Derided by fans and often treated by managers as an irritating sideshow, this week’s Europa League clash with Dynamo Kiev will provide Everton manager Roberto Martinez with much needed shelter from the Premier League storm that is brewing around Goodison Park.
The Toffees will play host to the Ukrainians on Thursday after swatting aside of Young Boys of Berne 7-2 on aggregate in the round-of-32.
However, it is Everton’s wretched domestic form that is threatening to define Martinez’s second season on the blue-half of Merseyside.
Last Wednesday’s 2-0 defeat at a resurgent Stoke was the seventh in their last 12 top-flight matches, a run that includes only one win and none in their last five outings.
That form has left Everton sitting in 14th place just six points above the relegation zone, with 28 points from 28 games – the club’s lowest points return ever at this stage of a Premier League season.
Martinez said he understood the fans frustration following the defeat to Mark Hughes’ side but called on the fans to pull together and support the club and his players, adding:
We have got 30 points to fight for and we are going to give our lives to get as many as we can. With our support and everyone at the club, this is the moment to get together.
The Spaniard complained that his side were “missing energy” due to the demands of playing five games in two weeks and it showed at The Britannia.
With six of their final ten games at home, the uber-positive Martinez insists that he and his players are “not looking down” despite winning only three games at Goodison Park this campaign.
Blues fans of a certain vintage will have vivid memories of a last-gasp final day comeback against Wimbledon in 1994 that preserved Everton’s status as never having being relegated from the top-flight.
Mike Walker’s side looked doomed after conceding two goals in the opening 20 minutes against the Londoners while relegation rivals Ipswich Town were clinging on against Blackburn Rovers for the solitary point needed to avoid the drop.
However, a Graham Stuart penalty and a Barry Horne screamer levelled the match before Stuart etched his name into Everton folklore with a scrappy winner that ensured salvation.
A year on from dicing with the drop, Paul Rideout headed the winner in the 1995 FA Cup final win over Manchester United to bring European football back to Goodison Park for the first time since the ban on English clubs was lifted following the Heysel Stadium disaster in 1985.
Dutch giants Feyenoord ended Joe Royle’s side’s interest in the now defunct Cup Winners Cup at the second round stage and it would be 10 more years before Everton competed in European football again, this time under the guidance of David Moyes.
The Scot had led Everton to the dizzy heights of fourth place in the Premier League in 2005 – his third full season in charge – after taking over a struggling side from compatriot Walter Smith in March 2002.
The Toffees’ European adventure under Moyes was over before it even started though with defeats to Villarreal in the Champions League qualifying round and a first round exit to Dinamo Bucharest in the UEFA Cup.
Despite this continental disappointment, Moyes’ standing with the Goodison faithful remained relatively strong – something which cannot be said of the current manager, who trudged passed the away end of the Britannia Stadium on last Wednesday night to a chorus of boos.
Martinez may well feel he has earned some leeway with the fans by delivering post-Christmas European football to Goodison Park for only the third time in three decades.
However, a dreadful run in the Premier League has seen Everton pick up just seven points from a possible 36 while in the same period cross-city rivals Liverpool have amassed 30 points to sit nine places and 23 points clear of The Blues.
League Two’s Bradford City have beaten more Premier League teams than Everton in 2015.
This horrendous league form has led to increasing fears of a repeat of the 2012-13 season which saw Martinez guide Wigan Athletic to a first ever FA Cup triumph but relegation to The Championship.
Two weeks after that famous Latics win at Wembley, Everton chairman Bill Kenwright anointed the 41-year-old Catalan as the man to replace Moyes, who headed off to Old Trafford for an ill-fated spell in charge of Manchester United.
While Moyes floundered in the giant shadow cast by Sir Alex Ferguson, his replacement on Merseyside could do no wrong as a rebranded Everton suddenly became everyone’s favourite ‘other team’, playing an attractive brand of football which secured fifth place last term.
Romelu Lukaku looked like a £28million pound striker while the acquisition of Gareth Barry on loan from Manchester City was hailed as a masterstroke by Martinez whose quick-passing attacking style got the best out of flying fullbacks Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman while Steven Naismith and Ross Barkley sparkled as central attackers.
However, a year on, and it appears – at least on the domestic front – that teams have gotten wise to the Martinez philosophy and so far the Spaniard has failed to come up with an effective antidote.
Rewind just over a decade and the same plaudits were being bestowed on Moyes whose first season in the hotseat saw Everton finish seventh in 2003 and narrowly miss out on European football.
Moyes began the following campaign as the Manager of the Year but ended it fourth-from-bottom overseeing Everton’s worst ever finish in the Premier League era on 39 points.
The Toffees beat the drop by six points in 2004 – the same margin they currently sit outside the bottom three by.
Over the coming weeks Everton face four of the sides below them and by the time Tottenham Hotspur visit on the final day of the season in May, Martinez, along with 35,000 Toffees, will be hoping for a less stressful afternoon than that famous day in early summer 1994.