11 March 1991
FA Cup sixth round
West Ham United 2-1 Everton
It was a night that will forever be etched in Stuart Slater's memory.
The prodigious yet unassuming 21-year-old had already emerged as a precocious product of the Boleyn Ground academy but a headline-grabbing performance in our FA Cup sixth round victory over Everton was destined to change the attacking midfielder's life forever.
Having been neck and neck with Oldham Athletic in Division Two, the main focus of the high-flying Hammers' season had always been promotion to the top flight, but Billy Bonds' men had also found themselves doing very nicely in the FA Cup too. Sure, it had been a fairly subdued start with an embarrassing goalless third round draw against Aldershot in east London, before a 6-1 replay victory over the fourth division side had, at least, given the cash-strapped strugglers some brief financial respite thanks to a second 20,000-plus crowd.
West Ham United also needed another Boleyn Ground replay to get past Luton Town in the fourth round, before seeing off Crewe Alexandra to set up a quarter-final meeting with the Merseysiders. As the Toffees ran out, an expectant East End crowd of 28,162 - the biggest of the season - created an electric atmosphere.
The hungry Hammers went on the attack from the off and it was no surprise when Colin Foster's falling 34th-minute volley put Bonds' rampant side ahead. Instilling panic in the Everton ranks every time he touched the ball, man-of-the-match Slater was in eye-catching form, too. And when he embarked upon yet another destructive, probing run on the hour-mark, his pursuers were left in his wake as he planted a crisp, low shot beyond Neville Southall.
Neither the emergence of £2.2m ex-Hammer Tony Cottee from the bench nor Dave Watson's late strike could rescue the tie for Howard Kendall's side. "Stuart Slater was the difference," conceded the Everton boss. "When I first came back from Spain, the first match I saw was Blackburn Rovers against West Ham. I said that afternoon that I had seen a million-pound player - Slater - and he did me tonight."
An infamous, agonising semi-final exit at Villa Park was destined to follow for ten-man West Ham who had Tony Gale controversially sent off in the 4-0 defeat by Nottingham Forest. Meanwhile, life would never be the same for Slater after his Stu-pendous display in the 2-1 win.
"Suddenly, I just wasn't just any old run of the mill player any more and I had a huge price tag pinned on me," observed the modest Hammer who was persuaded by his advisors to join Liam Brady's Celtic in a knockdown £1.5m deal in August 1992, having struck 18 goals in 179 league and cup games for the club. "West Ham had made me their best-ever offer, yet my agent just looked back across the desk and said: 'No!' I was young, naive and not strong enough to say that I wanted to sign. West Ham United was my club and I should've been my own person. I probably would've stayed and been a one-team man."
Beset by achilles problems, Stuart sadly failed to fulfil his undoubted potential and, after being reunited with John Lyall at Ipswich Town in an £800,000 move south, he then headed to Watford in 1996. "Without doubt, I underachieved," confessed Slater who later embarked on a brief sojourn to Carlton Soccer Club in Melbourne before returning to London where he is still involved behind the scenes at the Boleyn Ground.
West Ham United: Miklosko, Breacker, Parris, Gale, Foster, Hughton, Bishop, Potts, Slater, Quinn (Keen 75), McAvennie.