Composing a match report in the immediate aftermath of a game isn’t always a good idea. Good result or bad, you can let your passion for the club get in the way.
But given I won’t calm down from this night for the foreseeable future; I may as well get this one done now!
The expectation began early, with a fleet of coaches arriving at Goodison Park to carry the royal blue hordes to the north east in what was a gloriously sunny afternoon across the UK. You immediately got the sense that this was a huge occasion.
Many pundits and neutrals had tipped Sunderland to have the edge this one, given they had home advantage – a fact that was so wildly celebrated by their supporters at Goodison 10 days ago.
And while we all held some nerves, the supporters gathered at the Stadium of Light didn’t show it, belting out the Everton tunes with gusto and giving the lads real backing.
And boy did the players live up to that backing.
Right from the off Everton the players set about their task with a steely determination, the defenders winning interceptions at the back and – crucially – the midfield doing well to keep possession and build attacks. Steven Pienaar and Royston Drenthe were not missed as much as we thought.
The front two, Nikita Jelavic and Tim Cahill, consistently won the ball in the air, allowing Everton an outlet ball. Sotirios Kyrgiakos, yes the former Liverpool defender, had an absolute shocker. I think that’s karma for breaking Marouane Fellaini’s ankle a few years ago.
The first chance of the game came from the head of Tim Cahill, who rose highest from a corner only to see Simon Mignolet pull off a impressive save from point blank range.
Cahill has another header saved by the Black Cats ‘keeper while Jelavic spurned another chance and you begun to wonder whether they would be made to regret those missed chances.
On 24 minutes Everton won the ball in midfield again, with Fellaini feeding Magaye Gueye on the left, and his low first-time cross fell for Jelavic, whose instinctive first time finish flew in the bottom corner.
In a game between two evenly matched sides – level on points in the league don’t forget – the first goal was vital. And although Sunderland finally roused from their slumber, Tim Howard was rarely threatened in the rest of the first half.
I expected a Black Cats backlash in the second period but – to the players’ credit – they did not relinquish their grip on the game.
Leon Osman sent a fizzing first time (Peter Crouch-esque?!) volley inches wide of the top corner, while Gueye also teed up Gibson, whose side foot shot was blocked by a Sunderland foot as Moyes’ men picked up where they left off.
We needed that second goal – my nerves needed it too – and we were gifted a slice of luck. Fellaini again strode forward but his pass through to Jelavic sent the striker wide, his shot beat Mignolet but with David Vaughan on the line it should have been cleared. Instead the midfielder made a hash of it, his awkward touch sending the ball into his own net.
The supporters behind the goal went barmy, and the Wembley dream was close to being realised.
Jelavic should have finished the game off minutes later, but in a similar miss to his one at Swansea the Croatian curled it wide when in the clear.
At 2-0 the home side could have got back into the game and had a decent chance when Stephane Sessegnon hit the post when he managed to stretch and reach Sebastian Larsson’s corner kick at the far post.
In truth though, Howard continued to be untroubled for the rest of the game. It was Everton who created the chances, Jelavic seeing a shot parried by Mignolet and Gueye seeing a shot flash over the bar.
At quick mention has to go to the boys at the back – Distin and Heitinga were masterful, Johnny even doing a ‘Bobby Moore style’ slide tackle to dispossess Sessegnon – it was a symbol of Everton’s complete dominance.
Substitute Frazier Campbell had a late opportunity when he was clean through, but under pressure from Distin he stumbled as he was about to shoot and Howard was able to claim the shot.
Upon the final whistle the heroic players ran over to celebrate with the joyous supporters. Across both games it has been tight and tense, but I don’t think anyone could argue with the result tonight.
As I mentioned at the beginning, writing a match report soon after the result can cloud you’re thinking. But I think I can be forgiven for using hyperbole on this occasion, so I’m going to go for it:
I have never been prouder of the players, management and the supporters. It was a night where the good name of Everton FC was served proud.
The feeling of joy pulsing through Everton veins right now doesn’t happen very often and neither does the date in our diaries – April 14, Wembley Stadium, Everton v Liverpool.
Suck it up and get strapped in, the ride isn’t finished yet.
In fact, it has just got started.