I had originally wanted to feature the epic cup ties between Middlesbrough and Everton from the late 80’s / early 90’s (and still do), but finding an Evertonian who was at those games has so far proved elusive. However, during that search the name of Andrew Tuft was recommended to me. Unfortunately the aforementioned games were a little before his time too but after a brief chat he kindly agreed to add a guest article of his own.
Last Saturday (10/03/12) was exactly 10 years to the day that a Boro defeat marked the end of Walter Smith’s Everton reign and the beginning of the David Moyes era. With this in mind, Andrew generously offered to write a 10 year review, detailing the contrasting fortunes of the two clubs. It makes for a very interesting read, with more overlaps than I had first realised. Anyway take a look and see what you think.
Article by Andrew Tuft
The beat of Papa’s Got a Brand New Pigbag still brings me out in a cold sweat, which makes watching darts on Sky Sports a troubling experience. It was March 10, 2002 and Everton were hurtling towards relegation; the only salvation on the horizon was an extended FA Cup run. Through to the quarter-finals with Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium standing in their way, Everton, under Walter Smith, were only a handful of games away from a first FA Cup final since 1995. Then, in a period of seven first-half minutes, Noel Whelan, Szilard Nemeth and Paul Ince dumped Everton out of the FA Cup and Smith out of a job. Days later, David Moyes was appointed.
It was a seminal moment in Everton’s recent history. The departure of Smith and the appointment of Moyes heralded a new start for the boys in blue, one desperately needed as Smith’s constant gloom dragged down the atmosphere around the club at almost the same rate he dragged the team down the table. Moyes from the very start was a breath of fresh air. In his first press conference he coined the description of Everton as ‘the people’s club’ of Merseyside. Whether it was accurate or not doesn’t matter. What mattered was Everton had a future again. In the decade since Moyes has led Everton to a brief Champions League appearance, consecutive top five finishes and, increasingly, kept Everton’s head above water as the tide of the club’s depressed finances threatens to drown out any ambition.
If the 10 years since that FA Cup game have largely been kind to Everton despite the precipice on which they stood at the final whistle, the reverse has mostly been the case for ‘Boro. There were heady days to come. 2004 brought a first major trophy, the League Cup, and 2006 a startling run to the UEFA Cup final. But the decade also brought relegation and a false dawn under Gordon Strachan. Everton, a 2009 FA Cup final apart, have not quite reached the highs of ‘Boro since 2002, but at the same time avoided the lowest of the lows. But if you were to pick a side destined for relegation out of the two that took to the field 10 years ago it would not have been ‘Boro.
A look at Everton’s XI, the last selected by Smith, reveals much about their problems back then. There are five defenders in the line-up, suggesting a 5-3-2 formation, but in those dog days defenders seemed to populate every area of the field, such as when David Unsworth and Abel Xavier formed a midfield partnership that had to be seen to be believed, so the amount of defenders on the pitch is no real guide to the formation employed. Steve Watson was also for a spell used as an auxiliary striker, although, in his defence, Watson was exactly as threatening as every other striker Smith could call on, i.e. not very – Everton had scored only four goals in the 12 league games prior to their cup exit.
Against ‘Boro Tobias Linderoth, a solely defensive midfielder, also started, just in case the multitudinous defenders already on the pitch needed a little more cover. The only breath of inspiration came from a waning Paul Gascoigne, signed from Middlesbrough, and making for a depressing sight to see as he blundered around the pitch.
Middlesbrough, though, could call on Alen Boksic, the sublime former Lazio and Juventus forward who personally ripped Everton apart, creating the second and third goals as well as hitting the crossbar. The rest of the ‘Boro side, to the non-Boro supporter, is a mish-mash of half-remembered names – goal-scorers Nemeth and Whelan, defender Gianluca Festa; it’s like a trawl through a sticker album, where you mentally say to yourself “Do you remember him? What happened to Carlos Marinelli anyway?” Marinelli – now of Universidad San Martin in Peru, in case you were wondering – appeared as a late substitute, replacing Nemeth with six minutes to go, but the match – and Smith’s tenure – was over before half-time.
Moyes then inherited a team in dire straits. Yet the malaise was broken within seconds of his first match in charge, against Fulham, when Unsworth opened the scoring in less than a minute. That first game – much like the hundreds that have followed – was far from plain sailing, however. Thomas Gravesen, recalled to the first team by Moyes after being banished to train with the youth team by Smith, was sent off before half-time. Straightforward it may not have been but that first victory – Everton won 2-1 – confirmed that if nothing else, Everton under Moyes would be more exciting than under his predecessor. Everton avoided relegation that year and in the summer Moyes set about rebuilding a decrepit squad, including the installation of 16-year-old Wayne Rooney as a member of the first team.
The emergence of Rooney underlined much about Everton in the early years under Moyes. To their supporters at least, if not the wider football world, Everton were fresh and new, and exciting again. Rooney was the most thrilling thing to happen at Goodison Park in a long, long time – watching a genuine world class player in his formative years was a rare pleasure, and at that point it seemed his long term future would be in Everton blue, not Manchester red. Rooney appeared in 37 games for Everton in Moyes’ first full season in charge, scoring eight goals, including the memorable winner against Arsenal and the equally-memorable – to Evertonians – winner against Leeds United.
It didn’t last, of course, and by 2004 Rooney had fallen out with the manager and, some supporters felt, betrayed the club by asking for a transfer which he duly received, but at least today relations have thawed to the point Rooney returned to Goodison to watch Everton’s FA Cup win over Blackpool as a guest of former player and current reserve team coach Alan Stubbs. Rooney may never return to Everton hearts, but he is no longer figure of hate he once was.
Ironically, Moyes’ crowning achievement – so far – as Everton manager came the season after the sale of Rooney. More damagingly, since Rooney progressed as a player faster than Everton as a club, Everton also lost pacey striker Tomasz Radzinski to Fulham. The Polish-born Belgium international was almost the Theo Walcott of his time, with the speed to out-run any opponent but without the consistent quality to finish. Even so, the loss of both players at once, and the purchase of only a journeyman striker and a Championship midfielder in return, suggested a difficult season ahead. But Marcus Bent, later Strachan’s first signing as Middlesbrough manager, and Tim Cahill proved to be excellent additions, Bent in the short-term and Cahill in the long-term, to the point of being one of Everton’s modern-day legends. Bent, who scored his first goal at Goodison against Middlesbrough in a 1-0 Everton win, was exactly the kind of workhorse who prospers under Moyes – Denis Stracqualursi is his modern-day equivalent, limited skill but more than enough heart to make up for it. Bent’s good form didn’t last, as the striker was understandably unsettled when Moyes bought James Beattie in January 2005 and shunted Bent to the right wing to accommodate, but for six months he was superb.
Beattie was somewhat less than superb, and Moyes’ search for a quality goal scorer took him first to Andy Johnson and then Yakubu, bought from Middlesbrough in 2007. The Nigerian is one of few players to make an impact at both ‘Boro and Everton in recent years, and is probably more fondly remembered on Merseyside than Teesside. Much of that is down to the manner of his departure from each club. Yakubu left ‘Boro almost kicking and screaming, reportedly falling out with the chairman and reportedly handing in a transfer request late in the summer transfer window. He left Everton with a whimper. While there was general dismay that Everton had allowed both Yakubu and Jermaine Beckford to leave on transfer deadline day in 2011 having brought in only Stracqualursi to aid the fragile Louis Saha, the problem was more that it left Moyes with only two centre-forwards, not that Yakubu was too important to sell.
A horrific knee injury in November 2008 cut short his Everton career after a storming first season and once the long road to recovery was complete Everton had moved on. Yakubu was not as valuable to Everton after taking nearly a year to return from injury and everyone knew it. The player’s form and fitness dropped in kind, creating a vicious circle that saw Yakubu dropped for not performing, which led to performances ever more apathetic when he was called upon. The Nigerian went from lethal to lumbering and the summer move to Blackburn was best for all concerned.
Looking back at the state of Everton in 2002 the best you could honestly have said about the club was that it couldn’t have gotten much worse, except even that isn’t true either, since the only way it could have gotten worse was relegation. The list of proud sides who dropped out of the Premier League and are yet to return is long and chilling – Sheffield Wednesday, Nottingham Forest, Leeds United are just three, each with histories as glorious as Everton’s, and each beset by the kind of financial strife that very nearly ruined the Toffees. It may still, if something doesn’t change in the near future, either a new owner or investor for Everton or, far less likely, football comes to its senses and some sort of sanity is restored to the balance sheets. Under a less skilled, less inspirational manager Everton would have struggled to avoid the drop in 2002, never mind since then when at various times the banks have been pushing Everton to sell their most valuable assets, the players, to soothe their debts. Moyes has always coped manfully and for that alone deserves the enduring respect of Evertonians and perhaps the wider football community.
When talk of a takeover comes up a cautionary tale is often made out of Blackburn Rovers and the Venky’s fiasco, with it rightly pointed out that Everton do not want to go down that route. By the same token, Everton do not want to go the way of one of the sides who perished from the top flight through a lack of investment, or investment in the wrong areas overseen by the wrong manager, of which, sadly, from the outside Middlesbrough under Gareth Southgate and Gordon Strachan appear to be an example. Everton have at least got the right manager, even if a decade ago that seemed a long way off. Relegation was avoided in 2002 by seven points and three places, and only once have Everton finished lower than that under Moyes – 2003/04 when they dropped to 17th, having muddled through a mediocre season and essentially stopped playing once safety from relegation had been confirmed with half a dozen games to go. Everton didn’t win any of their last six that year, the only real aberration on Moyes’ record of top-half, top-eight, top-five and top-four finishes.
Today, Everton are still a hard-working outfit – Moyes’ fiercest critics would argue he is only slightly less defensively minded than Walter Smith – but at least there is a dash of flair from Royston Drenthe and Steven Pienaar on either flank. But what matters most is Everton’s identity, shaped in the image of Moyes, has changed from the dour, permanently disappointed and disappointing Smith. Moyes may not be glamorous and his teams may not play champagne football but he restored Everton’s pride, fight and future.
The 10 years since Everton lost to ‘Boro in the Cup have seen huge changes at the losers and at the winners, but in the long-term, those roles have been firmly reversed from the result of the match in 2002.