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Sylvain Distin intuited with instant clarity just how culpable he had been.
From side to side of the Wembley pitch the giant French centre-back strode, raising his hands apologetically to all of an Everton persuasion in a galling admission of guilt.
For Distin knew, as an FA Cup winner of recent vintage himself, just how auspicious an occasion had been ruined for those in blue.
He had clasped his hands around the trophy before, with Portsmouth in 2008, and yet here his calamitous back pass had set in train a far grislier afternoon on the Wembley stage.
“I’m in a bad place,” Distin conceded afterwards.
“I keep getting flashbacks to it. I take full responsibility, because I know I’ve cost a lot of people their place in the final.”
Distin’s gesture to the fans was noble in its sincerity, although most of the fans to whom he felt compelled to atone were already streaming through the exits.
The sight of Andy Carroll’s 87th-minute winner had been chastening enough, but the sound of Gerry and the Pacemakers soaring again from the red corner was simply too much to bear.
David Moyes, his granite features only thinly concealing his anguish, remained on the pitch until every one of his players had saluted the deflated fans.
The experience, he acknowledged, was singularly difficult for Distin.
“He is really down,” Moyes admitted.
“He has been here a couple of times before and won the Cup with Portsmouth, so he knows exactly what it means and how important it is. He has been great for us but today he made a mistake.”
Even for a man as masterful in the arts of motivation as Moyes, consolation proved elusive yesterday.
The chance to garland the Scot’s decade at Goodison Park with tangible reward had been Everton’s to seize, after Nikica Jelavic’s opportunistic first-half strike, and yet all had been squandered as a consequence of Distin’s mental freeze.
To think, it had all looked so serene for Everton for an hour — like a gentle constitutional in a rare burst of north London sunshine.
Jelavic was a perpetual menace, casting Carroll as some creature of the Stone Age by comparison.
Tim Cahill and Marouane Fellaini were both indefatigable in support.
But just when a dose of composure was required to discharge their task, Distin fumbled, losing control at a critical moment to allow Luis Suárez to lash in the equaliser.
Moyes, normally such a dervish on the touchline, stood stock-still.
It was a pose he maintained for much of the ensuing half-hour, as Carroll ripped up his grand vision of next month’s final, until he found the strength to applaud all the coach loads of disciples about to beat their bedraggled retreat to the blue half of Merseyside.
“We were so desperate to get to the final for the supporters,” said Moyes.
“We felt we were in good shape and mind to get to the final. When it goes like that I feel for everybody.”
The despondency was acute. For a club in such mid-table sanctuary as Everton, this was the type of spectacle that galvanised and lent purpose to the remainder of their season.
It also provided a focal point for the manager’s 10-year tenure, furnishing him with the chance to underline his work with a defining triumph.
Saturday’s ordeal gave him cause to question whether he would ever enjoy the same prospect again in Everton colours.
From a less partisan perspective, there was solace to be drawn from this day.
Moyes thanked all who had so impeccably observed a minute’s silence for the Hillsborough victims.
He was genuinely moved by the “fantastic support” of the travelling band, whose expectations reached the point of delirium when the Z Cars theme tune rang out before the whistle.
It was no ordinary platitude.
For all the derision that this event was staged 220 miles from Liverpool, and for all the suspicions that hard-pressed families were being needlessly fleeced of money, the atmosphere was fundamentally one of celebration.
While the ferocity of the derby may have been diluted from its incarnations at Anfield or Goodison, Wembley — its patrons perhaps calmed by the early kick-off — was resplendent in its clean split of red and blue.
And where Moyes was forlorn, Kenny Dalglish was positively flushed with the glow of vindication.
Barely 48 hours after the departure of Damien Comolli, Liverpool’s director of football, Dalglish could start mobilising for the club’s second final of the season. He did not shirk the opportunity to crow, either, accusing the assembled media of having “battered” both Suárez and Carroll.
He gave a familiar peroration, too, about Liverpool’s resilience in their riposte from a goal down. “It’s testament to the character of everyone at the club,” he declared.
“They have held their resolve, and they have responded.
"So it’s not a time to individualise performances. It’s a time for us to enjoy the moment.”
In time-honoured Dalglish style, the enduringly controversial Suárez was singled out for a “fantastic” contribution.
Yes, the Uruguayan might have piqued Everton by rugby-tackling John Heitinga in the first half, but he also exhibited undeniable finesse in his finish for the goal.
One could only wonder at the accolades that Dalglish would lavish on Carroll, the same figure who had excoriated him a fortnight earlier when substituted against Newcastle.
Myopia, siege mentality, call it what you will: Dalglish has been nothing if not consistent in the unstinting defence of his players.
But amid Liverpool’s raptures, Everton’s regrets lingered.
The inconsolable Distin departed with only the thoughts of a glorious possibility thwarted.
The allegedly unsinkable vessel that went down one hundred years ago this week was not even built the last time Everton beat their neighbours in a cup final or semi, so this was not exactly an unexpected result. The manner of Liverpool's win was slightly surprising, given that the much-maligned Andy Carroll had missed two or three clear chances before scoring a winning goal that was simplicity itself, but the bitter truth for Everton is that they will probably never get a better chance to break a hoodoo dating back to 1906.
Liverpool can rarely have played as badly at Wembley or any other neutral venue as they did in the first hour, yet in the end they prevailed, and by a margin that could have been greater had Maxi Rodríguez or Luis Suárez been able to accept chances in the closing seconds. Kenny Dalglish's side created more opportunities in the final few minutes than Everton had managed all match, and that was part of the story. Only once, around the hour mark, did Everton seriously threaten to increase their lead, but when Nikica Jelavic broke clear and looked around he realised his was the only blue shirt withing hailing distance, so he attempted a shot that flew harmlessly over the bar. A few minutes later Sylvain Distin presented Suárez with his opportunity, and suddenly Liverpool had their game face on. Everton never got a look in again.
"We knew they would come at us in the second half, but I actually thought we had weathered that after an hour," David Moyes said. "We made a mistake and it handed Liverpool all the impetus, just when it looked as though we were frustrating them ." That sentiment will in turn frustrate Everton supporters, because whether intentionally or otherwise, Moyes's players performed too conservatively to take advantage of a Liverpool side who spent the first half playing like strangers. Not only was there too little support for Jelavic near goal, Everton's big-game players – Tim Cahill, Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines – were all quiet.
Moyes could have done without that, especially after claiming the whole country wanted Everton to win. Jamie Carragher made a point of mentioning that afterwards, as if the Everton manager's impudence had galvanised Liverpool. That wasn't the case, it was Distin's underhit back pass that brought Everton's opponents back to life, though once Liverpool gatecrashed the party there was an inevitability about the sub-plot subtly changing. If Moyes had slightly overestimated his side's ability to compete, several of the Liverpool players whose ability has been questioned all season came to the fore to justify their manager's faith in them.
This has not been an easy week for Dalglish, after all, with the oddly timed dismissal of Damien Comolli, but in addition to claiming full responsibility for all last summer's signings when he could easily have deflected some of the blame, the Liverpool manager boldly put Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson and Andy Carroll on the team sheet. The decision did not look too promising in the first half, when Suárez and Carroll were getting in each other's way and Downing and Henderson were swapping flanks without managing to bother the Everton full-backs, indeed it did not look as if it would pay dividends at the start of the second half when Downing finally pinged over a decent cross only for Carroll to miss the target from the six-yard line. Neither Henderson nor Downing made it to the end of the match, though crucially Carroll remained on the field, and with Dalglish introducing first Maxi Rodríguez then Craig Bellamy just as their opponents were beginning to flag Everton must have felt they were playing a different team in the final quarter.
Perhaps that explained why Seamus Coleman launched into a stupid foul tackle on Steven Gerrard that could have earned him a second yellow card and dismissal – "a poor decision", Moyes called it – to concede the free‑kick that Bellamy calmly popped on to Carroll's head for the winner. Scoring the decisive goal in a Wembley semi-final does not turn the £35m centre-forward into a success overnight – he will be lucky to meet a defence as generous as Everton's in the final – though it buys a little breathing space and will not do his confidence any harm. Opinion is still divided on whether Carroll will ever justify the size of his transfer fee - Dalglish says he will, everyone else thinks he won't - but there was no point discussing such matters with anyone wearing red at Wembley. If you are a Liverpool centre-forward and you score the winner against Everton three minutes from the end at Wembley, you are a success, no question. Carragher might have been slightly overstating the case when he said that goal alone was worth £35m, but you knew what he meant.
Carroll now fits into a century‑long tradition of Liverpool winning against Everton when it matters. The losers can say what they like about his performances against other clubs, but in the final analysis the big fella nodded one in on a day when Everton failed even to put Liverpool's third-choice goalkeeper to the test. "I didn't have a lot to do," Brad Jones admitted. True enough. Liverpool recovered from a bad start and managed to impose themselves on the game before the end. Everton will have to reflect that by the time you get to the last four of a competition, merely containing opponents is never going to be enough.
The Everton manager, David Moyes, admitted his team only had themselves to blame after losing to their Merseyside rivals Liverpool in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.
"It was our own fault today because we gave them the opportunities," a downcast Moyes told ESPN.
"I thought we were always going to have to deal with Liverpool in the second half. They were 1-0 down in the semi-final of the Cup – if it was the other way round we'd be the same. Liverpool started brightly. I thought we'd weathered it and hoped we might get a second. As it was we just got ourselves into a wee bit of trouble."
Everton, however, by no means had a monopoly on mistakes; the veteran Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher's slip had allowed Nikica Jelavic to put Moyes's men into a first-half lead.
Asked to comment on the Reds' victory, Carragher told ESPN: "Relief really. Liverpool losing to Everton in the semi-final – it would have been a nightmare."
"Everyone wanted Everton to win. David Moyes said the whole country was with them. Well, we showed we're a special club, special fans. Not many teams can come back. We've done it again. We've got that ability to come back."
Carragher and the goalkeeper Brad Jones were both quick to praise the strike force, particularly Andy Carroll after his second crucial late winning goal this week.
"He'll be remembered forever for that," the former England international said. "And [Luis] Suárez I wouldn't swap for any other player in the league."
Carroll, who also scored Liverpool's winner in a midweek Premier League match against Blackburn Rovers, had struggled to live up to his £35m transfer from Newcastle United last year.
"It's the best feeling ever," Carroll said. "We worked hard and getting the goal right there at the end was great."
The match between the Liverpool rivals was played a day before the 23rd anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster in which 96 Liverpool fans died. It was the first Wembley encounter between the teams since the 1989 FA Cup final, which Liverpool won just weeks after Hillsborough.
Andy Carroll, Liverpool’s £35million misfit, saved Kenny Dalglish’s blushes as he broke Everton hearts with a late, late Wembley winner that sent the red half of Merseyside into a second straight cup final.
The much-maligned striker described his 87th-minute backheader from substitute Craig Bellamy’s free-kick as the ‘best feeling ever’. It made him an instant hero for the thousands of Liverpool fans at Wembley.
‘Getting the goal right there at the end was great,’ said Carroll. ‘I’ve had some criticism but I believe in myself every day.’
Skipper Steven Gerrard was full of praise for his team-mate, who has endured a personal nightmare since joining Liverpool from Newcastle in last season’s January transfer window. ‘He doesn’t hide and he takes criticism on the chin,’ said Gerrard.
‘That’s what we bought him for — to score big goals — and today he has delivered. Certain players have had criticism but they’ve stood up today.‘
Jamie Carragher was relieved to have ended up on the winning side. His awful mix-up with Daniel Agger led to Everton’s opener through Nikica Jelavic, before Luis Suarez levelled courtesy of an equally woeful howler by Sylvain Distin.
‘I would not have been able to live with myself if we had lost 1-0,’ said Caragher, the veteran former England defender.
Having already won the Carling Cup in February, Liverpool remain on course for a trophy double achieved only three times previously. Having maintained their record of not losing to Everton in an FA Cup semi-final since 1906, they will be back at the national stadium on May 5 for the final against either Chelsea or Tottenham, who meet this evening.
Dalglish praised the solidarity of his team as they stood firm against criticism of them and their manager. ‘The attitude and application of the players who have played in this competition, and their intent to get us to another final, was there was for everyone to see,’ he said.
‘When there is a wee bit of mud flying about, that’s when you have to stand beside each other. Everyone has been battered. Everything you need to win a football game we showed, as a team.
It is testament to everybody’s character. They have held themselves together and had the resolve to come back and respond positively to what has not been a great period in the club’s history.’
But Dalglish admitted reaching two Wembley finals in the same season should not mask Liverpool’s dire League form.
‘I’ve said before that this is a work in progress,’ he said. ‘We said after the Carling Cup victory that we were not the finished article and we are saying the same thing now. We need to be fully focused on the League now because it’s not like a tap we can turn on and off. If we don’t keep going, we won’t get any success.’
Crestfallen Everton boss David Moyes could not hide his despair. His side had controlled the first half but surrendered the initiative once Distin’s short back-pass let in Suarez for the equaliser.
‘I thought the way we’ve been playing, this was our chance to get to another final,’ said Moyes, whose side were beaten by Chelsea in the 2009 final. ‘I thought we’d weathered it after half-time but the mistake gave Liverpool impetus.’
Moyes consoled every one of his players as they left the pitch. Distin was the last off, head bowed in dejection.
‘We were so desperate to get to the final for the supporters and I thought we had the mindset to see it out,’ said Moyes.
‘I felt for them all. Sylvain is really down. There was very little between the teams but the defining moments were there for all to see.’
Distin could not hide his anguish. ‘I know I’ve cost a lot of people a place in the final,’ said the heartbroken Frenchman, an FA Cup winner with Portsmouth in 2008.
The emotions for Liverpool’s stand-in goalkeeper, Brad Jones, could not have been more different. The 30-year-old Australian lost his five-year-old son to leukaemia in November but kissed the Wembley turf in delight at the final whistle.
Everton boss David Moyes accepted his side only had themselves to blame.
The Toffees went 1-0 up in the first half through Nikica Jelavic but they were pegged back by goals from Luis Suarez and a late winner from Andy Carroll.
Sylvain Distin's misplaced back pass gave Suarez the chance to score and get Liverpool back in the game.
'It was our own fault today because we gave them the opportunities,' he said.
'Any goals, you always look to try to correct them. We'd all done all the job. We'd done well in the game. They'd missed one chance from Andy Carroll at the back post early on. The rest of it we were coping with it fine.
'But that's what happens and that's why if you make mistakes it doesn't win you trophies. Unfortunately today we made the mistake, which probably gave us no chance of making the final.
'I thought we were always going to have to deal with Liverpool in the second half. They were 1-0 down in the semi-final of the cup - if it was the other way round we'd be the same. Liverpool started brightly. I thought we'd weathered it and hoped we might get a second. As it was we just got ourselves into a wee bit of trouble.
'Obviously we're really sorry and disappointed for the supporters who came here after the way we've been playing - we've been playing well. But today we just succumbed to a couple of poor decisions.'
Gutted Everton defender Sylvain Distin has taken to Twitter to apologiose to team-mates and Everton fans for losing them the FA Cup semi-final.
Distin gave away the ball to Luis Suarez for Liverpool's equaliser as the Toffees were a goal up and dominating.
He wrote: "I cost my team mates, the staff, the club and the fans a place in FA cup final. Nothing more to say but SORRY all of you."
The Frenchman went on an apologetic half-lap of honour at the end of the game, holding his hands up to the Everton supporters in recognition of his 62nd minute error.
Distin, a Cup winner with Portsmouth, inexplicably played a blind backpass 40 yards out which Suarez gobbled up, racing through on goal and poking the ball beyond Howard.
More poor defending allowed Andy Carroll to score an 87th-minute winner as Everton's hopes of a first major trophy since 1995 went up in smoke.
Distin admitted he was already having "flashbacks" about his blunder. Revealing he had personally apologised in the Everton dressing room after the game, Distin said: "I take full responsibility for that goal.
"I think it changed the game, so I have to accept it."
The 34-year-old's team-mates rallied around him and he added: "The guys have been amazing.
"They don't need to point at me or anything because they know I'm man enough to face my responsibilities.
"I don't need anyone to tell me what I do right or what I do wrong because I'm mature enough to know what I do right and wrong.
"That's clearly a bad mistake from me and I have to accept it, no matter the consequences.
"And, for me, the consequences are not going to the final, which is very disappointing. I can be only disappointed with myself.
"Right now, I need to keep my head straight. I'm not in a good place right now.
"I know I cost a lot of people the final and it's tough to accept.
"Personally, I just want a few days to put that behind me and re-focus.
"That's going to be very important.
"But, right now, I have to admit it is difficult because I realise where we could've been and I feel responsible for that because we are not there.
"At the moment, I don't think too much about tomorrow. I just keep having flashbacks about this bad decision from me."
Everton are a point ahead of Liverpool in the Barclays Premier League and could finish above them for the first time since 2005.
"No matter where we finish at the end of the season, we missed a final," Distin said.
"So, that won't make me feel better, no."
Distin, whose last Wembley appearance saw him taste FA Cup glory with Portsmouth four years ago, added: "I know what it is to win the cup and, today, I've obviously got the other extreme regarding the feeling.
"Only three years ago, I went on a high and now I leave the cup in the really wrong place, so it's two completely different feelings.
"That's the cup."
Tim Cahill has written off Liverpool's chances of beating Chelsea or Tottenham in the FA Cup final after seeing them defeat his Everton side at Wembley today.
The Toffees went down 2-1 in this afternoon's semi-final after throwing away a one-goal lead in the 218th Merseyside derby.
Cahill said: "I think it's going to be difficult for them. They've had an indifferent season and they've just got away with it today.
"A few decisions didn't go our way but I'll just say they've got a lot of work to do."
Cahill had been hoping it would be third time lucky for him in the FA Cup, having been a runner-up in 2004 and 2009.
"This is sad because I've had two finals before in the FA Cup," he said.
"And to now not get to a final, it's heartbreaking.
"But, as much as it is for me, I really feel for the fans because it was there - you could feel it and touch it - and even as players we didn't do it in the end."
Cahill admitted Everton were architects of their own demise.
He said: "They made some good substitutions and they scored two goals from two errors from us.
"As a team, we'll look at it, but we win together and lose together and that's the only way I can sum it up.
"It's a special group of lads and management and everyone really, really pulls for each other."
The turning point was a horrible 62nd-minute blunder by Sylvain Distin, whose blind backpass gifted Luis Suarez Liverpool's equaliser.
Cahill said: "Sylvain's been our player of the season - that's the only way I can put it.
"One mistake doesn't sum up his season.
"He's been immense and, as a team, we possibly should've still been out there playing extra-time.
"We shouldn't have conceded the second goal, giving the free-kick away and defending the way we did.
"As for Sylvain, he's a top player and it happens in football. We've all been there at one stage in our career."
Everton were ahead through Nikica Jelavic's fifth goal in five games at that stage, the former Rangers striker once again proving one of the best buys of the January transfer window.
Midfielder Cahill said: "Jela's a top player, top player. Scores goals and good for the team.
"A striker, he's what I've been crying out for and the manager's brought him in so, exceptional."