The return of Wimbledon is a reminder of a desperate past at Goodison, where survival in the Premiership two years ago was clinched only after an extraordinary last-day victory over Joe Kinnear's side. "That was such a vital day," said Joe Royle, Everton's manager, yesterday. "If we do go on to achieve everything we are aiming for, it will always be remembered as theturning point."
The immediate objective is qualification for the Uefa Cup, a prize being eyed up by Wimbledon at this time last season. How times change. Their presence in the top flight has always defied logic but their Premiership status at present looks insecure. They were one place above the trouble zone before this game with Kinnear reckoning 39 points would make them safe.Yesterday was certainly a start.
Not even the continued absence of Dean Holdsworth could deter Wimbledon's attacking ambitions. There is no place for caution in Kinnear's philosophy and he began with three up-front. This adventurous spirit was rewarded with a 12th-minute goal.
After Barry Horne's foul on Efan Ekoku deep in Everton's half, Marcus Gayle was allowed unchallenged access to Vinnie Jones's free-kick and headed easily past Neville Southall.
Everton, unbeatable at home since October, were not however going to allow Wimbledon to recreate the drama of two years ago, when they led 2-0. Nine minutes after going behind, Everton were level, Craig Short rising above everyone to meet a cross by Anders Limpar and power a header past Neil Sullivan.
Wimbledon lost Jones, injured, after half an hour and Everton looked more threatening. Sullivan snatched the ballfrom Short after Duncan Ferguson headed cleverly across goal, and grabbed a venomous 20-yarder by Andrei Kanchelskis at the second attempt.
Everton too needed to reorganise when John Ebbrell failed to appear for the second half. Initially Stuart dropped into midfield with Paul Rideout, the substitute, taking over as Ferguson's strike partner. But it was another change, when the Nigerian striker Daniel Amokachi replaced Stuart 12 minutes later, that led to Everton's second goal. Released on the left by Limpar, Amokachi found Kanchelskis loitering on the far post to head into the corner.
But Everton's lead had a shorter life than Wimbledon's, cancelled out five minutes later as Jon Goodman and Andy Clarke combined to set up the substitute Stewart Castledine to drill home a low shot from 15 yards.
The whole stadium seemed convinced that Limpar's long-range strike had found the target 20 minutes from time, until the ball trickled harmlessly away from the side netting.
But there was no illusion about Wimbledon's two-goal finishing burst. After Marc Hottiger's clearance off the line, Andy Clarke's return header caught Southall off balance to restore their lead in the 80th minute, before Goodman sealed the victory by heading home Clarke's cross two minutes from the end.