Inside story of Everton's loudest day at Goodison Park that left Sean Dyche with mixed emotions

A year ago today, Everton’s Premier League status was on the line on the final day of the season for the third time.

It was a nerve-shredding day for loyal but long-suffering Blues supporters but thankfully given that Abdoulaye Doucoure’s goal ensured the club avoided a first relegation in 72 years and Sean Dyche has subsequently steered the team to safety again this term despite two separate points deductions, we can all look back on that high-stakes match with a sense of relief some 12 months on.

Unlike Everton’s previous ‘Great Escapes’ from the drop on the last day of the campaign in 1994 – when they didn’t climb out of the drop zone until nine minutes from full-time – and 1998, their fate was at least in their own hands on this occasion. With the status of Leicester City and Leeds United also at stake going into the final round of fixtures, between the battling trio’s respective games (all three were at home with Everton hosting Bournemouth, Leicester against West Ham United and Leeds facing Tottenham Hotspur) there were 27 different potential permutations in terms of respective wins, losses or draws.

READ MORE: Everton furious reaction to points deduction followed by penalty woe and unhappy new year

READ MORE: Everton manager statue brings overdue Neville Southall new stadium addition back into focus

Some 17 of those scenarios left Everton safe with Leeds needing to win by three or more goals in a further two while just eight would see the Blues tumbling out of the top flight for the first time since 1951. However, regardless of all the ifs, buts and maybes, it was simple enough that if Dyche’s men won then they would stay up and there was nothing either of their other two rivals could do about it.

Here is a blow-by-blow account of how the drama unfolded...

As Evertonians woke up on May 28, 2023, the bookies were telling them their team were 1/5 to beat the drop with Leicester City 4/1 and Leeds United 10/1 outsiders to survive but that’s unlikely to have calmed many nerves. Despite Yerry Mina’s morale-boosting equaliser nine minutes into stoppage time to snatch a point at Wolverhampton Wanderers the previous weekend, Dyche’s men went into their showdown against Gary O’Neil’s Cherries with some serious selection headaches as injuries ensured they didn’t have a single recognised striker or full-back to choose from.

Writing in his matchday programme, Dyche said: “We all know the importance of today’s match and what it means to everybody connected with Everton Football Club. There is a lot on the line – but the focus has to remain on us and what we do here at Goodison.

“Through our spirited performances in recent weeks, we have earned the right to control our own destiny today. We know there will be noise elsewhere with what may be going on at other clubs but our only concern is keeping to our game plan and giving absolutely everything to beat Bournemouth.”

Given the magnitude of the occasion, spectators turned up early at Goodison Park and arriving over two hours before kick-off, this correspondent found a crowded scene outside the Winslow as the atmosphere built ahead of Everton’s most-important match in a generation. While I then made my way over to County Road to report on the enormous gathering before the fan march to the stadium, my colleague Joe Thomas opted for a more-serene setting.

Writing in the ECHO’s live blog, he remarked: “There’s a surreal atmosphere in and around Goodison this afternoon. Lots of people milling around the ground from early on, the sunshine providing a weird juxtaposition to the anxiety.

“I’ve had a drink (non alcoholic) in the Winslow, which was full an hour ago and where a nervous optimism pervaded. The media box is full - predictably this has brought a lot of the big beasts coming to Goodison for the biggest story of the day. I’ve come up to the press seats early to get away from the circus - Everton’s press food is lovely but I’ve got a packed lunch to eat in the stands while it’s quiet.

“Up here in the wooden streets it is still - the calm before the storm. Yerry Mina has been out on the pitch, taking in the stadium on the day of his final game for the club.

“And while fans are not yet in the stand I can hear the chorus of Marching Down the Goodison Road from the street outside and, as I walked up the empty stairwell, I could taste a tinge of blue pyro smoke from those on other side of the walls.”

One hour before kick-off and team news drops. Joe observed: “So Vitalii Mykolenko does not make it into the squad, the left back having lost his battle with a thigh injury. He joins Tom Davies, Nathan Patterson, Ruben Vinagre, Seamus Coleman and Ben Godfrey on the injury list. Dyche has two goalkeepers on the bench and still only names eight substitutes of a possible nine.”

Everton’s line-up was as follows: Pickford in goal; a back three of Mina, Tarkowski and Coady; Garner and McNeil as wing-backs; Gueye, Onana and Iwobi across a midfield trio with Doucoure pushing on and winger Gray also forced to play out of position as the solitary frontman.

As kick-off approached, Connor O’Neill remarked that he’d never heard the end of Everton’s pre-match warm-up greeted in such a noisy fashion and when the teams took to the field, said: “The noise inside Goodison Park right now is incredible. The loudest I have ever heard it.” I concurred and as a veteran of Wimbledon 1994 and Coventry 1998 added: “I can’t speak for what’s going on at Elland Road or the King Power Stadium but I’m not having that it’s as loud as this at either.” (It turned out that the roars from Walton were so loud they could be heard on the other side of the Mersey by people in New Brighton attending an event to commemorate the 80th Anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic).

Everton actually lost the toss and unlike those two aforementioned occasions, were forced to attack the Gwladys Street in the first half as Bournemouth captain Adam Smith believed it was economical to make the teams change ends. With all the games kicking-off simultaneously at 4pm, Leeds United – managed by former Blues boss Sam Allardyce – fall behind at Elland Road after just two minutes as Harry Kane puts Spurs ahead and thus the Yorkshire side remain out of the survival picture for the rest of the afternoon.

Back at Goodison, Demarai Gray flashed a shot from outside the area over the bar from Everton’s first corner of the game and then Amadou Onana slid a pass through to Idrissa Gueye whose shot was tipped over the bar by Mark Travers before the same player’s long-range effort was palmed away by Travers with referee Stuart Attwell waving away penalty claims after Smith’s challenge on Gray from the rebound.

Then on 34 minutes came the bombshell from the King Power Stadium as news filtered through that Harvey Barnes had fired Leicester City into the lead against David Moyes’ side and as things stood, Everton were going down. Despite waves of pressure from the Blues, that remained the case as the half-time whistle blew at Goodison with the game still goalless.

Although Spurs doubled their lead at Leeds two minutes following the restart, the tension started to build after the break when Gray’s close range headed was scooped away by Travers but the roof nearly came off Goodison on 57 minutes when Abdoulaye Doucoure provided the crucial breakthrough moment. A lofted ball into the box by Gueye could only be headed out into Doucoure’s path and standing in the ‘D’ outside the area he smashed a strike into the Park End goal on the half volley to produce relieved scenes of delirium.

Five minutes later, over in the East Midlands, Wout Faes added a second for the Foxes but Everton had now done their job and just needed to hang on. Leeds would lose 4-1 and Leicester would win 2-1 with Pablo Fornals halving their deficit on 79 minutes but there was still time for more heart in the mouth moments on Merseyside.

During the 10 minutes of additional time, Bournemouth substitute Mathias Vina struck a powerful volley at the Blues goal but Jordan Pickford pushed it away and as the ful-time whistle finally blew, Evertonians were able to celebrate. Speaking in his post-match press conference, Dyche admitted it had not been a pleasant experience but the only thing that ultimately mattered was the result.

He said: “(It was a) Horrible day for all concerned apart from getting the job done. This was the main job.

“We had to get it sorted out and over the line. That was the key focus. Now we must refocus on the rest of it.

“The underlying bigger news since me being here has been negative, so it's been difficult to do that but the overriding feeling is we shouldn't be here. Enjoy it, but things have got to change. This was a big step to make sure we secure it.

"Work on next season started the day I got here. Don't think this is an easy fix. There is massive work to be done.

"It's a big club, but it's not currently at the top end of the market. We're not performing like a big club. It's been like this for two seasons now. This is a bigger project.”