However, following an impressive individual and team display against the Red Devils it seems only right that we should discuss both outings in more depth to compare and contrast what could have been another day in the Sun at Wembley.
As I set off in search of a North West London hostelry called the Green Man, I was certain of victory. So certain in fact that I didn't even comprehend any other outcome, this wasn't false hope, just a joint decision between my head and my heart that things would finally go our way. The momentum was with us, the form book favoured an Everton win and Liverpool's build up week had been less than satisfactory following a last gasp 3 points away to Blackburn Rovers, only then for a number of key members of their set up, including Director of Football Daniel Comolli, leaving under somewhat of a cloud.
The atmosphere was pretty good considering a large number of those in attendance had been up since the earlier than early hours travelling Southwards and quite possibly were topping up on whatever their preference from a late night beforehand. From my seat behind the goal that Everton were defending in the 1st half, it sounded like most of the noise was coming from our side before the game, but I'll admit it's hard to make a fair judgement from that position in a stadium of such grand size.
The opening 45 minutes was quite evenly matched and I'd imagine a dour affair for the neutral, but nonetheless Everton led at the interval through a now trademarked clinical finish from Nikica Jelavic. What should have happened in the second period was for the team to come out fighting for another goal, but they appeared frightened and anxious to keep a hold of that small advantage. Liverpool's game plan was exactly as our should have been, attack, attack, attack. 2 defensive errors and 2 goals later, we are heading back to Merseyside with our best realistic chance of silverware for many a year snatched from our grasps and the prospect of a season fizzling out to no more than vying for 7th place with our city rivals.
Then came the realisation that next on the agenda was a trip Manchester, the statisticians amongst you will not need reminding of David Moyes' record as Everton manager away to “the big 4”, it reads something along the lines of, no wins, a few draws and lots of losses. United of course are chasing their 20th title and needed to beat us as their closest competition and neighbours, Manchester City were creeping up on their tails again.
If the following weeks performance was to be anything to go by we were in for a hiding, but if there is one thing this team loves more than anything, it's having little expectations on their shoulders. The attacking play was exactly what was missing from Wembley, whether it was Steven Pienaar's return to the fold after being cup tied or just a dogged determination to prove doubters wrong it's difficult to say but whatever it was that caused us to score 4 goals at the theatre of dreams and snatch a late draw it worked.
From the 1st minute we went at them and were able to uncover and expose frailties in their formation. Sir Alex Ferguson insinuated that these were defensive lapses by his team, actually it was clever and fast paced offensive play by Everton that led to the goals, I can't help but feel if we had ended the game losing he would have given our tactics the praise they deserved rather than discrediting them. Now, I realise we conceded 4 as well but I think Evertonians kind of accepted that part of the proceedings, as United were quite sublime in attack yet we were their equal in that department. Even at 4-2, written off by the commentators, a rallying cry from captain Phil Neville suggested that there was still a belief that we could get something from the game.
That belief surely stemmed from an already embedded faith in the goalscoring exploits of Jelavic, another 2 during this match saw his tally rise to 8 in 11 games. His remarkable talent of picking his shot with his 1st touch is something we haven't witnessed for a while on the terraces of Goodison Park and it's a welcome trait. A special mention must also go to his strike partner for the day, Marouane Fellaini, who was quite superb in a more forward role last really exhibited in his debut season. The curly haired Belgian held the ball up well and won almost everything in the air, even showing a strikers prowess with a crisp volley to get us back into the game.
That well earned point and Liverpool dropping more at home with a loss to West Bromwich Albion meant there is now a gap of 2 between us and them with 12 left to play for. Everton's run in to the end of the 2011\12 Premier League appears mildly more favourable than theirs, especially as they have a FA Cup Final against Chelsea to play mid way through their final fixtures, which may cause some distraction.
My understanding is there is nearly £1m difference in prize money between finishing 7th and 8th which would of course be a welcome boost to Everton's finances, so although it may not be enough for European competition next year, there is still more at stake than simple local bragging rights.
Thanks for reading.
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