It was just too painful for me to write the score in the headline.
There's going to be a lot written about this match from an Everton perspective over the coming days (hell, there's been a lot written already). There's going to be a lot of blame to go around, and much of it will be warranted. But what ultimately makes this match so disappointing to me is that we had those Kopites beat. This game was there for the taking, served up on a silver platter, and we just. couldn't. get it. done.
Take the jump, as we figure out where exactly it all went so horribly wrong for the Toffees...Game thoughts...
- I refuse to believe that this Everton team is as inferior to this Liverpool team as the season series would seem to indicate. Liverpool have been remarkably fragile this year, both mentally and physically, and form-wise they are at their lowest ebb in years. As for Everton, everyone knows how strong the team has looked since January, culminating in the four-goal pasting of Sunderland five days ago. And yet, for some unknown reason that I can't quite pinpoint, we can't beat these guys to save our lives.
Is there something about this match-up that doesn't suit the players or David Moyes's tactics? Has the team developed a mental block in the derby? Or, more likely, it it just small sample size noise, like when West Brom did the double over us a year ago? I honestly don't know, but it's unbelievably disheartening for Evertonians, and it's going to be a long time before the chance for redemption arrives.
- I wouldn't want to be Sylvain Distin tonight. Of all the players for something like this to happen to, I think I feel worse for him than I would for just about anyone else. Distin is a veteran who has given a lot to this club, and now his blunder is going to go down as one of the all-time choke jobs in this team's history in the FA Cup. It's difficult not to try to imagine how the rest of the match might have played out had he only kicked the ball into touch, instead of attempting a difficult back-pass in a moment of madness.
Distin's misplaced pass is going to probably end up being the iconic moment of this game, and no doubt it was the moment the momentum turned firmly in Liverpool's favor, but by no means was it the lone reason for the defeat. After Everton took the lead in the first half, they had the chance to dictate play but ultimately couldn't do so, especially after the restart. The point is that if Everton had played better over the other 89 minutes and 50 seconds, Distin's mistake might have simply been an interesting footnote on an Everton victory.
- Despite the heartbreaking nature of the defeat, I still can't help smiling when I think back on Nikica Jelavic's opening goal. In truth, it was a fluky goal that was the product of Jamie's Carragher's eroding skills as much as anything any Everton player did, but it was a goal to savor nonetheless. And savor it the Everton fans did, going absolutely crazy and sending their half of Wembley into pandemonium. The Evertonians continued to jump up and down and sing for much of the rest of the first half, but unfortunately the players on the pitch couldn't match their energy.
- It was a tricky spell following Jelavic's goal as Liverpool controlled the majority of the next 10-15 minutes, but it always seemed like Everton would be okay if they could just weather the typical "right after scoring" storm. And the Blues did start to look more relaxed as halftime approached, and when the whistle blew there was no arguing who had been the better team over the whole of the first half.
- The football cliche of "a game of two halves" applied today, as Liverpool were much more cohesive and aggressive after the break. Everton couldn't maintain any sort of possession, and they were lucky not to concede the equalizer when Andy Carroll missed a free header that Andy Van Der Meyde would have buried. Then came the Suarez goal, and with minutes remaining Carroll redeemed himself with a headed goal from a Craig Bellamy free kick.
- I really think David Moyes got his substitutions wrong in this one, and I'm baffled as to why Royston Drenthe didn't even make the bench. Bringing on Seamus Coleman was a curious decision considering his poor form, and having Drenthe available to come on and make an impact down the wing would have been nice. I can't claim to know the reason behind Drenthe's absence, but I do know there's no way he would have made any more defensive mistakes than Coleman did. The free kick that ultimately led to the winner was caused by a silly challenge that nearly got Coleman sent off for a second yellow, and overall his play was abysmal.
- However, I will say this: credit both Coleman and Distin for taking responsibility for their gaffes after the match. You might hate them for the mistakes they made today, but you can't help but respect them.
- Lost in the pain of losing to our closest rivals is the fact that Everton will not be returning to the Europa League next season (don't tell me we have a chance in the league; we aren't catching Chelsea for sixth). While the competition certainly would have tested our small squad, there's no doubt that the lack of European football is hugely disappointing and might have served as an incentive for players who might sign this summer. If Everton had won the semifinal, they would be guaranteed a European place as the other potential finalists (Tottenham and Chelsea) are already all but qualified.
- It's going to be awfully tough to get up for the five games remaining on the schedule. I feel drained from this FA Cup run, and at this point I just want the summer to hurry up and get here so we can put this match far in the rear-view mirror.
T. Howard - Could he have come out to punch Bellamy's free kick clear of danger? I'm skeptical. Still not sure if he got a piece of Maxi Rodriguez's shot near the end that struck the woodwork. 5.5
P. Neville - Nothing really to note about his performance at right back, other than some poor passing. 5
J. Heitinga - Wasn't directly at fault for either goal, but didn't look particularly comfortable either. Rushed too many clearances. 5
S. Distin - An absolutely calamitous mistake to gift-wrap Liverpool the tying goal. Didn't do too much else wrong, but the damage was done. 4
L. Baines (Anichebe 88) - Picked a really bad day to have one of his lousier games this season. Actually defended quite well, but the offensive outlet he usually provides went missing. 5
L. Osman - Came close to scoring with a curling first half effort, and generally kept things ticking better than his fellow midfielders. 6
D. Gibson - Unfortunately didn't add much of anything on the attacking side of things, and he consistently failed to pick out his teammates when he gained control of the ball in his own half. 4
M. Fellaini - Played all right for much of the game, but his weak defending on Carroll's goal is what most fans will remember. 4.5
M. Gueye (Coleman 68) - I had high hopes for Gueye in this match based on recent form, but he failed to make much of an impact. Disappeared for stretches. 4.5
T. Cahill - Of all of the players, he might have embodied the difference in quality in the two halves most clearly. Did well to pressure Carragher for the first goal, but faded badly. 5
N. Jelavic - Yes he scored, but I wanted to see a bit more, especially in the second half when his movement off the ball really declined. Still, a good showing; he wasn't the problem today. 6
S. Coleman (substitute 68) - Had a nightmarish 20 minutes on the pitch. A fitting end to a disappointing season. 2
V. Anichebe (substitute 88) - Can't rate; not on long enough. N/A
Man of the Match: Leon Osman