For the second time in under a week, a late Andy Carroll header gives Liverpool a dramatic victory as the side secures an FA Cup final place at the expense of neighbours Everton.
Perhaps the only surprising team selection from Kenny Dalglish was the decision to play Daniel Agger out of position at left-back rather than recall the reliable Jose Enrique. Brad Jones continued in goal with Pepe Reina and Alexander Doni both suspended. In midfield Jordan Henderson and Jay Spearing joined Steven Gerrard and Stewart Downing whilst Andy Carroll retained his place up top alongside Luis Suarez.
A bright opening by Liverpool included a neat 3rd minute move down the right involving Johnson and Carroll, which the Geordie born forward neatly pulled back for the unlikely presence of Spearing to fire narrowly over from just inside the area.
For Everton, Leighton Baines curled an early free kick onto the roof of the net after Nikica Jelavic had been crudely bought down some 30 yards from goal by Agger.
The Reds continued to look the more threatening of the two sides however with Martin Skrtel next to miss a half-chance. The ball broke nicely to the Slovak from Gerrard’s deep cross but the centre-back could not generate enough power to beat Everton’s American goalkeeper Tim Howard.
At the other end, Jelavic hit an ambitious overhead kick straight into the arms of Jones as the Toffees started to come more into the game around the 20 minute mark.
Moments later and the former Glasgow Rangers striker was in the right place to score the opening goal after an awful mix-up between Carragher and Agger. The two defenders hesitated before Carragher’s attempted clearance bounced straight into the path of the Croatian to calmly slot the ball past Jones from close range.
Liverpool responded well initially to the setback with an increase in tempo contributing to large periods of possession. Guilt edge chances proved illusive though and the likes of Gerrard resorted to trying their luck from distance as the game headed towards half time.
An ongoing feud between Suarez and Johnny Heitinga seemed likely to boil over at any moment but generally the opening 45 minutes ended with little further action in a largely disappointing encounter.
Only two minutes into the second half and Carroll should have put Liverpool on level terms but the club’s record signing somehow managed to nod a Downing delivery the wrong side of the post from only a handful of yards out.
The bad miss and more nervy defending by the Liverpool rearguard almost contributed to the Carling Cup holders falling further behind as firstly Jones flapped at a cross and then Skrtel had to be alert to stop Jelavic from sliding home a misplaced clearing header from Gerrard.
The clock now showed 62 minutes played and suddenly Sylvain Distin repaid the earlier favour of Carragher by making a terrible mistake of his own that would result in a goal for the opposition. The Frenchman’s under hit back pass set Suarez away and the Uruguayan made no mistake in tucking the ball past Howard with the outside of his right boot to bring the scores level.
After the equaliser the game became all about Liverpool for a large period as Everton struggled to clear their lines. The pace of Downing was becoming an almost permanent threat and buoyed by his goal, Suarez started to look a more consistent danger.
With 15 minutes remaining Carroll did well to drop a shoulder and earn a yard of space before firing a left-footed drive agonisingly wide of the target.
Everton did go close when Marouane Fellaini’s flick-on landed at the feet of Jelvaic but the scorer of the opening goal could only find the side netting on this occasion.
Both sides had made changes by this stage with Seamus Coleman replacing Magaye Gueye for Everton and Maxi Rodriguez coming on for the workman-like Jordan Henderson.
Upon joining the game, Coleman quickly received a yellow card and then only a couple of minutes later the young Irish international bought down Gerrard for what looked likely to be a second booking. Referee Howard Webb surprisingly decided to be lenient but Everton’s reprieve was short lived.
From the resulting free kick another substitute, Craig Bellamy, whipped the ball in for Carroll to head home a decisive 87th minute goal. The strike was just reward for an improved second half showing by Liverpool in general and Carroll in particular.
A chance quickly fell to Maxi to make the game safe after a perfect low cross from Suarez but the post intervened to save Everton and retain their outside chance of forcing extra-time.
Four minutes of injury time were signalled but the anticipated late siege from Everton failed to materialise and the game was largely played out exclusively in their own half despite the score line.
Jubilant scenes greeted the final whistle on one half of Wembley as the other side slumped back in quiet reflection of what might have been.
Liverpool will now return to the national stadium in three weeks time for a chance to secure an 8th FA Cup success.
After gifting Everton a goal and largely struggling to create clear openings during the first half, I was very worried. The second half performance was brilliant however and ultimately I feel the result was the correct one. Full marks to Carroll for keep on going despite earlier misses and this week could finally prove to be the turn around in his Liverpool career. Whether it is Tottenham Hotspur or Chelsea, the final is going to be a tough game but it is great to be there especially given recent league results and heavy criticism.
Liverpool’s Star Player
Jones, Johnson, Skrtel, Carragher, Agger, Henderson (Maxi 75), Spearing, Gerrard, Downing (Bellamy 84), Suarez, Carroll.
Unused subs: Gulacsi, Enrique, Kelly, Shelvey, Kuyt.
Click here to read Kenny Dalglish’s comments on the match
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