It should have been a straight-forward, yet triumphant, return to Gay Meadow for David Moyes, who took his Everton side to Shrewsbury in the 2002-03 FA Cup third round.
Everton were riding high in the Premier League and in the hunt for a Champions League spot. Shrewsbury, on the other hand, were languishing 81 places below them in the football pyramid having conceded a division-high 47 goals, including five at the hands of Rushden and Diamonds just three days previous.
There shouldn’t have been much to worry about, then?
What transpired in those 90 minutes, though, led to one of biggest giant-killings in recent cup history. It was described as a humiliation, as an embarrassment, as shameful.
Losing to lower league opposition in cup competitions was not a new phenomenon for Everton, but it was the context in which they lost. Moyes had taken over from Walter Smith in March of the previous season, steering the Blues clear of the relegation zone.
Big improvements had been made since then. Moyes took a set of underachieving players, including the likes of Duncan Ferguson, and motivated them to perform with a high intensity and tempo in games, rapidly climbing up the league table as a result. They were enjoying their best season in years.
But they were brought back down to earth with a bang. Tomasz Radzinski and Lee Carsley squandered early chances, before Everton ‘keeper Richard Wright was forced into a string of fine saves as the hosts banged on the Blues’ door.
Shrewsbury were dominating, but they were unable to beat an inspired Wright. Until Nigel Jemson, the journeyman who had scored Nottingham Forest’s winner in the 1990 League Cup Final, stepped up, that is.
The forward had been previously denied by a superb Wright save, but Everton’s stopper was unable to keep out a 25 yard free kick that flew into the corner.
Just minutes into the second half, the Shrews were denied a penalty after Luke Rodgers was wiped out by Peter Clarke. Everton then took advantage. Moyes had introduced Niclas Alexandersson at half time, and the manager’s faith was repaid when the Swede converted a Scott Gemmill cross.
But in true giant-killing style, Jemson’s near post flick from an Ian Woan cross beat Wright and sent Moyes’ men home under a cloud of humiliation. Even worse for the Everton faithful, perhaps, was the fact that the club’s most successful captain Kevin Ratcliffe masterminded their defeat.
Everton would go on to finish in seventh in the Premier League, while Shrewsbury were thrashed 4-0 by Chelsea in the next round and relegated to the Conference. Neither team has made a strong start to the season, but here’s hoping that David Moyes and The Lads can avoid another humiliating cup exit this evening.