FA Cup semi-finals: Selfish FA, Scouse rivalry and a fitting tribute for Hillsborough victims
It was FA Cup semi-finals weekend and Total Football sent our resident Evertonian Chris Smith off to Wembley on Saturday, tasked with giving us his verdict on the experience, including having to get up at stupid o'clock to travel from Liverpool for a 12.30pm kick-off.
The FA are selfish
Wouldn't you just b***** believe it? Everton only went and made us think we were going to do it, only to crumble under the spotlight. A golden opportunity to win our biggest game in years was spurned to hand victory and a place in the FA Cup final to them lot.
Many fans who made the 5am start for the sojourn to Wembley will bemoan the FA's nonsensical decision to hold the semi-finals at Wembley. I say 'nonsensical', what I really mean is 'selfish to the point of callousness'. But, such is the Scouse spirit, nearly all will look back on the trip fondly.
The give and take between Everton and Liverpool is perfectly balanced. The 'you're not from Liverpool' and 'it's never your fault' chants we aimed at them outside the ground justified the pointed laughter and v-signs they gave us through coach windows all the way home. We hate them, they hate us, but fair play, they were the winners.
Pride in close relation was best demonstrated by the minute's silence for the Hillsborough disaster victims. It passed without incident but for a comparatively minuscule handful of idiots. What could have ruined such an event at a ground like Goodison or Anfield was reduced to a missable whisper by the magnitude of Wembley.
The closing sound of Howard Webb's whistle reminded me of that old physics lesson from school where you have to connect crocodile clips and batteries to a light bulb, such was the instant injection of energy.
We were off but to my displeasure, Liverpool started the better. The vague suggestion that Everton could bottle it was the first real sting to my pride, for nerves were hardly a factor in the build-up. Luckily, Everton began to impose themselves and Nikica Jelavic took advantage of a Carragher and Agger mix-up to steer Everton in front.
The Croatian's sixth goal for the Blues sent me into the sort of stranger-grabbing frenzy only permitted in the stands, but will forever be remembered with a sigh. The joy and confidence that shaped my behaviour for the next twenty minutes served only to set me up before cruelly knocking us back down, because bottle it they did.
Everton's cup run ended at half-time - the subsequent embarrassment and defeat simply confirmed it - for all the character, strength and tenacity we had shown in previous rounds was left behind with the orange peel.
Beyond the obvious Distin and Coleman errors, the players performed well below capability. They not only handed Liverpool the initiative, they created it for them. Distin's dreadfully short backpass, however forgiveable, was painful as you saw the game unfold in that instant.
The second half saw a return to the weak, ineffective Everton side of the start of the season - the side that had looked incapable of completing a pass let alone mounting an attack, depending desperately on a predictable long ball.
The failure to pressurise Liverpool's third-choice keeper Brad Jones was as hard to bear as both Luis Suarez's breakaway equaliser and Andy Carroll's heart-breaking winner. With so much of a physical presence, Everton's lack of attacking threat in the second half spoke of fear.
On the subject of Suarez however, I feel I must mention my two biggest gripes as far as the 'Bitter Blue' in me is concerned. Firstly, Liverpool's new number seven, their salvation on the day, may be an excellent centre-forward but he is a complete and utter scumbag.
Every time he lost the ball, he turned round to berate the referee for not giving non-existent fouls, and if he wasn't doing this, he was doing the fouling himself, clearly hauling down Heitinga on several occasions. His persistent victim-playing is Cristiano Ronaldo-esque in its shamelessness and he represents.
On to gripe number two: Howard Webb's performance was poor. He allowed the Liverpool players and in particular Suarez to have a quite embarrassing influence on him. Though the best team won, they did so with the constant benefit of the referee's doubt.
The defeat struck me at the time as the cold, hard truth about Everton's ultimate inability to achieve, but it did essentially boil down to two terrible errors. Bar those awful moments, I have no doubt that we'd have won.
As for the season, well I suppose we can hope for finishing above them, though in reality, it's all about the summer, securing Pienaar's signature and next season in my mind.
For now, however, give us a good performance at Old Trafford to soften the blow.
By Chris Smith
Follow me on Twitter @cdsmith789 or click here to visit my blog, The Russian Linesman
FA CUP SEMI-FINALS:
Both games at Wembley Stadium
Saturday 14th April (kick-off 12:30)
Liverpool 2-1 Everton
Sunday 15th April (kick-off 18:00)
Tottenham 1-5 Chelsea
The FA Cup final will be played at Wembley Stadium on Saturday 5th May