Everton Club Focus – FA Cup derby build-up evokes memories of last Toffees semi-final

The last few days on the blue half of Merseyside have been dominated by talk of only one thing – the FA Cup semi-final. Tickets to see Everton play Liverpool at Wembley went on sale on Friday and not even Everton’s comfortable win over West Bromwich Albion could distract from the forthcoming Merseyside derby.

When Everton last reached this stage of the competition in 2009, the days and weeks leading up to the game were buzzing with excitement. Three years later it feels a little different. Manchester United were the opposition at Wembley that day and while playing the pre-eminent side from the other end of the East Lancs Road is always an important occasion for Everton, playing Liverpool this time around has multiplied the fervour to an even higher level. Defeating the Reds is possibly the only event that could top the penalty shootout victory over United for sheer intensity. It was one of the most memorable moments of Everton’s recent history.

The match itself was a dour affair, a 0-0 draw between an Everton side set-up to contain the opposition and a United side lacking their biggest names. The defence contained Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, Anderson started in midfield and Carlos Tevez was chosen in attack. Around them were the likes of Federico Macheda, a raw Danny Welbeck and Darron Gibson, now an important part of Everton’s midfield but then little more than a squad player at Old Trafford. Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo were not even on the bench, while it was Ben Foster rather than Edwin van der Sar who kept goal. The cavalry was to an extent called for as the match wore on, with Paul Scholes and Dimitar Berbatov eventually making an appearance, but they could not find a way past Everton’s blue wall.

The penalty shootout was a predictably tense affair. Tim Cahill took and missed Everton’s first penalty but Berbatov returned the favour for United, allowing Leighton Baines to put Everton ahead. Ferdinand then saw his effort saved by Tim Howard and Phil Neville doubled Everton’s lead. Vidic and Anderson netted for United while James Vaughan did likewise for Everton, giving Phil Jagielka the opportunity to write his name in Everton folklore. The defender scored and the celebrations were raucous. The roar that erupted when Jagielka’s penalty beat Foster was visceral and few occasions have generated even close to such noise in the three years since. In a cruel twist of fate Jagielka suffered a season-ending knee injury just six days later, missing the final against Chelsea and nearly a year of football.

In hindsight little could top the experience of the semi-final, although Louis Saha’s goal seconds into the final itself came pretty close. The rest of the contest saw Chelsea very much on the front foot, equalising before half-time and going ahead after the interval. The memory of Everton’s first appearance at Wembley in 14 years lingers strongly in the club’s conscious, surpassed only if Everton beat Liverpool this time.

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