Goalscorers: Gareth Farrelly 6, Dion Dublin 88
Everton: Thomas Myhre, Craig Short, Dave Watson, Michael Ball, John O’Kane, Carl Tiler, Don Hutchinson, Gareth Farrelly (Gavin McCann 88), Nick Barmby, Duncan Ferguson, Mikael Madar (Danny Cadamarteri 46)
Coventry City: Magnus Hedman, Roland Nilsson, Gary Breen (Paul Williams 51), David Burrows, Richard Shaw, Paul Telfer (Marcus Hall 89), George Boateng, Trond Egil Soltvedt, Dion Dublin, Darren Huckerby (Simon Haworth 69), Noel Whelan
Referee: Paul Alcock, Attendance: 40,109
For Everton fans, the 1997-1998 season had been extremely disappointing. Howard Kendall had failed to revive the sparkle he’d shown in his previous spells with the Toffees’ and they went into the final day of the season in the bottom three. One point behind Bolton Wanderers, they needed to better Bolton’s result or face the prospect of playing Division One football in the last full season of the 20th century.
For the game against Coventry City, Kendall made two changes from the side that wilted 4-0 at Highbury the previous weekend. Peter Beagrie and Slaven Bilic were dropped and in came Mikael Madar and Gareth Farrelly. One of these alterations was to have an early desired impact.
In the 7th minute, Duncan Ferguson won a header in the air. He nodded the ball back to Farrelly. The midfielder controlled the ball and unleashed a spectacular shot with his right-foot. The ball evaded Magnus Hedman’s dive and rippled the back of the net via the post. Goodison Park erupted with a sense of delirium and joy. The goal had come from the most unexpected of sources and it was just the start they were looking for.
From the outset, Everton pressed high and harried a Coventry side that were comfortably in mid-table but could finish in the top half with a win. The formidable Coventry striking partnership of Darren Huckerby and Dion Dublin were marked out of the match completely in the first 45 minutes. Despite their high intensity, chances were still at a premium for Everton but they nearly doubled their lead just short of the interval. Hedman had to show fantastic acrobatics to tip a shot around the post from a scrambled corner when Dave Watson’s miscued shot took a deflection off his own teammate, Madar.
Coventry had to improve in the second half and they gave Everton much more to think about in the second half. Roland Nilsson was the first to try his luck and he hit a post through a deflection off the youngster John O’Kane. Then, the home supporters started to dream that survival was likely as Gianluca Vialli had put Chelsea infront at Stamford Bridge against Bolton.
With five minutes left, Everton had the chance to seal the three points. Half-time substitute Danny Cadamarteri won a rather fortuitous penalty. Replays showed that Paul Williams had made a clean tackle on the forward. Referee Paul Alcock believed he hadn’t and awarded the spot-kick. Justice was done though as Hedman saved Nick Barmby’s penalty. Then, Coventry added to the drama. David Burrows’ swung in a cross. Dublin won a header against his marker and the ball squirmed past Thomas Myhre who tried to catch the ball, but only succeeded in palming the ball into his own net.
The Sky Blues pushed for a winner but Everton completed a second ‘Great Escape’ in four seasons. Bolton’s 2-0 defeat at Chelsea meant the point here was enough for the Evertonian faithful, who spilled onto the pitch with a mixture of relief and delight. Howard Kendall resigned in the summer of 1998 but at least he had kept Everton in the top-flight…just!