Sunday, April 15, 2012

Match Report: Liverpool 2 - 1 Everton

Liverpool's much-maligned record signing Andy Carroll went some way to justifying his huge price with the goal which put his side into their first FA Cup final since 2006 and ended the dreams of Everton in the all-Merseyside encounter at Wembley.

The £35million striker had endured a testing afternoon, heading one straightforward chance wide, but came up with the winner four minutes from time at Wembley.

Everton had earlier gone ahead following a first-half defensive blunder which gave Nikica Jelavic a simple chance. Luis Suarez levelled matters in the second half following another defensive howler.

It could be argued the failure of Carroll to score consistently partly contributed to the removal of director of football Damien Comolli by American owners Fenway Sports Group in a ruthless move on Thursday.

Manager Kenny Dalglish has steadfastly defended his big striker despite all the criticism.

Both the Reds boss and the 23-year-old forward will be hoping such a significant goal in Liverpool's season - hopes of Champions League qualification having been ended by a woeful run of results - will be a turning point for both of them.

Having already won the Carling Cup in February Liverpool remain on course for a cup double, which has only been achieved three times previously - and once by themselves.

Past experience favoured Liverpool against Everton at Wembley in this competition, having had two FA Cup final wins against their near-neighbours in 1986 and 1989.

Of the four FA Cup semi-finals the teams had contested, Everton had been victorious in only the first in 1906 and they went on to win the competition.

But the history did not weigh heavy on the Toffees, who had the better of a relatively incident-free first half with neither goalkeeper having a proper save to make.

That statistic would have been different had Jay Spearing not snatched at a third-minute chance after Andy Carroll had worked space to cut the ball back to the edge of the area.

With no goals in 48 previous matches of his Liverpool career Spearing was the last man the Reds would have wanted to see in a shooting position and he lived up to expectations by firing over.

Everton had two off-target free-kicks from Leighton Baines and Jelavic, who also had an overhead kick saved by Brad Jones, while Martin Skrtel shot tamely at Tim Howard after Steven Gerrard had picked out Carroll.

It may have been no real surprise the opening goal came from a mistake but the source of the error was.

Carragher, a veteran of 696 appearances, hesitated along with stand-in left-back Agger when the ball dropped in the penalty area and when the vice-captain eventually decided to deal with it he succeeded only in driving it at Tim Cahill.

The rebound fell favourably to Jelavic who coolly slotted a shot between the legs of a diving Jones to spark wild celebrations from Moyes on the touchline.

Carroll looked like he was to have one of those afternoons which have been all-too-regular since his January 2011 move from Newcastle with a glaring miss just two minutes into the second half.

Stewart Downing's inviting cross to the far post was headed wide from close range, prompting the striker to rightly hide his face under his shirt and his manager put his head in his hands.

Fortunately for Carroll strike partner Suarez is sharper in front of goal, especially when gifted opportunities like the one in the 62nd minute.

The otherwise-excellent Sylvain Distin badly mis-hit a backpass from wide on Everton's left and the Uruguay international raced into the area to slide a low shot with the outside of his right foot past Howard.

Carroll was at it again in the 78th minute, dragging wide left-footed from a good position but Jelavic, who at £5.5million already looks a bargain, was much closer in drilling a shot into the side-netting.

Suarez got in the way of another Carroll effort which bounced wide before Everton substitute Seamus Coleman, booked soon after coming on, was lucky to escape a second caution when he clattered into Gerrard but Liverpool took full advantage.

Craig Bellamy, on for Downing, whipped in the 86th-minute free-kick and Carroll flicked in a header.

Liverpool could even afford for another substitute Maxi Rodriguez to hit the post from close range as they booked a third appearance at Wembley in three months and kept their season alive.

For Everton, however, their priority now will be finishing ahead of their local rivals in the Barclays Premier League, something they have done only once since its inception.

Dalglish Proud To Progress

Kenny Dalglish praised the 'attitude, application and intent' of his Liverpool players after hitting back to beat Everton 2-1 in the FA Cup semi-finals.

The Reds fell behind to a Nikica Jelavic goal in the first half before equalizing through Luis Suarez just after the hour mark and then securing victory when Andy Carroll headed home in the 87th minute.

Dalglish did not try to hide his pride after the final whistle after the Reds produced precisely the type of battling performance he had demanded.

"I think the players that were out there - and the players that have made a contribution throughout the whole run in the FA Cup - have been fantastic for the football club," he said.

"Their attitude, application and intent in getting that positive result from today's game was there for everybody to see.

"Whether it's deserved or not, people are going to have their own opinion on it - but everything needed to win a football game, we showed today as a team."

Dalglish played down his own influence on proceedings by insisting that the players were already motivated to bounce back before hearing his half-time team talk.

Asked what he had said during the interval, Dalglish replied: "They really never needed much, we just pointed them in the right direction.

"They wanted to win the game. They'd got this far and wanted to go a step further.

"We started the game well, Everton scored and came into it, and then we picked up again just after half-time."

Liverpool are now on course for a domestic cup double after winning the Carling Cup in February, and Dalglish is looking forward to returning to Wembley next month to face either Tottenham or Chelsea.

He said: "As a group of players, and as a football club, I think it was fantastic. Although it's not been too good over the past few weeks in the league, which is now two cup finals (this season) - one we've won and the other one we're now looking forward to. That gives everybody who supports Liverpool Football Club a lift.

"We've got a great deal of respect for David Moyes and Everton Football Club, and coming from the same city as ourselves we're not sitting here gloating - but we're very proud and pleased it's us in the final."

Carroll - Best Feeling Ever

Andy Carroll revelled in Liverpool's FA Cup semi-final success after heading the Reds to a 2-1 victory over Merseyside rivals Everton at Wembley.

The former Newcastle striker has faced frequent criticism this season and endured another frustrating afternoon before scoring the winner in the 87th minute from Craig Bellamy's free-kick.

Nikica Jelavic's opener for Everton had earlier been equalized by Luis Suarez, and Carroll could not contain his excitement after the final whistle at playing such an important part in a vital win.

"It's the best feeling ever," he told ESPN. "We worked hard and getting the goal right there at the end was great.

"I had a few chances and should have probably scored earlier.

"But I kept at it and it was a great ball in by Craig, and I just had to score with that one and I did.

"It's a great feeling. I've had some criticism but I've just kept on going. I get the winner here and it's a great feeling. I believe in myself every day."

Jamie Carragher also expressed his delight after seeing Liverpool set up a final meeting with Tottenham or Chelsea, who contest the second semi on Sunday.

Asked for his emotions, Carragher said: "Relief really. Liverpool losing to Everton in the semi-final - it would have been a nightmare."

Carragher was particularly pleased with the outcome after being involved in the defensive mix-up with Daniel Agger that led to the Toffees' opener.

"Just relief that the lads went up the other end and showed what Liverpool is all about," he said.

"Everyone wanted Everton to win. (Everton manager) David Moyes said the whole country was with them. Well, we showed we're a special club, special fans. Not many teams can come back. We've done it again. We've got that ability to come back."

Carragher and goalkeeper Brad Jones were both quick to praise the strike-force, particularly Carroll after his second crucial late winning goal this week.

"He'll be remembered forever for that," the former England international added.

"And Suarez I wouldn't swap for any other player in the league."

Australian goalkeeper Jones said of Carroll: "The media knock him but he's a fantastic guy. He works hard, does extra training and deserved this goal at Wembley.

"We knew they've got a lot of quality players and we had to deal with it and I think the boys at the back dealt with it well. I didn't really have a lot to do.

"At half-time we knew we had to step up a gear. We were confident but knew we had to put the work in."

Gerrard - Carroll's Delivered

Steven Gerrard described the criticism directed at Andy Carroll this season as 'nonsense' after the striker scored Liverpool's winning goal against Everton.

Carroll's performances have been closely scrutinized since he made the move to Anfield from Newcastle for £35million, but he has always been stoutly defended by manager Kenny Dalglish.

His team-mates have also continued to rally round him and Gerrard was delighted to see the 23-year-old find the target in Saturday's FA Cup semi-final.

Carroll headed home Craig Bellamy's free-kick in the 87th minute to seal victory and set up a final meeting with Tottenham or Chelsea.

"We are all happy for him. He is a good player and it just goes to show that all that is written about him is nonsense," said Gerrard.

"Andy's always in the spotlight because of how much we paid for him but I think on days like this one he shows his critics what he is all about.

"He doesn't hide and he takes criticism on the chin.

"We are pleased to have him, he has stepped up on Saturday, he has taken the criticism on the chin and he has responded very well and is the hero getting us the winner.

"That's what we bought him for, to score big goals, and he's delivered."

Gerrard added: "We were superb in the second half. We showed superb character.

"It's superb to be in the final. It's great to deliver and one more step and we're there."

Gerrard also dedicated the victory to the families of the 96 fans who died in the Hillsborough disaster, the 23rd anniversary of which is on Sunday.

"We've got to dedicate this win to all of the families connected with Hillsborough," the England international told Liverpool's official website.

"All of the players and the staff will be at Anfield on Sunday to pay our respects at the service, and it's so nice to be able to dedicate a win to those people."

David Moyes Rues FA Cup Loss To Liverpool

Despondent Everton manager David Moyes admitted his side missed the perfect opportunity to reach the FA Cup final after they lost to Liverpool.

The Reds came from behind to win 2-1 at Wembley with goals from Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll after Nikica Jelavic put Everton ahead.

"It was a great opportunity for us to give ourselves a chance to play in another Wembley final," said Moyes.

"With the way we've been playing it was our chance but it wasn't to be."

Moyes felt the key moment was Suarez's equalizer just after the hour, when the striker collected an intended backpass from Everton defender Sylvain Distin to beat keeper Tim Howard.

The Toffees boss waited to console Distin as he left the field and said: "He's really down. He's an experienced player who has been here before and won the FA Cup with Portsmouth, so he knows what it means and how important it is.

"Sylvain has been great for us but he made a mistake that gave Liverpool impetus. I actually thought we had weathered what they had thrown at us in the first 20 minutes of the second half.

"There were only small margins between the sides. It was a mistake that changed the game. We were so desperate to get to the final for the supporters and we felt we were in good shape.

"It was a good opportunity to get to the final and when it goes like that you feel sorry for them all."

The result ends for another season Moyes's hopes of winning a first trophy in his 10 years at Goodison Park.

"As you can imagine we are not full of the joys but we now need to focus on the rest of the season," he commented.

"I'm just really disappointed we are not able to give the supporters a final because they were fantastic and when you lose to your local rivals it is even harder to take."

Distin Takes Responsibility

Sylvain Distin felt that he had cost Everton a place in the FA Cup final after his mistake kick-started Liverpool's comeback at Wembley on Saturday.

The Toffees were leading their Merseyside rivals 1-0 when Distin attempted to pass the ball back to goalkeeper Tim Howard but only succeeded in playing in Luis Suarez.

Suarez made no mistake with a calm finish and Andy Carroll later headed in a second for the Reds to condemn Everton to a 2-1 defeat.

Distin believes his error was the turning point and apologized to his team-mates in the dressing room after the match.

He said: "I take full responsibility for that goal. I think it changed the game, so I have to accept it."

The 34-year-old's team-mates rallied around him and he added: "The guys have been amazing.

"They don't need to point at me or anything because they know I'm man enough to face my responsibilities.

"I don't need anyone to tell me what I do right or what I do wrong because I'm mature enough to know what I do right and wrong.

"That's clearly a bad mistake from me and I have to accept it, no matter the consequences. And, for me, the consequences are not going to the final, which is very disappointing.

"I know I cost a lot of people the final and it's tough to accept.

"Personally, I just want a few days to put that behind me and re-focus. That's going to be very important.

"But, right now, I have to admit it is difficult because I realize where we could've been and I feel responsible for that because we are not there.

"At the moment, I don't think too much about tomorrow. I just keep having flashbacks about this bad decision from me."

Everton remain well placed to finish above Liverpool in the Premier League but Distin insists that would be no consolation.

"No matter where we finish at the end of the season, we missed a final," said the defender.

"So, that won't make me feel better, no."

Distin, whose last Wembley appearance saw him taste FA Cup glory with Portsmouth four years ago, added: "I know what it is to win the cup and, today, I've obviously got the other extreme regarding the feeling.

"Only three years ago, I went on a high and now I leave the cup in the really wrong place, so it's two completely different feelings. That's the cup."

Carragher Rules Out Reds Exit

Jamie Carragher has ruled out leaving Liverpool this summer despite losing his place in the starting line-up.

The Reds stalwart has found himself no longer first-choice in central defence this season with Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger establishing themselves as regulars in Kenny Dalglish's side.

Carragher accepts his place is no longer guaranteed in the side, but he is ready to play his part when called upon.

The 34-year-old insists he will not consider moving on at the end of the season despite his lack of regular first-team action.

Carragher is sweating on his own starting place with Daniel Agger and Glen Johnson fit again.

"I know I am not first-choice but if people get knocks or suspensions I am there to come in and help and do as well as I can. I would never think about moving on in the summer, no, no," Carragher told the Daily Telegraph.

Dalglish Admits He Mishandled Suarez Racism Row

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish has admitted that he should have handled the Luis Suarez racism row differently.

The Uruguayan was banned for eight matches after being found guilty of racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra during a Premier League match in October.

The Liverpool manager defended his striker staunchly in the face of the accusations, maintaining Suarez had done nothing wrong.

The row further escalated during the return fixture between United and Liverpool at Old Trafford. Suarez suggested he would shake Evra's hand prior to the match but appeared to move his hand away during the pre-match introductions.

Dalglish told ESPN: "It would be done completely differently if it ever happened again - and I hope it never does.

"I wouldn't say publicly what I would do differently but I know what I would do differently. I would address that.

"If I have done something wrong I am not shy in saying I have done something wrong. If I can do something better I will try and do it better.

"Everybody can look at themselves, whether they are good, bad or indifferent and say, 'I could do things much better. That is what I will try to do. I would certainly hope not to do things any worse."

During Suarez's suspension Liverpool's form dropped off and they are now well short of a Champions League spot that was targeted at the start of the campaign.

Dalglish added: "You will never know how much the situation affected us. We will never know whether we would have won the games with Luis in or without him.
"It happened. We had to deal with it and we did deal with it.

"We have to brush ourselves down, stop feeling sorry for ourselves and get on with it. I think Luis is doing that now. We just have to get on with our life and make sure we learn our lessons from the past."