While it was a scrappy mess of a game with the only threat to either goal coming from high balls into the Middlesbrough box, Everton were happily on their way to three points. But as soon as a bitterly disappointing Boro put their first-half fumblings behind them and started to play the stuff of which they are capable, the game swiftly and irrevocably changed direction.
Spectacularly well-struck goals from Nicky Barmby and Juninho won it for Middlesbrough, and the watching Glenn Hoddle will have gone away with his already high opinion of Barmby further enhanced.
The former Spurs player, whose only previous goal this season was for England in Moldova, conjured a goal out of nothing for the equaliser, latching on to a long clearance from Derek Whyte and lobbing Neville Southall from fully 30 yards.
Alan Miller stopped Everton going back into the lead with a wonderfully instinctive save from Duncan Ferguson's header, but Boro were looking likely to go home with a win.
The goal that enabled them to do just that came with nine minutes remaining. There seemed little immediate danger from Neil Cox's ball into the box, but Barmby's deft back-heel found Juninho, whose shot just inside the post combined power and accuracy to a degree that left Southall motionless.
Miller still had to save another Ferguson header, but it was reassuring in the end that it was Middlesbrough's delayed but ultimately devastating footwork that won the day, rather than Everton's aerial assault.
Everton could hardly be blamed for concentrating their attacks in that area, not after the evidence of the first few minutes. Boro were shockingly vulnerable to early centres and had already been in trouble before Craig Short put Everton ahead after eight minutes. Andy Hinchcliffe's initial free-kick was partially cleared, but Joe Parkinson had the presence of mind to send the ball straight back to him. This time the delivery was perfect for Short to head down firmly past Miller's right hand.
Short and Ferguson had further headed chances as Middlesbrough continued to struggle in the air, while the contribution of Michael Branch, at 17 even younger than Joe Royle when he made his Goodison debut, was testimony to his potential.
But even with Fabrizio Ravenelli subdued, Boro were starting to come into the game by half-time, with Bryan Robson particularly pleased with the dizzy and effective display from his other Brazilian, Emerson, in the second half.
"We've come here and shown a bit of mettle, which is pleasing for me as a manager," said Robson. "I was pleased for Nicky. He hasn't been getting on the scoresheet and that goal will do his confidence a world of good."
Everton's confidence, after such a promising start with a 2-0 win over Newcastle and a two-goal lead at Old Trafford, is starting to wear thin. "It's strange, because I don't think we played desperately badly - certainly a lot better than at Wimbledon last week - and I don't think we deserved to lose," said Royle. "But I never said after three games that we were a cchampionship side, so after three defeats we are not a relegation side now."