Thursday, 5 February 2009

Everton 1 Liverpool 0 [A.E.T.]

Goodison Park is an old decrepit mess. It's wooden flooring and almost endless obstructed seats are an embarrassment to a Premier League club. However, on nights like Wednesday 4th February 2008, it is also the best place on planet earth.

Dan Gosling inscribed his name into Everton folklore by scoring the winning goal in a tense FA Cup 4th round replay against Liverpool in the last minute of extra time. That sentence alone brings the goosebumps back.

After one tight and tense league clash and one tight and tense Cup match at Anfield, Everton and Liverpool slugged it out at the Old Lady in a tight and tense Cup replay. Everton remained unchanged from the side that were downed at Old Trafford on Saturday. However Rafael Benitez just could not resist the urge to rotate his side from Sunday's convincing win at Anfield against Chelsea. Rafa the Gaffer, or to use his full name "Fat Spanish Waiter", dropped Javier Mascherano and Fabio Aurelio for Andrea Dossena and Lucas Leiva, both of whom were absolute cack.

Liverpool actually started the match in the box seat, Everton were chasing red shadows for the first 15 minutes. Xabi Alonso almost made the reds early dominance count with a rasping volley which drifted past Tim Howard's right hand post. We weren't to know at the time, but that was as close as Liverpool would get to scoring all night. Not long after that, Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard was forced to withdraw from proceedings after straining his hamstring. It appeared that Fernando Torres was going to be brought off after taking a knock to his ankle from a full blooded, but fair, challenge from Joleon Lescott. But to the crowds delight, it was Liverpool's heartbeat who trudged off. The rapturous reception to Gerrard's withdrawal was a sure sign of the crowds fear of Gerrard and his departure signalled Everton's arrival to the game. Suddenly, royal blue shirts were winning more second ball's and having more prolonged spells of possession.

Everton then went close to opening the scoring, after Tim Cahill's flick on was met on the volley by Leon Osman. But Osman, whilst getting a lot of power, couldn't find a lot of accuracy and could only lift his volley in the Glwadys Street end. Both sides traded spells of possession but not a lot was created from them as we headed into the break even stevens again.

Liverpool almost drew first blood in the second half as the impressive Alonso seemed to play in Albert"Quagmire" Riera one on one with Howard, however the American's speed was enough to make sure that Quagmire's effort was blocked. Everton then almost, and should have, taken the lead with the best move of the match. By now, Gosling had replaced the ineffective and possibly injured Marouane Fellaini and Jack Rodwell was brought on for the ineffective and definitely injured Steven Pienaar. And it was Rodwell's ferocious challenge in midfield which set the awesome Mikel Arteta on his way. His sublime ball to Cahill was cutely played into the path of the oncoming Osman. From 8 yards out, Osman beat Pepe Reina, but could only see his shot smack the post.

At that point, we all thought and knew that this one was going the distance. However we hadn't counted on Liverpool being reduced to 10 men. The awful Lucas, after harshly being booked in the first half, only went and scythed down Lescott in full flow and right in the eyeline of Alan Wiley, who did not hesitate in dismissing the Brazilian. At that point, Benitez decided that penalties was Liverpool's best chance of reaching the 5th round and Liverpool went straight to safe mode as Everton played out the rest of the half in front of Liverpool's defence.

So after yet another deadlock, we were then forced to endure extra time and it was a case now of who's nerve would break first. Everton immediately set about making sure it was Liverpool's. First a deflected Osman shot was saved by the fingertips of Reina who then utilised his excellent agility to make sure the surging Gosling couldn't capitalize on the loose ball. Cahill then went agonisingly close after seeing his near post header from a corner flash agonisingly past the unprotected far post.

Benitez was then forced to end Torres' participation after his stint up front on his own finally took it's toll as he tired in extra time. His efforts were also undermined by the world class defending of Phil Jagielka, who had Torres in his arse pocket for the entire match. Everton then made a wacky substitution of their own by bringing on forgetten Dutch wizard Andy Van der Meyde. He spent much of his rare appearance on a football field by pretty much chasing his own tail. However he would have a big part to play in one of the greatest single moments ever witnessed at Goodison.

The flying Dutchman finally got the better of Dossena and whipped in a curling cross which landed at Gosling's feet. Gosling then seemed to take an age to get the ball out of his feet, but once he did, aided by a slight deflection of the toe of Martin Skrtel, he curled the ball past the helpless Reina, off the post and into the Park End net as Goodison went ballistic. The scenes of pure joy and ecstasy by the Evertonians were in stark contrast to those in the Liverpool end, who had presumably run out of socks to throw onto the pitch.

Everton then had to endure 2 minutes of injury time, but were never troubled and when Wiley blew to end the game, the roar that greeted it still echoes in my ears even 24 hours on. The celebrations that followed could only be repeated if Everton do go on to win the Cup itself. At last Evertonians could rejoice at securing a last gasp win over the dear neighbours. And it felt fucking brilliant.

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