Everton pulled off a dramatic final day turnaround and preserved their 40-year run in the English top flight with a 3-2 victory over high flying Wimbledon.
The Toffees had embarked on a dismal run of form, winning only four times in the league since Howard Kendall’s resignation in early December and hope was not high that they’d be able to pull off a win against Joe Kinnear’s Wimbledon side that had not lost in their last nine games.
The drama of the situation had been fuelled the night before when the Wimbledon team bus was set alight, extinguishing any hope of the Crazy Gang taking it easy on Everton in their relegation dogfight.
Indeed, Mike Walker’s men made the worst possible start to their D-Day when Anders Limpar bizarrely handled a corner and Dean Holdsworth converted the resulting penalty with just four minutes gone.
Everton’s situation worsened after a miscommunication between centre backs Dave Watson and David Unsworth led to a crestfallen Gary Ablett slashing a Marcus Gayle shot into his own net and putting the Merseysiders 2-0 behind on 20 minutes.
The atmosphere around Goodison, initially one of nerves and hope, had turned sour and hostile. A few minutes after Ablett’s own goal, the least popular player on the pitch Limpar won a fortunate penalty and Graham Stuart pulled one back from 12 yards.
After a frantic opening quarter of the match, the tempo soon settled down as the Dons set about protecting what they already had. Before the game, Tony Cottee had been Everton’s only scorer in their last nine matches but he in particular was struggling to make any sort of impact on the game and Everton fans were beginning to think that it would take a surprise hero to miraculously pull them out of the mire.
This hero announced his arrival on 67 minutes in the form of Welsh midfielder Barry Horne who had only previously scored once for the club. Horne took a long ball down on his chest in the middle of the park, before setting it up with his knee and striking a thunderous volley into the top corner of the Gwladys Street net via the post, causing an eruption around the ground.
It was starting to look possible that Everton could pull the miracle off and on 81 minutes, Stuart and Cottee’s one-two led to Stuart poking a shot towards goal from the edge of the area that somehow evaded Hans Segers and bounced into the goal, sending the Goodison faithful into a state of euphoria.
The Toffees held onto a win that had seemed inconceivable with 20 minutes gone. There was sheer relief around the ground that it had become a day to celebrate rather than mourn for the Evertonians.
Wimbledon appeared in disbelief that they had managed to throw away all three points in this match but that cannot tarnish the miracles Joe Kinnear has pulled off this campaign, leading his unfancied team to the giddy heights of sixth in the Premier League. Meanwhile, Everton will be relieved to have finished a dismal season in 17th, when if not for the heroics of Stuart and Horne, it could have ended a lot worse for them.
7th May 1994 – Premier League