There was a real sense of purpose about Everton - players, management, fans, the lot - in a way that's become familiar over the years and certainly so under David Moyes. Certain big games come around and we start as underdogs but to a man, we're convinced that we'll do it. The Carsley derby, Man U Big Dunc 2005, this year's FA Cup derby.. Elland Road 95', Wembley '95. This game was no exception and although we didn't set the world alight with our play, it was the winning mentality and refusal to lose that was most striking. Traits that have become synonymous with this team and especially this season.
I was lucky enough to be there and the atmosphere was fantastic, before, during and after the game. To United, this was another routine trip to wembley and just another big game, perhaps an inconvenient one given their focus on the premiership and champions league. Those sentiments were echoed in their team selection as they fielded a reserve side peppered with the odd expensive star like Tevez and the likes of Berbatov and Scholes on the bench as back-up should they be needed.
But for Everton, it was something we'd waited a long time for and the chance for a club that's desperately hungry for success to earn something tangible in the form of an FA Cup final appearance and to take another big step forward to the success we all think is just around the corner.
For 120 minutes both defences were on top and there were few chances for either side.
As a spectacle it was quite forgetable but the resilience of Everton was there for all to see. United might have been inexperienced but our teams of the past few seasons would probably still have lost. We've seen the likes of Arsenal and United send kids out in the past and sweep us aside with the minimum of fuss. I certainly don't think we played to anything like our potential here, but there are strong signs that Everton are growing up.
How many times in Moyes' reign have we compained about key decisions going against us against top 4 teams. Ridiculous red cards, penalties not given, big name players and managers dictating decisions to referees. This time it was different. Moyes was bold and clever in the build up with his comments about Mike Riley and his rhetoric surrounding the team's ambition and belief. He out foxed Ferguson and it almost certainly had an affect on the game when Jagielka got away with an innocuous challenge on Welbeck in the second half. That in itself isn't something to celebrate, we don't want bad refereeing decision dictating games. But Everton are no longer being bullied by the big four. We're mixing it with them and giving them a taste of their own medicine. Maybe we're learning what it takes to compete with them.
That belief and resilence runs through the whole club at the moment, from Moyes right through the players and down to the fans. At key times in the game when players looked shattered and United were getting on top, it was great to hear a wall of noise from our supports of "we shall not be moved" - really made the hairs on your neck stand up. No more so than before the penalties started. We were all praying that we'd win the toss and get them down at our end. Obviously we lost it and the natural Evertonian in us suspects an inevitability about the whole thing. We don't win penalty shoot outs! But we got on with it. Phil Neville shrugged his shoulders and our fans gave another loud chorus of We shall not be moved.
When Cahill fired over it didn't look good but we got a lifeline with Berbatov's poor penalty. The save by Howard - coupled with the way Baines stepped up and absolutely rifled his home - put us on the up again. The turnaround was complete with a great save by Howard from Rio Ferdinand, not bad for a keeper who's never come close to saving a penalty in his time at Everton.
Phil Neville showed great leadership in stepping up for the third and dispatched it calmly with Foster going the wrong way. Wayne Rooney wasn't even at Wembley but he could learn a thing or two from Neville's professionalism and dignity he showed with his celebration or lack of it infront of his old fans. Ice cool.
Vidic - undoubtedly the best player on the pitch all day - slotted for United before the bold and fit again James Vaughan showed balls of steel to step up after so little football this year and fire a great penalty past Ben Foster. By now you could practically taste it and despite Andersen scoring it was left for Phil Jagielka to step up and send Evertonians into absolute delierium !
The scenes that followed were brilliant - the Everton bench and players celebrated like it was a cup win and obviously we did in the stands as well. Strangers hugging strangers and voices being lost left right and center. It might have only been a passage to the final but it feels like tangible success and it's another brick in the wall that Moyes is building. Like the man himself says - we might not win the cup this year but this Everton team will win a trophy sooner or later. I think we all believe that and most of us believe it'll happen this year. And why not.