Everton fortunate to get replay
ENGLISH FA Cup holders Everton were given a huge fright by gallant Stockport yesterday and could have had no complaints had the second division side dumped them out. Twice the visitors came from behind, and for much of the second half Everton found themselves fighting a desperate rear guard action just to stay in the competition.
Stockport manager Dave Jones, a former Everton player, was rubbing his hands in glee at the prospect of a home replay a week on Wednesday that looks a daunting prospect for his old club. "I said beforehand that to have any chance, our players had to perform to the best of their ability, and I thought they did that and beyond today."
Everton, without hamstring victim Duncan Ferguson, took the lead in the seventh minute when Stockport defender Lee Todd failed to cut out a long clearance from home goalkeeper Neville Southall.
The Merseysiders' top scorer Graham Stuart carefully kept his eye on the bouncing ball and gave Stockport goalkeeper Neil Edwards no chance with a sweetly struck dipping shot from just inside the box for his ninth goal of the season.
Stockport had a good chance to equalise after 23 minutes when Southall and Everton skipper Dave Watson collided under pressure from Stockport striker Ian Helliwell. The bail broke through to John Jeffers with Southall still floundering on the ground, but the winger flashed his shot well over the crossbar.
Eight minutes later, however, Tom Bennett's header was nodded on by Helliwell to Chris Beaumont, whose close range header was parried by Southall only for Alun Armstrong to volley just inside the post.
The goal came during a spell in which the Premiership outfit were reduced to men as John Ebbrell received lengthy treatment for a gashed leg.
Everton found themselves a man down again when Anders Limpar was stretchered off for treatment after a heavy tackle from Mike Flynn that brought Everton a 44th minute corner.
But this time Everton profited from the situation, restoring their lead from the corner courtesy of transfer listed defender Gary Ablett's first goal of the season.
Stuart took the kick, and Flynn's attempted headed clearance sent the ball looping goal wards where Edwards flapped at it under pressure from Watson and it fell for Ablett to shoot just under the bar.
Edwards made a fine save to turn Andrei Kanchelskis's shot wide after 54 minutes and, from Stuart's resulting corner, Watson's fierce header was cleared off the line by Todd.
But after 61 minutes, Stockport equalised with a fine goal, Todd bringing the ball skillfully out of defence before releasing Beaumont on an incisive run down the right. Helliwell met his cross with a brave diving header that Southall could not keep out.
In the closing stages, Everton survived a series of goalmouth scrambles. Unmarked Armstrong's shot was deflected over by Ablett with Everton in disarray at the back, then Helliwell headed on for Beaumont, whose shot just cleared the far post.
Everton manager Joe Royle admitted afterwards that his side were lucky to have survived. In expressing his relief at getting a second bite he said. "I'm probably the happiest man in the stadium as we are still in the competition. We were awful and they played very well."