Everton 2 Wimbledon 4
A year ago it was Wimbledon, rather than Everton, who were thinking they might sneak into Europe. Somehow it did not seem real. The Dons do not exist to rub shoulders with the fat-cats; they live to scrap against the odds. Comfort simply does not suit them.
Here, then, was a script that could have been written just for them. Pitched out of the FA Cup - another dream in tatters - and weakened by illness and injury, they looked ripe for a Merseyside mauling, more so when Andrei Kanchelskis gave Everton a 2-1 lead. But Wimbledon, by tradition, are never more dangerous than when they are cornered.
The response left Everton bewildered, their manager baffled. They greeted Stewart Castledine's equaliser as a personal affront; but it was not nearly such a shock as the two goals that Andy Clarke and Jon Goodman delivered in the last five minutes.
Afterwards, Joe Kinnear, the Wimbledon manager, was in his element, so excited he could barely stop himself punching the air as he spoke. His team had arrived at Goodison perched precariously over the relegation zone. This result had created clear daylight.
"It is a fantastic result," he said. "You don't know how big a result. It is amazing, considering the position we are in and considering the week we have had, when we have been on the floor. It has taken a hell of a lot of pressure off us."
There were no questions from the audience of reporters, and none were needed. Kinnear knows the story by heart. "We are a small club, without many resources, and people write us off week in, week out. So we have to earn the right to stay where we are. But we do so year after year and hopefully this will set us up to be in the Premier League for another season.
"I have put my arms around all the players; they just would not be beat," he added.
Unless the rules change, Everton's vision of a place in the Uefa Cup may be beyond them now after dropping seven points in three games. Two years ago, however, on the last day of the season, they had to beat Wimbledon to stay up; and last year was another grim tale. So they can hardly grumble about being seventh.
None the less, there is an air of disappointment around Goodison Park. "It's strange," Joe Royle, the Everton manager, observed. "We've let in eight goals in three matches, so there must be something wrong. But I don't honestly know why players who were keeping clean sheets before have started conceding goals."
Goals: Gayle (12) 0-1; Short (21) 1-1; Kanchelskis (61) 2-1; Castledine (65) 2-2; Clarke (86) 2-3; Goodman (88) 2-4.
Everton (4-4-2): Southall; Hottiger, Watson, Short, Hinchcliffe; Kanchelskis, Horne, Ebbrell (Rideout, 46), Limpar; Stuart (Amokachi, 57), Ferguson. Substitute not used: Unsworth.
Wimbledon (4-3-3): Sullivan; Cunningham, Blackwell, Perry, Kimble; Earle, Jones (Castledine, 28), Leonhardsen; Ekoku (Goodman, 59), Clarke, Gayle. Substitute not used: Pearce.
Referee: L Dilkes (Mossley).
Man of the match: Clarke.
Attendance: 31,382.Reuse content