Goodison Park was where it began going pear-shaped for Middlesbrough halfway through last season. Fifth in the Premiership and boasting its best defensive record, they were overrun 4-0 by Everton. The next 10 games produced a solitary point, a sequence which convinced Bryan Robson of the need to re-invent his side during the summer.
Just five of the 14 on duty in the December debacle took part as Boro scaled a psychological barrier by winning away for only the second time all year. Moreover, they did it - under the gaze of Glenn Hoddle and at the end of a week when the shortcomings of British huff and puff were again laid bare in Europe - by trusting in skill and mobility.
Nick Barmby, the antithesis of the battering-ram striker, scored their first and made the second for the waif-like Juninho. Hauled off on his first trip to Goodison, the latter now struck to secure only their fourth win in 44 visits. Yet it was the performance of another supposed South American softy, Emerson, that proved the real difference between two unexceptional sides.
When the Middlesbrough line-up was peppered with the dour names of hard men like Craggs and Boam, Maddren and Spraggon, buying a Brazilian would have been tantamount to signing a Martian. As the third from that country to join in a matter of months, in a deal overshadowed by Fabrizio Ravanelli's arrival, Emerson's welcome was almost blase. Attitudes are changing fast.
His touch is as you would expect of a son of Rio de Janiero. Faced with the so-called "Dogs of War", the dreadlocked 24-year-old also showed a facility for the physical dimension which bodes well for the winter. "His all-round ability is outstanding," the Middlesbrough manager said of his pounds 4m recruit from Portugal. "The few times I saw him play for Porto he dictated the pace of the game.
It was the same story here, at least in the second half, when Emerson imposed a rhythm on Middlesbrough's ground-level attacks which contrasted starkly with Everton's tendency to look for Duncan Ferguson's head. However, when Craig Short headed home inside 10 minutes - exactly as he had on Boxing Day - things looked bleak for the visitors.
Suddenly, Barmby was racing clear to lob Neville Southall for his first club goal since January. The former Tottenham striker, with a back-heeled pass out of the Hoddle manual, also set up Juninho for his fourth goal in six games, already double last season's tally.
"It all hinged on little incidents," a perplexed Joe Royle said, citing Andy Hinchcliffe's cross-shot inches wide immediately before Barmby struck. And three minutes before the winner Alan Miller made a brilliant reflex save to stop one of several towering headers by Ferguson.
Middlesbrough have now won three in a row; Everton have lost the last three. For all Royle's bafflement, the lack of midfield guile is transparent, the dependence on power outmoded. A Coca-Cola Cup home leg against Second Division opponents on Wednesday provides a chance to break the spell, but York City will be inspired by the memory of last September's crushing defeat of Manchester United.
On the subject of lightning striking again, five bookings in a game bereft of malice took Paul Danson to 19 yellow cards and one red in four Premiership fixtures. The referee had Gary Speed's name after two minutes - for flattering to deceive, one cynic suggested - and issued cautions as if on commission until half-time. After that, of course, Emerson was running the show.
Goals: Short (8) 1-0; Barmby (61) 1-1; Juninho (81) 1-2.
Everton (4-4-2): Southall; Barrett, Short, Unsworth, Hinchcliffe; Kanchelskis, Ebbrell, Parkinson, Speed; Branch (Stuart, 56), Ferguson. Substitutes not used: Rideout, Hottiger, Grant, Gerrard (gk).
Middlesbrough: (5-2-1-2) Miller; Cox, Whyte, Vickers, Whelan, Fleming; Mustoe, Emerson; Juninho; Barmby, Ravanelli. Substitutes not used: Moore, Hendrie, Stamp, Branco, Roberts (gk).
Referee: P Danson (Leicester). Attendance: 39,250.
Bookings: Everton: Speed, Hinchcliffe, Unsworth; Middlesbrough: Vickers, Mustoe.
Man of the match: Emerson.Reuse content