KEIR RADNEDGE at Wembley: Liverpool hit back from a goal down to outrun, outpace, outwork and finally outplay Everton 2-1 in their FA Cup derby semi-finals at Wembley – yet their owners missed it all.
John W Henry and chairman Tom Werner, having torn themselves away from their American interests for three days to sack Damien Comolli as director of football at Anfield, had flown home already to Boston.
They thus missed the defensive blunders which presented Everton’s Nikica Jelavic with the opening goal in the 24th minute and man-of-the-match Luis Suarez with a 62nd-minute equaliser. But they also missed Andy Carroll repay a little more of that record £35m fee with his second matchwinner in four days.
Henry and Werner’s concern over the poor results of Boston Red Sox apparently prevented them even splitting their appearances for a lunchtime start which saw Liverpool forced to rely on third-choice goalkeeper Brad Jones with both Pepe Reina and Alexander Doni suspended.
The need for an experienced support in defence meant a starting role in the centre of defence for veteran Jamie Carragher. Everton manager David Moyes recalled Leighton Baines, Tim Cahill, Darron Gibson and Croat striker Jelavic.
The last time the teams had met at Wembley was in the 1989 Cup Final when Ian Rush was the extra-time match-winner for Liverpool in an emotion-charged meeting only weeks after the Hillsborough disaster. An impeccably-observed minute’s silence paid tribute to the victims and their familes before World Cup Final referee Howard Webb blew his whistle again to launch the match.
The early kickoff was as awkward for the Mersey fans as will be the late Sunday kickoff for Chelsea, awaiting a Champions League date with Barcelona, against Tottenham. That did mean fair play from the FA: both semis presenting the worst of all possible worlds.
Liverpool’s fans, all standing in the seated area behind the eastern goal, were silenced in the 23rd minute when a misunderstanding between Carragher and Daniel Agger led to the ball ricocheting off the legs of Osman into the path of Jelavic who struck his sixth goal since his bargain £5m arrival from Rangers in January.
Everton could not capitalise. Liverpool gradually came to dominate possession and should have levelled a minute after half-time when Carroll, virtually on top of goal, directed a header to Downing’s perfect cross appallingly wide.
As tempers started to rise – with a variety of yellow cards for Skrtel, Henderson, Distin, Jelavic and Coleman – so Liverpool equalised. Careless Sylvain Distin hit a lazy backpass from out on the left and the ever-alert Suarez arrowed in, unchallenged, to jab his shot beyond stranded, helpless Howard.
Liverpool maintained the pressure and were properly rewarded three minutes from the end when the newly-arrived Craig Bellamy dropped a left-wing free kick into the heart of the goal area and the mountainous Carroll, this time, got it right.
Everton manager Moyes, after 10 years, is still waiting for a first trophy; Liverpool’s Dalglish, having already secured the League Cup, can pursue his second in three months.
Liverpool: Jones – Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Agger – Henderson (Rodriguez 75), Gerrard, Spearing, Downing (Bellamy 84) – Suarez, Carroll.
Evertin: Howard – Neville, Heitinga, Distin, Baines – Osman, Gibson, Fellaini, Gueye (Coleman 67) – Cahill – Jelavic.
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