points.

Everton went ahead through Don Hutchison before Campbell doubled the lead before the break. Campbell and Jeffers then dovetailed perfectly in the second half to make it 4-0 – Jeffers crossing for Campbell for the third before Campbell played in Jeffers for number four.

Soccer - FA Carling Premiership - Everton v Charlton Athletic Photo by Neal Simpson/EMPICS via Getty Images
Soccer - FA Carling Premiership - Everton v Charlton Athletic Photo by Neal Simpson/EMPICS via Getty Images
Soccer - FA Carling Premiership - Everton v Charlton Athletic Photo by Neal Simpson/EMPICS via Getty Images

Former Evertonian Graham Stuart scored a penalty consolation for Charlton five years after doing so for the Toffees in that famous last-game escape against Wimbledon.

It was the first time Everton had won three successive games for three years and moved them onto 40 points, all but sealing their survival, despite a 3-1 defeat at Chelsea the following week.

Charlton’s draw with Blackburn meant they were on 33 points with two games left and could not catch the Blues. Blackburn were also on 33 points but had a game in hand so in theory were able to finish above Everton as we approached the penultimate weekend of the season.

Any fears were quickly put to bed in the final home game against West ham, with Campbell, Hutchison and Michael Ball’s penalty putting the Toffees 3-0 ahead at half-time.

With safety assured Everton ran riot in the second half, with Campbell completing his hat-trick alongside another goal for Jeffers, all played out in front of a party atmosphere at Goodison Park, the relief at avoiding the drop palpable.

Soccer - FA Carling Premiership - Everton v West Ham United Photo by Barrington Coombs/EMPICS via Getty Images

It meant the final day trip to Southampton was stress-free for the Toffees, with the Saints’ 2-0 win also securing their place in the top-flight for another season.

It was a truly remarkable end to a campaign that for so long looked to be sliding towards catastrophe. Everton saved their best form from the last to haul themselves away from trouble just as disaster was looming.

23 years on and Everton now find themselves in a similar position. Who is to be their hero this time?