The Big Match, and Sir Alex Ferguson named a very young team: No Rooney, Ronaldo, Giggs... while the Everton side effectively picked itself, Saha starting in place of the cup-tied Jô.
Everton looked a little nervous on the big stage, hoofing the ball up in the air three times in the first minutes, a snapshot from Osman going wide. Macheda did similarly at the other end but the football became increasingly scrappy. Fellaini released Neville but the captain was not going to become a striker, shooting poorly under pressure.
After some good possession with little end result in the first 10 minutes, Everton started to cede possession more and more to United, rather than taking control of the game. Osman set up Baines with plenty of time to cross but he thought about it too long and the result was poor. Everton were relying far too much on the long ball up to Fellaini, who was being treated fairly so far by Referee Mike Riley.
Saha pressured Foster well on a back-pass but got unlucky when the ball bounced off his leg and Foster could pick it up. Lescott had to be accurate with a vital tackle on Park in the Everton area. But in the next mover, Welbeck went close and from the corner, Park looked to fire in. Everton were looking increasingly nervous, not playing the sensible passing game, and instead allowing United to start playing their brand of football .
In possession, with the opportunity to press forward, the failure to make more of some simple pass and move by Everton was increasingly worrying. Baines did well to fluster Rafeal, who could only rugby-tackle the Everton fullback; yellow card quite rightly from Mike Riley and a free kick on the left side of the area, driven poorly by Baines that was too easily cut out by Anderson.
Pienaar skipped past Tevez who's response was to chase after him and tackle him late: instant yellow card from Riley. But the game was now being played mostly in Everton's half, with Tevez causing most of the problems to a very nervous Everton defence. On a good ball forward into the area, Rafael held off Pienaar with a delicate push that looked very close to being illegal but Riley gave the defender the benefit of the doubt.
A move that sliced through the Everton defence left Welbeck with a difficult turn and he could only lash it high and wide. In the next move Welbeck's cross was poor but it looked like the lack of familiarity between the makeshift United line-up was beginning to wane.
On the whole, it had been an very disappointing game of football, especially from Everton, who seemed over-awed and somehow knocked out of joint, perhaps by facing a seriously weakened, inexperienced and unfamiliar team that they completely failed to dominate as they should have done. The lack of confidence compared with the swashbuckling display against a far better Villa side last week was painful.
The second half was much the same until Cahill finally showed some initiative on 54 mins with a good strike from distance that stung Foster's hands. Tevez looked to have out-foced Neville on the hour but failed to shoot. Park then got a shot in that squirmed wide of Howard's post as Evra came on for Fabio, and finally the rather dull match started to show some signs of life — unfortunately most of it coming from Everton's opponents. Rafael was awarded a dubious free-kick for a nothing foul called against Fellaini.
Everton were continuing to use the ball poorly and surrender possession cheaply while Utd sensed they could take advantage, Gibson firing in from distance as Park gave way for Paul Scholes...
Incredibly, Everton escaped what llooked ominoulsy like a penalty when Jagielka shoved Welbeck off the ball and he tumbled to the ground. No way, said Riley... perhaps sensitive to Moyes's ire! Rodwell then came on for Saha, with Cahill finally moving forward to hopefully pressure the United goal.
Everton seemed to respond better to the changes but were still not playing with anything like enough pace and conviction, a poor poor corner from Osman, illustrating the point only too well. And ball-watching at the other end so nearly let Tezez score but for a vital block from Lescott. Anderson then had a run in and fired just wide. Everton were still giving the ball away soon after gaining possession, and allowing Fergie's youngsters to pressure them again and again.
With Scholes pulling the strings after 75 mins, Everton were being put under considerable pressure as time ticked away. It needed something like James Vaughan but Moyes was obviously not going to be tempted. Perhaps if it goes into extra time...???
But Everton were living very dangerously, allowing United deep penetration into the Howard's area. Welbeck got a shot in that was just over the angle, while Fellaini was finally penalised, swinging his arm in Ferdinand's face on a high ball... only Yellow, thankfully!
Fellaini then seemed to have a good chance to shoot but Riley called him incorrectly for handball. Cahill landed awkwardly when challenged by Rafael, with Everton winning a corner off the third or fourth phase from the free-kick. Pienaar's corner was better but Lescott could only get too far underneath it as we entered the final minute of normal time.
Evra gave away a nice free-kick out wide right, surely the final chance to settle it, the ball delivered in well by Pienaar, but Fellaini was called (again incorrectly) for a foul on Foster, as the inevitability of Extra Time loomed.
Berbatov came on for Machaeda and the game resumed. Scholes fouled Pienaar (yellow card) and from the free-kick Cahill turned and shot wide of Foster, who stuck out a foot to save a certain Everton goal. The game opened up as tiredness and cramp came into it, increasing the mistakes, as Vaughan was finally readied for the change. Fellaini was the one he replaced, his aerial threat having come to nought.
A lively move down the left with Pienaar and Baines near the end of the first period led to a rare corner but Pienaar's delivery was far too elevated and Lescott could do nothing with it.
In the second half, Baines fed Vaughan in a perfect position but he connected poorly and the ball screwed off Ferdinand and then Cahill. A golden chance to settle it... First Cahill[?] and then Osman were denied corners by Mike Riley.
Cahill won the ball in the middle off Vidic, who collapsed, letting Chill turn and run but for Riley's whistle, again another wrong call, and the howls of protest from players and crowd resulted only in a yellow card for Cahill.
A couple of United corners near the end threatened... but were cleared away as the game drifted tward penalties. But then a very strange incident, Vaughan getting on on a back-pass to Foster deflecting the ball wide, where Foster ran after it and clearly pushed Baines — surely at least a card??? Vidic once again headed away the Everton free-kick... and that was it. The horror of penalties... taken down the Man Utd end:
A frustratingly poor Everton display, but who cares... We're going to Wembley TWICE!!!
"I can't seem to save a penalty," joked Tim Howard in an interview with The Independent in the run-up to this semi-final, but thanks to some pre-match homework the American goalkeeper became the hero of the hour for Everton with not one but two saves in the decisive penalty shoot-out at Wembley this afternoon.
And the roof came off the Everton end when Phil Jagielka put his miss from the spot against Fiorentina last year behind him by burying the Blues' fifth and final penalty to seal the Blues' passage to the FA Cup Final for the first time since their 1995 triumph. As a nice bonus, this victory after 120 minutes of gruelling stalemate effectively books David Moyes's side a place in Europe next season — even if they somehow manage to finish outside the top six in the Premier League, they'll earn a place in the Uefa Europa League whether they win or lose the final next month on account of Chelsea's almost certain qualification for the Champions League.
Amid the euphoria of a thrilling win from the spot, few could be under any illusions that what they had witnessed was a spectacle worthy of either the occasion or the venue. Wembley can't have witnessed many duller cup ties than the one played out today between a relatively inexperienced United XI and an Everton side painfully short of inspiration in the midfield.
Nevertheless, into this bland tapestry were woven moments of drama for the 40-odd thousand Evertonians who packed the away end and comprehensively outsung those in red at the other end throughout. There were the nerves that are par for the course in a cup match, seemingly ratcheted up the more senior figures Sir Alex Ferguson introduced as the match wore on, and the heart-stopping moment when Danny Welbeck tumbled to the turf in the area under Jagielka's challenge after 67 minutes and Sir Alex Ferguson leapt off his bench in a gum-chewing frenzy baying for a penalty..
And when extra time expired and a dreaded shootout against players who were, on paper, technically superior was an inescapable reality, the odds seemed stacked against Everton, even more so when Tim Cahill ballooned the first penalty over Ben Foster's crossbar and then buried his face in his hands in horror at the prospect of having seemingly sown the seeds of his team's elimination. The best drama would be saved for last, though, and it was United for whom unexpected elimination befell.
With a crucial League game against Portsmouth looming in midweek and a Champions League semi final for which to prepare as well, Ferguson had elected not to risk Wayne Rooney's injured foot and left him, Cristiano Ronaldo, Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs and Edwin van der Saar out of his squad entirely. In their stead he played Foster, United's shootout hero from the Carling Cup Final here against Tottenham in February, the Da Silva twins at fullback, Darren Gibson and Welbeck in midfield and teenage striker Federico Macheda up front.
Moyes's options were far fewer; his only change from the side that drew 3-3 at Aston Villa last weekend was swapping Louis Saha for the cup-tied Jô, so Marouane Fellaini continued in the hole behind the lone striker and Tim Cahill was handed responsibility for filling Mikel Arteta's shoes as best he could in central midfield.
Not surprisingly, the game started in cagey fashion, with Everton plumping for a more direct approach while United appeared happy to cede possession in the opening 10 minutes. Leon Osman dropped a half-volley wide of the post and Macheda flashed a shot of his own safely past Howard's upright in the opening five minutes before both Phil Neville and Carlos Tevez, United's chief threat in the first half, saw sliced efforts drift away from their intended target.
It wasn't until 20 minutes in the first sniff of a goal and it came from almost comical circumstances. Foster tried to be a little too clever for Saha and as the Frenchman slid in an attempt to dispossess him, the 'keeper was highly fortunate to see the ball roll into his arms rather than squirt away from him.
United responded by taking control of proceedings and Welbeck had Howard scrambling across goal as his side-footed cross-cum-shot ricocheted off Lescott and bounced inches wide of the woodwork.
Overall, though, there was a sense that the Reds were weakened enough and impotent enough that if the Blues could shackle Tevez and get their act together at the other end, then the tie was there for their taking. Unfortunately, though, they consistently let themselves down with sloppy passing, by allowing themselves to get caught on the ball, and generally lacking the belief that they could beat United square. Osman and Neville in particular were guilty of gifting possession while Fellaini's display was decidedly mercurial — neat and potentially productive one minute, clumsy and untidy the next.
Saha, meanwhile, was barely in the game. Plenty of balls were being pumped forward to the front line but Fellaini was, for the most part, the preferred target and the foul count against him for infringements in aerial battles with Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic was growing all the time.
The pattern established in the first half continued into the second but nine minutes after the restart, Everton had their first shot on target when Cahill unloaded from 25 yards and forced Foster to dive and push his swerving drive away from goal.
At the other end, United's first real threatening moment of the second period didn't arrive until just past the hour mark when Ji-Sung Park jinked inside of Joleon Lescott and screwed a shot inches past the post. A few minutes later, Gibson stung Howard's palms with a fierce drive from distance as the Blues were put on the back foot again.
Much had been made during the week of the appointment of Mike Riley, not least by Moyes who hinted at the official's rumoured affection for Manchester United, but the controversy had looked like a storm in a teacup for the first 67 minutes of the match. That all changed when a mix-up on the Everton right left Jagielka badly exposed against Welbeck and when the midfielder turned across the defender and looked to nip the ball around the advancing Howard, Jagielka caught his calf with his thigh. In the blink of an eye it had "penalty" written all over it but Riley wasn't sure and turned down the vociferous appeals for a spot kick by the United players.
In the cold light of television replays, it appears as though they had a case — so too might Pienaar have done after 37 minutes when Rafael shoved him off the ball in the area with his arm — but what probably won't be talked about much in the aftermath by those sympathetic to the Red Devils' cause is the incident in extra time that canceled out that penalty controversy: having turned Vidic and left him for dead, Cahill was harshly pulled up for a foul he didn't commit and denied a clear run on goal.
Having introduced Patrice Evra at left back and Paul Scholes in midfield, United looked a little more assured in possession but weren't really more threatening in the closing stages. Nevertheless, Welbeck had the best chance to win it in normal time when he came inside again and fired narrowly over from 18 yards.
Extra time had looked inevitable for long periods but was nonetheless not welcomed by either side. Everton had shown precious little speed of thought or movement up to that point and that only got worse as they visibly tired in the additional half hour. Pienaar, who had hitherto been their best player going forward and who had been perhaps unlucky not to earn that penalty in the first half, looked especially dead on his feet.
Nevertheless, they should be credited for putting in far more effort than their opponents to win the game in extra time and avoid penalties. Not that that automatically translated into chances; Cahill had the only effort for either side in the first 15 minutes, a left-footed shot from the angle that Foster saved with his foot. In the second 15 minutes, James Vaughan, on as a substitute for Fellaini, had the best chance to win it when he was picked out by Baines' cut-back but his scuffed effort raked across goal and wide of goal.
The young striker, playing his first game of the year after recovering from another serious knee injury, also had one last test for Foster with a minute left on the clock when he charged down his attempted clearance but luckily for the 'keeper the ball cannoned out to the right of his area and behind for a corner.
And so to penalties where the script was surely written for the plucky underdogs to be forced to exit stage right as United continued their march to an unprecedented quintuple. Indeed, it was hard to pick five penalty takers from Everton's ranks who you'd have thought could do the job. After Neville had lost the coin toss, Cahill, arguably one of the more automatic choices, stepped up to take the first kick and, opting for power over placement, blasted his shot well over the bar. Big advantage United.
Dimitar Berbatov, Ferguson's practically ineffective third sub sauntered forward and, after a nonchalent check in his run to try and fake Howard out, the Bulgarian stroked a weak effort down the centre and the 'keeper saved with his legs.
Cue Baines, Everton's resident dead-ball specialist in Arteta's absence: One short run-up and bang, in off the underside of the bar. Someone had finally put the ball into the back of the net.
Next up, Rio Ferdinand. Howard would later admit to having done two days of pre-match preparation studying the United players' penalty technique and it paid rich dividends agiainst the England defender. The 'keeper guessed correctly, dived full-length to his right and pushed the ball away to send the Evertonians down the other end into rapture.
Their tails up, Everton held their nerve as first Neville then Vaughan converted text-book penalties while Vidic and Anderson kept United's hopes alive with successful strikes of their own.
That left the stage for Jagielka, the man who saw the decisive penalty against Fiorentina in the Uefa Cup last season saved to send the Blues out. For any Blues who, like me, questioned the wisdom of a central defender taking a the fifth penalty in a shoot-out, their scepticism would be proved to be misplaced as Jags buried his shot into the right-hand corner of the net before wheeling away in delight. Half the team mobbed him, the other piled onto Howard in celebration of the two heroes of the hour. Then, the pulse-racing tones of Z-Cars ring out of the Wembley PA and it's party time in the blue end of the ground.
The FA Cup is all about results. Yes, this was a shocker of a match, the few finer details of which will be quickly forgotten. Yes, the Blues did benefit greatly from Ferguson leveling the playing field with a more inexerienced line-up, but Everton are through to the Final for the first time in almost a decade and a half. They they will meet a Chelsea side whom they have yet to beat this Century but, once again, it will be all about what happens on the day in a game where one team has to emerge victorious by one means or another.
The Blues will unquestionably have to play better than they did today if they are to lift the famous old trophy for the sixth time in their history but that's an issue for another day and Moyes will be well aware of the fact that his team must perform better against Guus Hiddink's men.
For now, though, there is time to bask in the glory of having seen off a second member of the Sky Four on the way to Wembley before the Blues meet the Pensioners at Stamford Bridge in their next Premier League game.
Player Ratings: Howard 7; Hibbert 6, Baines 6, Jagielka 8, Lescott 7, Neville 6, Osman 6, Pienaar 7, Cahill 7, Fellaini 6, Saha 6; Rodwell 7, Vaughan 7
It's 14 years since Everton last played Wembley, a venue that was virtually a second home for them in the 1980s. The National stadium has, of course, changed a lot in the interim — gone are the famous Twin Towers, replaced by the distinctive arch — but coincidentally enough, they'll face the same club as on their last visit, Manchester United.
Back in 1995, Blues had, under Joe Royle, recovered from a horrendous start to the season under his predecessor that had them looking odds-on for relegation to not only beat the drop but book a place in the FA Cup Final as well. No Blue needs reminding of how Royle's Dogs of War scored a crucial goal and then defiantly defended it to lift the famous old trophy for the fifth time in the Club's history.
Everton may be in a much healthier league position this time around, sitting as they are in sixth position in the Premier League with a place in the inaugural Uefa Europa League next season beckoning, but there are parallels nonetheless with 1995. Such is the yawning gap that has opened up between these two clubs in terms of resources since that the Blues are still clear underdogs, just as they were then.
And, just as in '95, the fact that Everton are where they are owes a lot to their unparalleled spirit and togetherness and a resolute defence. Dave Watson and David Unsworth made a superb defensive stand and a similar performance by Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott this weekend will be key if David Moyes's side are to progress to next month's Final.
Just as important will be the quartet of Tim Cahill, Marouane Fellaini, Steven Pienaar, and Louis Saha. Cahill's threat goes without saying and Fellaini has not only scored three goals in the last four games but also headed the Blues' equaliser against United at Goodison Park earlier this season.
Saha was unable to train earlier this past week due to a stomach virus and that could tip Moyes's hand in favour of perhaps starting with Cahill up front and introducing Saha in the second half. Jô is cup-tied, of course, but James Vaughan is another option for the manager after coming through the full 90 minutes for the Reserves against United's second string on Thursday evening.
For United, Gary Neville and Rafael da Silva have been passed fit and Michael Carrick is also expected to be given the OK after recovering from a knocks. Wayne Rooney, however, now looks certain to miss out after taking a blow to the foot against Porto in midweek.
The Blues will go into this game in confident mood. They're scoring goals — 11 in the four games since the quarter final against Middlesbrough — and will feel that as underdogs they have nothing to lose. As an added bonus, the Champions have shown some real fallibility in recent weeks and after being taken all the way to penalties by Tottenham in the Carling Cup Final, they won't relish a physical game against spirited opposition like Everton.
|Premier League Scores|
|Premier League Table|
|2008-09 Reports Index|
|When Skies Are Grey||Report|
|Everton fans' reports|
|Other media reports|
|4 the Game||Report|
|MAN UNITED (4-4-2)|
|Park (66' Scholes :92')|
|Macheda (90' Berbatov)|
|Subs not used|
|Saha (68' Rodwell)|
|Fellaini :84' (103' Vaughan)|
|Subs not used|
|Saturday 18 April 2009|
|Sunday 19 April 2009|
|Everton win 4-2 on penalties|