With the crowd poised on the B of boo, and Spurs about to open a six point gap in fourth place, Everton turned their season on its head.
In the final minute, with Andre Villas-Boas’s compact and efficient team leading through a deflected Clint Dempsey drive that dipped over Tim Howard in the 75th minute, it looked as if we would once again be reflecting on Everton’s well documented deficiencies.
Despite playing some decent stuff in spells, especially before the returning Kevin Mirallas was withdrawn at half time, there was always a feeling that Tottenham were doing well at keeping the Blues at arm’s length. They controlled long stretches of the game, pressured from the front and always looked ominous on the break. If we played like that at White Hart Lane we would have reasoned that we deserved the lead and called the performance ‘professional’.
Everton’s best spell apart from the crazy finale came before half time when the visitors were forced into some desperate defending and had to ride their luck. In particular, Dempsey and then William Gallas appeared to get away with a couple of handballs that looked like Wailing Wall penalties. They are the ones that aren’t awarded against clubs with a support that is often characterised as containing a higher than average contingent of Jewish members.
During that frantic spell, Leon Osman also saw a goalbound shot blocked by Steven Caulker following great play down the left by Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar.
After that though, the sides were evenly matched for most of the second half, with Everton missing the pace of Mirallas who never reappeared after the break – he looked as if he aggravated his troublesome hamstring following a mazy run across the edge of the Tottenham box.
Jan Vertonghen’s piledriver from a free-kick forced Howard to tip the ball over the bar but, despite the quality of both sides, neither keeper was really too busy before Dempsey’s strike took a nick off the superb Sylvain Distin and put Tottenham in front.
As David Moyes admitted afterwards, the last 10 minutes or so of normal time then marked the Blues’ worst spell of the match. An equaliser never looked on the cards, and Spurs could have doubled their lead when substitute Gylfi Sigurdsson curled a beauty over Howard and onto the crossbar.
Then it happened. In the final minute, Steven Naismith, who had a decent game in place of Mirallas, fed a loose ball out wide to Seamus Coleman. The Irishman has had a tough time recently but this match saw him back to his best – he certainly did brilliantly in this instance, resisting the temptation to lash the ball into the heart of the packed defence and chipping the ball back towards the edge of the box instead. One of the reasons we struggle to open sides up is because we never seem to have anyone arriving late in the penalty area any more, but this time little Pienaar left his former teammates flat-footed as he steamed in and planted a header low past the incredibly French-looking Hugo Lloris.
Mayhem. And incredibly there was more to follow.
With Villas-Boas still standing stunned on the touchline – with his now familiar expression like a man who has realised that the person he has let on to was actually talking to someone behind him– Everton took all three points and squeaked above Spurs into fourth place.
Darron Gibson launched a cross towards the edge of the box where substitute Apostos Vellios threw himself at an overhead kick that was ambitious to say the least. The Greek striker made only the faintest contact with the ball, but it was enough to put it into the path of Nikica Jelavic who instinctively stabbed home a winner that had seemed all but impossible only a couple of minutes earlier.
How the fuck the Croatian knew to be on the move when and where he was, and then stick out his leg when he couldn’t have even seen the ball coming past the defenders, will forever remain a mystery.
He seemed quite happy with the goal though.
It was a remarkable comeback against a good Tottenham side. Moyes, looking resplendent in a suit and cardigan combo, said that we were due something like that and he’s not wrong.
It’s hard to foresee a season when qualifying for the Champions League will be more achievable for Everton than this one. We kept our best players this summer, and indeed strengthened the squad, and a number of the massively moneyed clubs who normally bar entry to the Euro money pit are struggling with problems of their own. If the people at the club who say they want to play at the highest level – and would love to do it with Everton – are really being sincere, then they have to build on this result and start being more ruthless against the majority of sides in the league who are nothing like as good as the last three we’ve faced.
After all, it needs to be remembered, we’re talking about finishing fourth here.