Liverpool came back from a goal down at halftime to edge local rivals Everton 2–1 in this year’s first FA Cup semifinal at Wembley Stadium on Saturday. Andy Carroll headed an 87th minute winner from a Craig Bellamy free kick, after Luis Suarez had earlier canceled out Nikica Jelavic’s first half opener for Everton.
Although Liverpool have managed a league double over their Merseyside neighbors this season, Everton were seen by some pundits as favorites going into this 218th derby—the fifth to be played at Wembley—on their better current form and being a point ahead of their rivals in the English Premier League table.
With both his first and second choice goalkeepers suspended, Kenny Dalglish was obliged to pick Brad Jones for only his third senior start. Inspirational veterans Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher returned to the line-up after missing the last game at Blackburn. Daniel Agger was preferred to Jose Enrique at left back.
Everton manager David Moyes plumped for the experience of club captain Phil Neville in preference to Tony Hibbert at right back. Steven Pienaar was Cup-tied, and his drive through midfield would be greatly missed. The South African’s energy and competitive edge has been a crucial factor in the Toffees’ recent good run.
Prior to kick-off there was an impeccably observed minute’s silence for the 96 fans that lost their lives in the Hillsborough disaster on April 15, 1989 during the FA Cup semifinal between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.
A Game of Two Halves
For much of the first period, Liverpool appeared disjointed and hesitant when attempting to go forward, and were decidedly jittery at the back when put under pressure.
Everton, by contrast, passed the ball well and looked dangerous in the final third. David Moyes’ impressive new signing from Glasgow Rangers, Croatian Nikica Jelavic, was consistently lively and on 21 minutes conjured an overhead kick from around the penalty spot, but directed it straight at Jones.
Just three minutes later, some dreadful ineptitude between Liverpool defenders Carragher and Agger presented Jelavic with a much simpler opportunity, and this time the striker side footed confidently past the Liverpool keeper to put his team one up.
With the semifinal on the line, Liverpool started the second period with much greater intent. From the outset Stuart Downing looked a different player down the right hand side, and with the half only a couple of minutes old, centered a delightful ball which Carroll contrived to head wide when it would surely have been easier to score.
The Reds’ target man covered his face with his shirt in anguish and not without reason.
Liverpool’s defensive frailties had allowed Everton to snatch the lead, so it was ironic that it was another howler that let the Reds back into the match. This time the culprit was Sylvain Distin who contrived to give the ball away to, of all people, Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan had only Tim Howard in the Everton goal to beat and this he did with aplomb.
Carroll Nets Winner Again
Liverpool now had their tails up and Suarez, who has been lacking in confidence of late, was suddenly full of trickery and mischief and much more like the player seen earlier in the season.
Yet Everton were by no means out of it. On 77 minutes a swerving shot from Leon Osman would have probably gone in had it been even a yard to Jones’ right rather than straight at him.
Then five minutes later, Jelavic sliced an excellent chance just wide of the post.
At the other end, Carroll did well to make a yard of space for himself but skewed his shot wide when he should, at the very least, have worked Tim Howard.
Although Carroll could not be faulted for effort it seemed that this would be yet another disappointing and frustrating game for him. However, with just three minutes of regulation time remaining, Seamus Coleman fouled Steven Gerrard a few yards outside the box on the right flank.
Substitute Craig Bellamy did exactly what his manger had brought him on for and curled a quality free kick in the direction of Carroll. On this occasion the challenge from his marker Marouane Fellaini was non-existent and Carroll rose unopposed to head home the winner.
This was the second time he had done it in a week following his late strike to snatch the points at Blackburn.
Everton never appeared to have the belief that they could come back, and in fact it was Liverpool that looked more likely to add to their tally with Howard being called upon to make smart saves from both Maxi Rodriguez and Suarez in the dying minutes.
Having already won the Carling Cup, Kenny Dalglish’s team now has the chance to add a second piece of silverware to the Anfield trophy cabinet and gain some compensation for what has been an extremely disappointing league campaign.