Manchester City rolled up to Goodison Park at the weekend with all the fatalistic gloom of lambs to a slaughterhouse. Despite boasting a recent resurgence of form and even a kindling belief that a title comeback miracle could again occur this was Everton. And when these two sides meet there is usually only one winner.
It is a hex that is surprisingly common in football, with each as unexplainable as the next.
Everton – Man City
Until Balotelli and Milner lifted the curse early last season Everton had won 7 out of the previous 8 encounters between the two sides and remained unbeaten at the Etihad for almost five years. In purely mathematical terms that amounts to a mini-hoodoo rather than a sustained Indian sign but when extraneous circumstances are added to the mix the run of results become greatly heightened in significance. The Lescott deal left a sour taste in many Evertonian’s mouths and, with Moyes stirring the pot at every opportunity, ill-feeling crept in between both sets of supporters who once shared an affinity (both residing in the shadow of hated red neighbours). Each encounter suddenly became an intense grudge match with more at stake than merely three points and if memory serves but I’m sure in all seven of those defeats City played marginally the better stuff overall only for Tim fucking Cahill to nod home unmarked from a set-piece each time.
The Toffees’ majestic 4-4 draw at Old Trafford that opened the door for City to attain the title may have brought an entente cordial in supporter relations but Saturday proved once again that City – and Mancini – cannot find a solution to their Merseyside woes.
Chelsea – Spurs
It’s little wonder that Chelsea fans refer to Spurs’ ground as Three Point Lane considering they remained unbeaten there between 1987-2006. That’s an astonishing nineteen consecutive drubbings, draws and last-minute smash-and-grabs at one of the toughest awaydays around. It’s worth remembering too that it’s only in recent times that the west London club have enjoyed the luxury of Abramovich’s stellar cast of superstars. The teams that started off this long-running hex contained such luminaries as Colin Pates and John Bumstead.
Amazingly Chelsea have a similar hold over their local rivals at Stamford Bridge too, remaining unbeaten from 1990 to the present day.
Man Utd – Aston Villa
If you’re going to have a bogey team it may as well be a side who have won the Premier League eleven times and ran over virtually everything in their path in living memory. Whilst United’s record against a great many teams could be considered ‘bogeyish’ they rarely inflict such heartbreak on others with a succession of dramatic come-backs and late winners. Even on the big occasions they revel in the fact that when these two sides meet lady luck is wearing novelty devil’s horns. In the 2010 Carling Cup Vidic hauled down Agbonlahor as the clear last man with only five minutes gone. The ref duly pointed to the spot then – to the gob-smacking astonishment of all watching – only produced a yellow for the assault. With their full quota of personnel United of course went on to win – inevitably with a late winner. Martin O’Neill said later ‘It would be universally accepted that they should have been down to ten men. There was no other decision to make’. If you watch the incident again however you can just about make out the wispy ghost of lady luck whispering into Phil Dowd’s ear reminding him of the teams involved.
Liverpool – Spurs
Spurs’ 73-year curse at Anfield was for many years one of the most famous around. What exacerbated the incredible hoodoo was the fact that their last victory was attained in 1912 – the year the Titanic sank – which gave commentators the type of pithy gift they so love. Each season the line-ups would appear in blocky text on The Big Match as the teams warmed up in tight shorts and bad haircuts accompanied by Barry Davies unfailingly paying due attention to it. Thankfully Garth Crooks sank the curse and the cliché with a solitary strike in 1985.
Spain – Denmark
The Danish side of the 80s and early 90s was pretty special. Blessed with sublime talent such as the Laudrup brothers, Morten Olsen, Molby and Elkjær, all flowing majestically past opponents in one of the best Hummel kits ever produced, they deserved international acclaim and silverware. Unfortunately in every major championship they would come unstuck against Spain. In Euro 84, Mexico 86 (where they were battered 5-1 with Butragueno scoring four), and Euro 88 their dreams were sunk by a Spanish Armada and though they would go on to triumph unexpectedly in 1992 the curse continued unabated the following year. In the 1993 World Cup qualifying campaign the Danes required only a draw to progress to America. Things got off to a cracking start when the Spanish stopper Zubizaretta was justly given his marching orders within the opening ten minutes. What followed broke the Scandinavian’s hearts….