Liverpool v Everton
Everton’s FA Cup dream ended in heartbreaking fashion as Liverpool fought back to leave Wembley victorious in this all-Merseyside semi-final.
Andy Carroll put a catalogue of misses behind him to score the winning goal with just five minutes remaining of an engrossing if often disjointed affair.
Up to that point it had been a tale of two errors as Jamie Carragher’s calamity allowed Nikica Jelavic to open the scoring midway through the first half before Sylvain Distin’s weak backpass put Luis Suarez in for the leveller on the hour.
The day had started with such high hopes for a Blues team who, despite not reaching the heights of recent victories, looked on course for a memorable success when Jelavic buried his fifth goal in as many games.
Yet after taking that advantage into the second half, they lost their way with the Croatian striker cutting an ever more isolated figure.
And with the Blues unable to keep hold of the ball, their city rivals took the initiative and the story ended with the much-maligned Carroll the match-winner.
No managerial reign in Everton history – perhaps in the wider post-war footballing era – has been so universally lauded without the crowning glory of a trophy as David Moyes’ has been.
The sincere hope had been that in this, his 10th year of stewardship, the Scot could anoint his tenure with silverware.
Sadly that was not to be.
But, as in 2009, the Blues showed they have the quality in their ranks to get within touching distance of top honours and the case must be that sooner rather than later their efforts will bear fruit.
All-Merseyside Wembley showdowns are as reminiscent of the 1980s as Ford Sierras, BA Baracus, perms and neon socks, yet this was the first time these two great institutions had convened at the headquarters of English football for 23 years – a time when Kylie was number one, an eight-year-old Tony Hibbert sat in the stands and Jack Rodwell was but a twinkle in his father’s eye.
Once again this most famous of venues was awash with Red and Blue as the city of Liverpool took residence inside the national stadium – the 218th instalment of the oldest domestic derby of them all afforded a global gaze and grandiose backdrop.
Of course when these clubs last contested the final of the FA Cup, the game was played in the immediate and sombre aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster.
And before a ball was kicked, flowers were presented and a full and unblighted period of silence was observed, before, biceps bound by black, the players turned to face one another with the roar of an expectant capacity crowd ringing in their ears.
Moyes went with the same side that outclassed Sunderland in the last round and that meant bad news for Liverpool. That meant Jelavic.
After an early Jay Spearing shot had sailed over the bar, Everton soon got into their stride and a ragged, cynical block from Daniel Agger felled the Croat in prime territory.
Baines’ trademark free-kick had pace, bend and dip but found only the roof of Brad Jones’ net.
Moyes would have wanted a bit more control in the middle of the park and composure in the final third but it was a good start from the men in Blue.
It was about to get better.
Liverpool’s defence went into complete and utter meltdown and the befuddled Agger could only gawk helplessly onwards as Carragher blew a gasket and hacked a wild, aimless clearance right into Tim Cahill’s legs – the ricochet putting Jelavic clean through and there was, really, never any doubt.
To their credit the Reds responded well and Gerrard began to pull the strings. Distin was booked for a deliberate block on the slippery Suarez and the Blues spent a spell being pulled around.
But for all their renewed vigour, Liverpool didn’t have anything resembling a goalscoring opportunity to show for their efforts.
The saga of Heitinga versus Suarez became a tetchy sub-plot as the interval of an absorbing but scrappy contest neared.
And once Jelavic had fired a free-kick inches past Jones’ right-hand post, the Blues took their lead to the dressing room.
For the first few minutes of the second half it seemed like they were still in there.
Neville’s expert reading of the game got them off the hook once before only the abject profligacy of Carroll gave them a second reprieve.
Downing’s deep cross caught Everton out and the pony-tailed striker arrived at the back stick for what seemed a formality.
But as the entire stadium prepared to see the net bulge, the Geordie inexplicably headed wide - an astonishing miss.
It was a let-off and the Blues knew it. But it proved only momentary.
Just as a catastrophic error had given them the lead – one led to them relinquishing it.
Distin should really have cleared his lines. Instead he went home to his keeper and his under-cooked backpass put Suarez clear through to slot the leveller.
Truth be told, the Blues had not only lost their lead but also their direction and, after replacing Magaye Gueye with Seamus Coleman, Marouane Fellaini pushed further forward to support Jelavic.
The impetus was with the Reds though and Caroll had another chance – this time shooting narrowly wide. With his next sight of goal he would finally find his range.
Coleman’s foul on Gerrard wide on the left yielded a free-kick deep into Everton territory and Craig Bellamy whipped it into the congested box.
On the end of it was Carroll, who nodded home the winner and left the Blues and their army of fans on the end of a deeply frustrating defeat.