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20 For 20: The Greatest Escape

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EVERTON 3-2 Wimbledon, 7 May 1994
(Stuart 24 (pen), 81, Horne 67)
Att: 31,297 

Everton performed one of the most miraculous escapes in living memory to edge a five-goal thriller against Wimbledon and save themselves from relegation to the First Division. 

Languishing inside the drop zone at the start of the day and two-goals down after just 20 minutes, the outlook for the Toffees looked bleak. 

Yet Graham Stuart restored hope from the penalty spot before half time and Barry Horne levelled things up with a spectacular long-range effort. 

It was then left to Stuart to successfully confirm his role as the hero of this fairytale, the midfielder creeping the ball home to protect his Club’s unblemished 40-year run in the top flight.  

Everton went into the game on the back of seven defeats and just one win in 10 games. As a result, Mike Walker’s side found themselves 20th in the table with only Oldham Athletic and Swindon Town below them.

Mike Walker v Wimbledon 94

One point behind Sheffield United, Ipswich and Southampton, the mathematics were simple – the Goodison outfit would stay in the Premiership if they defeated the Dons and any of the trio above them slipped up.

Still, their fate was out of their own hands.  

Imagine then the horror among a crowd of 31,233, when the visitors – as high as sixth in the table – raced into an early lead. 

Inexplicably, the Swede Anders Limpar handled Gary Elkins' corner kick inside the penalty box. Referee Robbie Hart had little choice but to point to the spot and Dean Holdsworth made no mistake in finding a way past Neville Southall. 

If that was bad for the hosts, things soon turned desperate when defender Gary Ablett sliced into his own net. 

Irrespective of what was going on elsewhere, it seemed as though Everton, champions just seven years ago, were doomed. 

Yet, one thing the blue half of Merseyside will never lack is fighting spirit. And the way Walker’s charges clawed their way back into this make-or-break affair will doubtless hold an enduring place in football folklore. 

Unsworth celebrates after Everton defeat Wimbledon 3-2 to stay up, May '94David Unsworth celebrates at the final whistle as Goodison goes wild.

It took Stuart just four minutes to pull one back with a successful penalty of his own.  Horne then smashed in from 30 yards to make it 2-2 on the day. 

News elsewhere wasn't good though. With all three of Everton’s rivals also drawing, only a win would be enough to keep them up. 

All they could do was forget and focus. And when, nine minutes from time, Stuart spun the ball under Hans Segers' dive, into the bottom corner at the famous Gwladys Street end, an uneasy chapter in Everton’s history was glossed with a celebratory climax. 

Line-Ups

Everton                                   Wimbledon

Southall                                   Segers
Snodin                                     Barton
Watson                                    Blackwell
Unsworth                                 Scales
Ablett                                       Elkins (Blissett)
Stuart                                       Fear
Horne                                      Jones
Ebbrell (Barlow 80)                 Earle
Limpar                                     Gayle
Rideout                                   Clarke
Cottee                                     Holdsworth

Manager: Mike Walker           Manager: Joe Kinnear

What They Said

"If it’d been anybody but Wimbledon I’d have thought, 'Perhaps they’ll roll over and let us win'. But they’d have loved to have sent Everton down because we’d had some battles with them in the past." - Ian Snodin.

"[Wimbledon chairman] Sam Hammam felt he had been snubbed once by Everton and wanted to see their demise. He even offered his players a holiday in Las Vegas if they won." - former Wimbledon boss Dave Bassett sheds some light on Wimbledon's motives.

"At 2-0, we thought we were cruising, no problems," - Wimbledon midfielder Carl Bradshaw.

"It helped that it was still win or bust. We had to go out and keep piling on the pressure. And we did. I don’t remember Wimbledon having too many chances in the second half.” - Tony Cottee.

“Anders played it across and played a one-two with Tony Cottee. I sort of half-tackled the bloke then I just heard the roar of the crowd. I don't know how it went in.” – Graham Stuart on his winner.

“I said all along to those who bothered to listen that we wouldn't go down. We kept our heads and we kept going. Now we have a chance to build a team that will bring in 30,000 every week.” - Everton manager Mike Walker.

In The News

  • Three-time Formula One world champion Ayrton Senna is killed in a crash at the San Marino Grand Prix, aged 34. The Brazilian's death comes just a day after Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger lost his life in an accident during qualifying.
  • The Channel Tunnel, which took 15,000 workers over seven years to complete, is officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II and French president Francois Mitterand.
  • Nelson Mandela is tipped to win South Africa's first fully multiracial elections. Days later he is inaugurated as South Africa's first black president.
  • China Airlines Flight 140, an Airbus A300, crashes while landing at Nagoya, Japan, killing 264 people.
  • Wet Wet Wet's 'Love Is All Around' is about to dominate the UK charts for 15 weeks, while it's all laughs at the cinema with Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult raking in the box office takings.

What Happened Next

  • Despite saving Everton, a dreadful start to the 1994/95 campaign saw Mike Walker sacked as Blues boss after just 10 months in charge. The former Norwich boss managed just six league wins.
  • Former Toffees striker Joe Royle ultimately instigated a somewhat more comfortable escape from the drop and led the Club to a memorable FA Cup final triumph over Manchester United.

For a full 1993/94 fixture list, click here.

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