The list of players who have scored hat-tricks for Everton is voluminous and littered with famous names from across the Blues’ long history. Alex McKinnon, who claimed the first in October 1888. Dixie Dean – just the 37 hat-tricks for him. Pre-WWI hero Bobby Parker with the second-most trebles – seven. Tommy Lawton. Yakubu. Jack Southworth. Joe Royle. Graeme Sharp. Romelu Lukaku. Roy Vernon. Gary Lineker. Dave Hickson. Duncan Ferguson. Alan Ball. Andrei Kanchelskis. Bob Latchford. Edgar Chadwick. Derek Temple. Tony Cottee. Fred Pickering. Harry Catterick. Andy Gray.
And Steve Watson.
The right back-cum-emergency centre forward’s hat-trick was probably the highlight of the dire 2003/04 season, in which Everton finished 17th. His contribution saw off strugglers Leeds, maintaining the Yorkshire side’s failure to win a Premier League game at Goodison Park – a record that should stand for a while yet.
Before kick-off, the focus was on two precocious British youngsters. Wayne Rooney was benched, while a full Everton debut was handed to Scottish winger James McFadden. David Moyes’ decision would pay off, as McFadden pulled the strings in a scintillating first half. It was he who forged the first chance, beating static defenders before forcing a fingertip save from Paul Robinson.
Everton had started the season poorly – a midweek League Cup win over Stockport was only their second of the season, the other having come a month before against Fulham – but, even from the outset, victory never seemed in doubt. In no one-on-one contest was the disparity between the two sides more stark than in Duncan Ferguson’s attempts to outwit and outfight Roque Junior, a World Cup winner the year before with Brazil, and part of the AC Milan squad that won the Champions League at Old Trafford four months previously. Needless to say, Ferguson destroyed the beleaguered Brazilian.
Though a Tomasz Radzinski goal was chalked off due to the burly Scot’s manhandling of Roque Junior, Evertonians were confident that an opening goal was around the corner. Ferguson and Radzinski each had good chances to beat Robinson, but, somewhat frustratingly, Everton’s strikers could not find the breakthrough in the opening 25 minutes.
Watson could, though. Radzinski’s pressure forced the hapless Roque Junior into a hasty clearance that found the red-haired right back. Everton’s number two played the ball into Ferguson, ran on to the striker’s neat flick-on, and fired a sweet volley into the top right-hand corner. Leeds were struggling to deal with the triple threat of McFadden’s trickery, Radzinski’s tireless running and Ferguson’s brute force, and succumbed again not long after the first goal. A superb McFadden pass released Radzinski, and though the Canadian could not control the ball, his small toe-poke rebounded off Robinson, who had charged out of goal, and found Watson. As coolly and clinically as with his first goal, Watson lifted the ball over the backpedalling goalkeeper and Dominic Matteo, the ball landing just over the line as if delicately placed there.
Watson’s two moments of genuine class had put Everton firmly in control. Incidentally, the brace had taken him level with Ferguson as Everton’s top scorer that season, having scored in consecutive games against Fulham and Charlton previously. The pair would be level at the end of play, but only after helping themselves to another goal apiece.
Thomas Gravesen sprayed the ball right to Tony Hibbert, who outpaced Leeds loanee Lamine Sakho (yes, he outpaced someone. It’s 2003, after all) and played in a pinpoint cross (it’s 2003). Ferguson towered above Roque Junior and nodded the ball home, whirling away in celebration and leaving the Yorkshire side in pieces.
Some say Roque Junior still wakes up from nightmares of Duncan Ferguson bearing down in him in a cold sweat.
Peter Reid was not enjoying his most recent trip to a ground which held so many happy memories for him. The Leeds manager hauled off Sakho, Seth Johnson and Jermaine Pennant at half-time, with 16 year-old Aaron Lennon among the replacements.
Watson nearly claimed a hat-trick goal in the opening stages of the second half, but didn’t have to wait long before finding his third and Everton’s fourth of the day. It was all thanks to McFadden, as industrious as he was fleet of foot. The £1.25m signing from Motherwell received the ball deep in the Everton half, surrounded by opponents, and yet burst through them all on a lung-busting run that ended when he was tripped by Leeds substitute Salomon Olembe. It mattered not, for the ball had reached Ferguson, who fed David Unsworth on the right. The left-back’s lofted cross was flicked on by Roque Junior, who was enduring one of the worst afternoons a visiting defender has had at Goodison, and dropped at Watson’s feet. Once again, his nerve did not leave him, and he delicately lifted the ball over Robinson and into the net.
Perhaps among the throng at Goodison that day was a Biff Tannen type who had known to bet a shedload on Steve Watson scoring a hat-trick for Everton. Most likely, it was a complete shock to everyone, even Watson himself.
It took the fourth Everton goal to finally inspire Leeds into action, with Nigel Martyn reacting smartly to wake up from his 54 minute-long nap and deny Mark Viduka. That was all Leeds could muster. Everton, cruising to victory, brought on Rooney for Radzinski and afforded Watson the opportunity to enjoy a standing ovation as Kevin Kilbane came on in his place. Rooney could have added a fifth late on with a strike that beat Robinson but went the wrong side of the post. Everton could have scored double the tally they ended on, showing no signs of the four-game goalless drought that followed. Then again, Leeds could have played a team of blind nuns that day, and still have only beaten the sisters 3-2.
Watson was the hero of the hour, having added his name to a prestigious list of hat-trick bagging Blues. What Evertonians didn’t know was that they wouldn’t enjoy as fine a Goodison outing as this September thrashing for another year.