An Evertonian more seasoned than I once mused that "they always beat us when it matters." I, like every Blue alive I'm sure, was so desperate for that depressing refrain to be changed today it was like a primal urge that sat in the gut all week. I hate the derby at the best of times but this was as good an opportunity as we have had to beat Liverpool in any game in years let alone a Wembley showpiece.
The scipt seemed already written: Liverpool in chaos; Everton in the best form of the season with David Moyes in his 10th year in charge at Goodison desperate � destined, we all wanted to believe � to mark that decade with his first trophy and end the Blues' 17 year run without silverware. The problem was that Everton blew their lines.
A goal up and in the driving seat at half time, this game was Moyes's side to go on and win but what was, in truth, a less than convincing first-half display fell away further in the second, culminating in a horrendous, game-changing error by Sylvain Distin just past the hour mark from which Everton never really recovered.
And there were further self-inflicted, critical wounds inflicted in the dying minutes when a clumsy tackle by Seamus Coleman sent Steven Gerrard crashing to the turf wide on Liverpool's left and Marouane Fellaini again betrayed his defensive vulnerability by completely losing sight of the ball for the resulting free kick as Andy Carroll leapt highest to divert the winner past Howard off the back of his head.
Utter despair was written across the faces of the massed ranks of faithful Blues who had made the long trek down from Merseyside. I'll wager few could quite believe it � once again the bridesmaid to Liverpool and never the bride. Somehow they really do find a way to beat us when it really matters.
If both sides were honest they'd admit that neither played particularly well. For Kenny Dalglish's men, who could probably only count the Anfield derby as a good performance in 2012 thus far, that might have been expected but most Evertonians would have been hoping for more from their team than they got, coming into this semi-final as they were on the back of four wins in five, a hatful of goals and playing some really eye-catching football.
Nowhere to be found was the incisive passing and relentless pressing game that destroyed Sunderland in the quarter-final replay or the self-assured attacking machine that thrashed the same team 4-0 in the Premier League on Monday. Instead, a disjointed display unfolded with far too many long, wasted punts from the back from Tim Howard and a slew of misplaced passes in midfield, Darron Gibson the chief offender in the early going.
Chances were at a premium throughout but Jay Spearing side-footed over from Carroll's cut-back early on and Martin Skrtel saw a tame effort saved by Howard while Leighton Baines despatched a direct free kick a foot over at the other end before Leon Osman wasted a wonderful counter-attacking opportunity with an underhit throughball that could have released Nikica Jelavic.
It was Everton who eventually settled into a spell of dominance midway through the first half, though, and after Jelavic had seen an overhead kick caught by Brad Jones, the Croatian profited from a defensive mix-up to put the Blues into the lead after 23 minutes. Confusion between Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger ended with the latter's clearance bouncing off Tim Cahill and into Jelavic's path and he made no mistake by slotting a clean, low finish past the 'keeper.
The Blue half of Wembley Stadium erupted and went into raucous party mode but the attempt to go for the jugular never came and the goal did little to change the Blues' performance. Indeed, they almost pushed the self-destruct button when John Heitinga gifted possession in front of his own area but his profligacy went unpunished.
On the disciplinary side in the first half, Distin was harshly booked for a check on Suarez while off-the-ball skirmishes between the Uruguayan and Heitinga culminated in Suarez rugby-tackling the Dutch defender to the ground without referee Howard Webb even batting an eyelid.
And when the official was moved to intervene when Jelavic and Skrtl clashed after the latter had put a knee into the former's chest and then left his boot on the Croatian's hip, Webb deigned to book both.
Nevertheless, half-time, 1-0, so far so good.
Unfortunately, Everton started the second half on the back foot and never really got going again for the remainder of the match. Carroll somehow missed a backpost header that should have yielded an equaliser less than two minutes after the restart and more suicidal tendencies in the Blues' defence would hand the Reds' a way back into the match.
A scuffed back-pass by Distin gifted the ball to Luis Suarez and as dispicable a character as the Uruguayan is, he is too good to pass up an opporutunity like that and with the French defender watching aghast and helpless from the touchline he raced away to slide the equaliser under Tim Howard.
Back to parity with it all still to play for, though, the goal failed to galvanise Everton into upping their game. Though Jones was showing some discomfort at high balls into his area, the level of service was disappointing from Everton.
His performance at Sunderland hinted that Gueye could be an able replacement for Steven Pienaar if he is in the mood but today he looked off the pace and ordinary with almost no understanding between the young Frenchman and Baines down Everton's left flank. Cahill, too, was disappointing, failing to link up often enough with Jelavic while Fellaini never consistently took advantage of the license that Gibson's presence normally gives him to dictate things going forward.
It was all just flat and reminiscent of Everton at their stodgy, frustrating worst this season and it was only the tireless and battered Jelavic's own ingenuity that created two of the Blues' few openings in the second period.
First he drove through the centre before trying a 25-yard shot that sliced wide and later, after the Reds had leveled the score, he whipped a left-foot effort into the side-netting that had many Evertonians momentarily thinking he had scored. Jones was really only tested just once after half-time, though, when Osman hammered a 20-yarder that the 'keeper parried and then gathered.
Coleman came off the bench to replace Gueye with 22 minutes to go but he offered none of the unpredictability and pace that Royston Drenthe might have provided (the Dutch winger wasn't even in the squad) and after another suicide pass had created an opening for Carroll that he screwed wide of the far post, Liverpool eventually scored the winner from a needless and poorly-defended set-piece.
The winner came late and, frankly, even in desperation, Everton could do little productive in attack and, after Maxi Rodriquez squandered the chance to rub salt in the wounds by hitting the post when it seemed easier to score, Dalglish's side ran down the clock by the corner flag as despondent Blues started to make their way out of the stadium to start dealing with another gut-wrenching derby loss.
So, there was to be no second Final in three years for Moyes and Everton, no fairytale tenth anniversary trophy and no vindication for his controversial team selection at Anfield last month. Three times these two sides have met this season and Liverpool have won each time, prompting much soul-searching and questioning of just what kind of psychological barrier is preventing the manager's teams from beating what is a poor team by their standards.
Post-mortem second-guessing is probably worthless, though. Yes, in hindsight, Gueye was probably the wrong choice to start but he more than earned his place in the recent games against Sunderland. Distin and Heitinga have formed a formidable partnership in the centre of Everton's defence; it's just unfortunate that former's two worst performances have come against the enemy from across the Park. You can't legislate for an awful error as the one with which the Frenchman gifted Suarez the equaliser; certainly Phil Jagielka has been guilty of the same error in the past.
The blame should be shared by everyone. They came well-prepared, fit and in confident mood but, just as they did against Chelsea here in 2009, the players let themselves down on the day. As with that ultimately depressing Final, the Blues threw away a 1-0 lead and questions will be asked about Everton's big-game mentality – after all, despite those treasured memories of a dramatic penalty shooutout, it shouldn't be forgotten that the team was poor for 120 minutes in the semi-final against Manchester United as well.
The task now is for Moyes to pick his players up ahead of the trip to Old Trafford as they seek to finish as high as they can in the Premier League. Such is the Club's desperation for cash that every place will count. It won't make up for more Wembley heartache but a seventh-place finish would be small consolation at least for a season that threatened to be an awful lot worse than it has turned out to be.
Today, though, will be hard to forget. This was supposed to be our time.
Man of the Match: Nikica Jelavic
It's quite incredible, when you stop and think about all that has transpired since, that Wembley Stadium was like a second home to Everton in the 1980s. Between four FA Cup Finals, a Milk Cup Final and four Charity Shield appearances, the Blues played under the old Twin Towers on nine different occasions � 10 if you count the short-lived Simod Cup � during that decade as the two Merseyside clubs dominated domestic football.
Indeed, of those 10 games, five were Merseyside derbies and the fact that the 1989 Final was the last time Everton and Liverpool met in a Wembley showpiece underscores just how much has changed since the inception of the Premier League.
The Blues have been back just four times since � twice for the FA Cup Final, once for the Charity Shield and once for the 2009 semi-final against Manchester United � but can now add another visit to the record books with a blast-from-the-past clash with the old enemy in this year's semi. Two local derbies will be contested to see who will meet in the Final in May and there is no doubt that David Moyes is desperate to get back under the Wembley Arch and atone for the disappointment of three years ago against Chelsea.
His Everton side come into what is the biggest all-Mersey game in 23 years on a really impressive run of form. Four wins and a draw since that harsh home defeat by Arsenal have propelled Everton into seventh, a point above Liverpool in the table, and it's fair to say that in terms of results, goalscoring form, the brand of football they've been playing and the health of the squad, Moyes's side could not have prepared much better.
Liverpool, on the other hand, are in the midsts of relegation form with six defeats in their last eight games, though they did manage to steal three points from Ewood Park on Tuesday evening but at the cost of losing another goalkeeper to suspension.
Pepe Reina was already banned from this weekend's semi-final for picking up a red card and Doni joined him in dramatic fashion when he brought down Junior Hoilett against Blackburn and earned a straight red of his own. And with a bit more bottle from the referee, the Reds' third-string 'keeper might also have been sent off for shoving Yakubu to the floor in the six-yard box but escaped with just a yellow card.
With Lucas Leiva and Charlie Adam injured, Kenny Dalglish does not have his strongest side at his disposal and he will, again, be heavily reliant on the match-winning prowess of Steven Gerrard � the architect of Everton's misery in the Anfield derby last month � and the volatile combination of marksmanship and disgusting deception that is Luis Suarez.
Referee Howard Webb will have the task of keeping an eagle out for the Suarez's diving antics while the expected defensive pairing of Sylvain Distin and
Phil Jagielka John Heitinga will be instructed to keep a tight leash on the Uruguayan. Darron Gibson will likely get the role of tracking Gerrard and snuffing out his ability to pull the strings in midfield.
In what is a rarity for Everton, Moyes can call on a virtually fully-fit squad. Only the injured Jack Rodwell, the cup-tied Steven Pienaar and the slew of players out on loan are unavailable to him and the manager can approach this semi-final tie knowing that he has no reason to feel daunted or over-awed by the opposition.
Selection-wise, most Blues are expecting the same team that started the quarter-final replay and that would mean another start for the improving and emerging Magaye Gueye on the left flank. It's unlikely given the somewhat unreliable side of his game that Royston Drenthe will play from the first whistle � if nothing else, Moyes is known to be loyal to players who have earned it and Gueye surely has.
With one of the stingiest defences in the Premier League and an attack that has yielded 12 goals in the last five games, the Blues genuinely have the firepower with which to beat Liverpool and it's not often that Evertonians have been able to say that over the past couple of decades.
And in Nikica Jelavic, Moyes has a top-class striker who has taken no time to find his feet in England's top flight. He was named player of the sixth round for his exploits at Sunderland and has shown that if you get him the ball in front of goal, more often than not he will score.
That will be the main thing for Everton. If they keep the ball on the deck, move it around quickly and play the way they did at the Stadium of Light in the quarter-final replay, then the Final is there's to reach. On their form over the last five games, Moyes's Blues need fear no one.
The nub of it, though, will be not allowing the occasion or the opposition to affect them psychologically. Too often, Everton have lacked the confidence on these big occasions, although that wasn't the case the last time they met Liverpool in the world's oldest knockout competition.
They matched the Reds stride for stride over two games before Dan Gosling won the replay so spectacularly a couple of years ago and now, with greater quality in their ranks, it's time to press home the superiority and edge the form book suggests they have coming into this one.
The traveling faithful will be there in raucous voice and, boy, do they deserve some more Wembley memories and a lomg-awaited trophy. Given the proximity to the anniversary of Hillsborough and the minute's silence that will precede the game, there will be plenty of national sympathy for Liverpool but they already have silverware this season.
When the whistle blows, it's up to Everton to make it our time, our opportunity to step out of our neighbour's shadow. Come. On. You. Blues!
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