London: Everton go into their final-day fixture at home to Bournemouth on Sunday with their proud 69-year presence in the top flight of English football depending on a repeat of the two last-day escapes of the 1990s that are part of the club’s folklore.
Victory at Goodison Park will ensure a 121st top-flight season - a record unmatched anywhere in the world - while a draw or even defeat will see Everton safe if Leicester City and Leeds United fail to beat West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur respectively in the simultaneous 1530GMT kick offs.
Everton are currently on 33 points to the 31 of their relegation rivals. The previous lowest total to avoid the drop was the 34 of West Bromwich Albion in 2005 but Everton fans won’t care a jot about that if they survive, having averted the danger of the drop only on the penultimate weekend last year.
New boss bounce
Things looked bleak again this season as the introduction of Sean Dyche for the sacked Frank Lampard brought only a hint of “new boss bounce” until the astonishing 5-1 win at high-flying Brighton & Hove Albion two weeks ago transformed the league table and the Merseyside club’s whole mindset.
The 99th-minute equaliser in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Wolverhampton Wanderers, fittingly scrambled home by a combination of three centre backs, supplied a massive injection of belief and edged them marginally clear of the drop zone.
The only sour note was yet another injury for striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who has missed most of the season.
His brief return coincided with Everton’s upturn in form as they finally had a focal point in attack and fans will pray that he can recover from a hamstring strain for Sunday’s game.
The atmosphere at Goodison will be febrile, with no doubt much talk of the club’s other two great escapes from the early days of the Premier League.
The first came in 1994 when needing to win their final game at home to Wimbledon to have a chance of staying up, they looked dead and buried as they trailed 2-0, only to scramble a 3-2 win that, thanks to other results going their way, saved them.
A year later they won the FA Cup and finished sixth in 1996 but in 1998 it was another nail-biting finale as, 1-0 up in their final game at home to Coventry City, they missed a penalty and conceded a last-minute equaliser only for their rivals to falter elsewhere and allow them to survive on goal difference.
Top flight club
These relegation flirtations, however, have been the considerable exception, rather than the rule.
As founder members of the league in 1888, Everton have spent just four seasons outside the top flight - 1930-31 and three in the early 1950s. Their 69-year unbroken run since 1954 is second only to Arsenal’s (1919) but the last of nine league titles came in 1987 and their last trophy was a fifth FA Cup 28 years ago.
The mid-1980s was their most successful period, with the European Cup Winners’ Cup claimed alongside two league titles, an FA Cup and a host of near misses.
Recently, though, clubs such as Bournemouth, Brentford, and Brighton, who for over a century were distant blips in the rear-view mirror, have suddenly caught and quickly overtaken Everton, despite The Toffees continuing to spend eye-watering amounts.
Since Farhad Moshiri bought the club six years ago over 700 million pounds ($883.47 million) has been spent on players with almost laughably poor returns.
A similar outlay is going on a new stadium, with chairman Bill Kenwright and board member and former crowd hero Graeme Sharpe still advised by police to stay away from home games for their own safety, against the backdrop of reports of new investors ready to step in.
That supporter anger will be put to the side for a few hours on Sunday, though, as the faithful give their all to help lift the players to the win that guarantees keeping them up.
“When I became manager here we wanted to connect with the fans, we wanted an on-pitch connection,” Dyche said.
“I think the commitment to the cause is evident and the fans are playing their part. That’s the connection we want, and we’ll need that this week.”