COLUMNIST KEN BUCKLEY
The first half was poor from a Blue perspective as the players seemed not to grasp the fans' deep desire to grace Wembley and the true 'Up for the cup' was by-passing them.
Boro' started the brighter and stronger and in the first 10 mins alone we saw Howard rush out to punch the ball from Aliadiere's head then Yobo charging down a Downing shot before Aliadiere firing over when well placed.
The game then descended into a hotchpotch of half-chances, miscontrol, mispasses and a right old war between Cahill, Fellaini and the back two of Boro with all parties variously claiming strangulation, pushing, pulling or plain old man-handling.
Just before the break, a Fellaini header had the keeper stretching to keep it out but Boro went up the other end and on the stoke of half-time fashioned a chance that the whole of Goodison dreaded by scoring via a cross from Bates that Wheater headed powerfully down, Howard clawed it out but a furiously flagging assistant confirmed our fears and a goal was given.
The half-time whistle and many of the assembled booed the boys off, such was the frustration or just rank bad support. The players certainly needed a kick up the proverbial and the manager's answer was to introduce Saha for the off-form Rodwell who had needed much verbal coaching from the manager for most of that first half and the move should have been applauded at this stage of his fledgling career. Cahill dropped back to partner Neville in centre-mid and from the off we looked better for it.
The gamble was could Saha last 45mins and the fact that he did was a compliment to the man using his head in more ways than one and not unduly over-exerting himself whilst putting in a quality front-runner's shift.
The first few minutes of the second half saw Lescott divert a shot wide then the Blues scored and truly brought the crowd to life. Cahill advanced and put a long looping cross into the box, the keeper came, the keeper stopped, Fellaini rose and his looping header over a stranded keeper brought parity. Now all were up for it!
Just five or six minutes later, we put a rare passage of the joined-up stuff together that culminated in the darting Pienaar firing in a cross that found the head of the wide awake Saha who had pulled off markers and his well directed header had hardly hit the net before the faithfull were booking trips to Wembley.
Just beyond the hour mark two things happened that summed up the difference in player application from that rather turgid first half: First, a marauding Cahill was brought down outside the box and Baines was allowed to take on the Arteta role, his excellent free-kick hitting the bar with the keeper no-where. Then the excellent Neville hit fellow mid-fielder Bates with a legitimate crunching tackle that left the Boro man gasping on the turf and Neville moving the ball wide to set up another attack — you just knew from those moments we would give nothing up lightly.
Boro threw on a couple of subs but with little reward but Johnson did show some rare pace that thankfully wasn't fully employed. Before the end, Saha and Pienaar combined well to give Fellaini a sniff but his tame-ish shot was deflected wide. Then the unfit-looking but very game Osman put Saha in and it was surprising when the talented striker overhit his routine looking chip and it cleared the bar.
The manager introduced Gosling in the last minute for the much improved Pienaar from Wednesday in a clock-rundown excersise but it wouldn't be Everton to spare us a great scare at the death when an O'Niell free-kick was fumbled by Howard and all assembled breathed a sigh of relief when Lescott displayed the good side of 'hoofball'.
Final whistle and 'If yer know yer 'istory' was belted out, Goodison Road was alive to the strains of 'We Shall Not Be Moved' and Spellow Lane echoed over and over our next destination in the cup.
Back to the pub to learn our fate in the Semi and we didn't even have to wait for our ball to come out to know it was the Mancs — of course we have a chance — it's the cup!
Overall today I thought it took us 45 mins to work out just what this tie meant to fans and the second 45 mins to deliver the result that ensured they didn't suffer the fate of 'Kopites' along the banks of the royal Blue mersey.
My man of the match was once again Neville, closely followed by Jags and Lescott... Oh, when will I be able to nominate a forward?
Stoke next in the battle for league points and yet another headache for the manager to see what sort of line-up he can muster from those still available, if you can walk and run without a limp you stand a chance of selection... See you there; UP THE BLUES!
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