Cheltenham Town 1 Everton 5: It was 10 years ago this month, in January 2003, that David Moyes suffered his most embarrassing defeat as Everton manager, when Nigel Jemson gave a Shrewsbury Town side bottom of the fourth tier a 2-1 victory over them at Gay Meadow.
The ESPN cameras were at Cheltenham Town last night perhaps hoping for lightning to strike twice but this a different Everton now, a team playing probably the best football of Moyes's 11-year reign, and they made light work of opponents placed 66 places below them on the league ladder.
Moreover, 10 years after Shrewsbury and five after a similar third-round embarrassment against Oldham Athletic, this is an Everton happy to do that unfashionable thing and actually make the FA Cup a priority.
Hence the strong team that Moyes sent out at a packed Whaddon Road and the emphatic 5-1 victory that followed. The Premier League side took a firm grip on proceedings with early strikes from Nikica Jelavic and Leighton Baines, the latter a penalty. Leon Osman, Seamus Coleman and Marouane Fellaini added further goals in the second period although Cheltenham, still to beat top-flight opposition after six attempts, did at least have a Russ Penn goal to cheer.
"I didn't want to make the same mistake that we did at Leeds when we made some changes and the players weren't up to scratch," said Moyes, recalling how an under-strength Everton side fell at Leeds in the Capital One Cup in September. This time there were only two changes from the victorious starting XI at Newcastle on 2 January, Victor Anichebe and Bryan Oviedo coming in for Steven Naismith and the absent Steven Pienaar.
Everton's reward is a fourth-round trip to Bolton Wanderers or Sunderland, who meet in their replay at the Stadium of Light a week today. When Everton faced Sunderland in last season's quarter-finals, Moyes actually fielded a weakened team in an Anfield derby days before the drawn first match at Goodison. That was refreshing evidence of his hunger to end their drought for silverware, Moyes still seeking to deliver Everton's first trophy since this competition in 1995 and also wants to earn his own first major honour as a manager after defeat in the Cup final in 2009.
Despite their current pursuit of the pot of gold that is Champions League qualification, the lure of this old pot is evidently strong. Captain Phil Neville said afterwards: "David Moyes told us yesterday he wants to win the FA Cup. We've got one game a week now all season so tiredness shouldn't be an issue."
For Cheltenham, things were no better than in the first 10 minutes. With a full house of 6,891 packed inside this neat, compact ground, Mark Yates's men began at a high tempo and gave Everton an early scare when winger Kaid Mohamed got the better of Coleman and cut into the box. Instead of shooting, however, he fed midfielder Darren Carter who scuffed his shot.
Unbeaten at home since October, Cheltenham were full of energy but their hopes were quickly dampened as Jelavic struck after 12 minutes. After Oviedo and Fellaini had linked up on the left side of the penalty area, the Belgian drove a low angled shot past goalkeeper Scott Brown and on to the far post. Jelavic was first to the rebound, stretching to turn in his first goal in six games.
Yates, the Cheltenham manager, said: "We started off fantastically, I was really pleased but all of a sudden the ball is in the back of our net."
Neville Southall kept a clean sheet for Cheltenham when Everton lost a testimonial match here in 1990 and home goalkeeper Brown soon made a save that might have satisfied the Welshman, diving across his goal to pluck away a Baines free-kick bound for the top corner. It proved in vain as the left-back soon added Everton's second. With Cheltenham unable to clear their lines, Neville sent a long throw into the six-yard-box where Alan Bennett was penalised for climbing on the back of Fellaini. It looked a harsh decision but Baines duly tucked the ball low to Brown's right.
Cheltenham heads did not drop and Jermaine McGlashan came close before the break when he flashed an effort over the crossbar. Even when Osman accepted Baines' low cross, rode a challenge and made it three with a typically neat finish after 49 minutes, the League Two side kept at it and they quickly got a goal back, Penn collecting a Mohamed pass and stabbing past Tim Howard at the near post.
"We kept going and showed a lot of commitment and quality coming up against a very strong Everton side," added Yates. "We've now got a 21-game season to get to where we want to be."
For Cheltenham, beaten in last term's League Two play-off final, that is League One and last night will have helped their promotion push – this tie earned the Gloucestershire team around £200,000, no mean sum given their broadcasting revenue from the Football League in the last tax year totalled £400,000. It has already allowed Yates room to manoeuvre in the transfer window, with two loan signings expected this week to boost his side's promotion push.
Their fans contributed to the occasion too, applauding both Baines and Osman as they left the field. By then the contest was over after Coleman had added an impressive fourth just before the hour, surging upfield to lob an Anichebe cross beyond Brown. Anichebe then teed up Fellaini at the death to complete the Merseysiders' comprehensive success.
Substitutions: Cheltenham Taylor (Carter, 66), Duffy (Goulding, 66), Deering (McGlashan, 80). Everton Gueye (Baines, 63), Naismith (Osman, 68), Hitzlsperger (Jelavic, 80).
Man of the match Fellaini.
Match rating 6/10.
Possession: Cheltenham 44%, Everton 56%.
Attempts on target: Cheltenham 3, Everton 8.
Referee K Friend (Leicestershire).