Though Everton have finished above their hated Merseyside rivals each of the last two seasons, results against the Reds throughout the David Moyes era were very rarely positive. This certainly weighed heavily on the minds of supporters when the Toffees drew Liverpool at Anfield in the fourth round of the 2008-09 FA Cup. However, David Moyes' boys pulled out an admirable result in the harsh environment, and were propelled to a 1-1 draw by a Joleon Lescott goal and some remarkable defending from Lescott and fellow Englishman Phil Jagielka. The draw set up a replay, at Goodison Park, two weeks later.
The timing of the match was less than stellar for Liverpool and manager Rafael Benitez, who found themselves embroiled in a Premier League title chase (they ended up losing out to Manchester United by 4 points), as well as only a few weeks away from a Champions League Round of 16 match-up with Real Madrid. Benitez took the competition seriously though, and sent out a starting 11 including Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard, and Xabi Alonso. Everton had their own problems at the time, with injuries to Louis Saha (what a shock) and Yakubu ruling both strikers out, while the Brazilian Jo, on loan from Manchester City, was cup-tied. Moyes then, elected to send out the (in)famous 4-6-0, with Tim Cahill as the faux striker, and recently signed Marouane Fellaini playing just behind him.
Everton caught their first break of the match 15 minutes in, when Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard was forced out with a hamstring injury. The rest of the first half in some ways resembled American football more than the beautiful game, with Cahill and Pienaar both picking up bookings for ugly challenges. On the other side of the break, skipper Phil Neville and Liverpool's Lucas Leiva were both quickly and fairly given yellow cards as well. Moyes made his first cast of the die in the 52nd minute, bringing out Marouane Fellaini for the young Dan Gosling. Fellaini, as was often the case in physical games, especially in his first season with the club, appeared too interested in exerting his physical presence on the match to make any sort of significant contribution. Gosling was a smaller, quicker option, and allowed for Mikel Arteta's play-making ability to be pushed farther up the pitch.
Lescott and Jagielka, as they had two weeks prior, did a fantastic job of limiting a dangerous Liverpool side's chances, certainly aided by the early departure of Steven Gerrard. The English center-backs, along with the rest of the Toffees, continued to frustrated the Reds, and finally got the change they needed to turn the match in their favor. Lucas Leiva, having already been booked, committed a silly and cynical foul on Joleon Lescott in the 76th minute, leaving match official Alan Wiley no option but to send off the young Brazilian. Lucas, who has proved himself to be a valuable player in the last two years, at the time was a point of contention for many Liverpool supporters. The Brazilian midfielder was booed off the pitch during a November draw against Fulham, and had conceded a penalty that cost his team two points just a week prior in a 1-1 draw against Wigan. Benitez's repeated inclusion of Lucas over Javier Mascherano, who was on the bench when Lucas was sent off, still remains a somewhat incomprehensible decision.
Rationale of the decision aside, the Toffees were now looking at a golden opportunity. Their ability to go into Anfield and hold on for a draw, and keep the Reds at bay for as long as they had was paying off. They now had 15 minutes of regular time, plus two 15 minute overtimes, up a man, with Steven Gerrard off the pitch, with Goodison Park rocking, to pull out a result before the craps game that is penalty kicks. Rafa Benitez quickly brought on Mascherano to try to shore things up at the center of the pitch, and weather the blue storm. For the remainder of normal time, Liverpool held firm. The Toffees were unable to create any solid scoring chances, and Alan Wiley blew the whistle after 90 minutes, with the score still tied at 0.
Everton created the best chances of the first overtime period, with Leon Osman and Dan Gosling both being robbed by Pepe Reina, leading to a corner kick. Leighton Baines whipped it in, and Tim Cahill, as he so often does, found a little pocket of space to head the ball from, but put the shot just wide. The first 15 minute period expired with little other activity.
As the second half of extra time began, Goodison Park and Evertonians everywhere were primed to explode. Certainly, this had to be the moment where Everton could finally pull out a huge result over Liverpool. After watching campaign after campaign end with Liverpool headed to the Champions' League, while the Toffees struggled to find their way into just the UEFA Cup, the blue side of Merseyside had to find a way to pull out this most tantalizing of results. They simply had to.
Moyes made his final substitution as the last 15 began, bringing on Andy Van der Meyde for Phil Neville, a positive move if Moyes ever made one. In the 118th minute, with the specter of penalties approaching, Phil Jagielka intercepted a poor clearance just past midfield, and played through Van der Meyde down the right wing. The Dutchman took one touch, and sent a cross in. And then, this happened. Gosling received the cross, showed remarkable poise for a youngster, got the ball onto his right foot, and put his shot toward goal. The shot was deflected by Liverpool defenders in front, and found its way, almost magically, through all the traffic and nestled inside the side netting. Everton had the lead, 1-0, with the game all but over. In what seemed like moments later, the referee blew the final whistle, and the scoreboard read Everton 1, Liverpool 0.
The David Moyes era was characterized by smart, cheap transfer signings and the development of young players that either turned out to be serviceable for the Toffees, or were sold for a hefty profit, so perhaps what is most confounding, yet endearing about this end result is that it came from two players who are the furthest from that profile. Andy Van der Meyde was signed from Inter Milan in 2006 for 2 million pounds, and never really materialized for Everton. He was injury prone, a massive headache off the pitch, and ultimately only appeared in 20 matches for the team over a 4 year span, with just 3 of those games coming in the 2008-09 season. Dan Gosling, on the other hand, was felt to have a bright future with the club, along with Jack Rodwell, even before his goal in this match. But he ruptured his ACL the following season, and following a bitter contract dispute, left the club for Newcastle United in 2010, and Everton didn't see a penny for it.
Regardless, the match will certainly go down as one of the best of the David Moyes era, and sparked a run that got he and the Toffees as close as they would get to silverware.