Sweet vindication for Reds
It has been a season where Liverpool as a club, and Kenny Dalglish as a manager, have staked their reputation on two players. Faith has been repaid - perhaps not yet in full, but a large downpayment has been received.
First Luis Suarez and then Andy Carroll lifted Liverpool from the gloom of what had been a clueless first-half performance and, whatever happens to Dalglish this summer, he can justifiably point to the fact he has taken his beloved club to Wembley thrice, as is the modern way.
The days when Liverpool and Everton were the twin dominants of English football lie a generation ago. In those days, it was Manchester United who were the 'cup team', while Manchester City yo-yoed between the First and Second Division. A time when major honours were divided across Stanley Park is long gone, as London and Manchester hog the league title, and the other competitions have lessened in value. However, they may just save the livelihood of Merseyside's favourite adopted son.
On a day when the nation directed its attention to Merseyside and the Grand National at Aintree, a glance at the runners and riders of the British Isles' favourite race threw up Organisedconfusion, a horse whose name offered a reflection of recent events in the red half of this ancient rivalry. Damien Comolli has departed, unlamented, along with a club doctor while Dalglish remains, though he has been left in little doubt of his American employers' willingness to take big calls. A Carling Cup, hardly won in style if even if did contain significant drama, would surely not be enough to justify a huge outlay on transfer fee and wages.
Liverpool's victory was a "testament to everyone's character", according to Dalglish. "They have responded to what has not been a great period of the club's history."
Rather than Dalglish, it was perhaps now David Moyes who had looked like Merseyside's untouchable. Everton fans' fears centre on the expectation that he will one day take his leave of Goodison Park. Vacancies in North London and Manchester may one day attract him. The man who announced his arrival at Everton by proclaiming them the 'People's Club', has almost as tight a hold on his club's fans as does Dalglish.
Yet a silverware-shaped hole in his CV remains and here was another occasion in which his team let success slip from their grasp. Just as in the final of this competition in 2009, a lead was squandered and, once it was, Moyes' team found no way back into the game. Sylvain Distin will be remembered as the latest victim of a Wembley hoodoo, his mistake letting in Suarez for a Liverpool equaliser that had begun to look unlikely.
As in the Carling Cup Final, Dalglish had again fielded the players on whom that reputation is staked and looked like being squandered - Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing, Carroll and Suarez. The dropping of another signing in Jose Enrique had backfired when Daniel Agger came from an unfamiliar full-back position to err for Nikica Jelavic's goal. While Downing and Henderson again looked well below the level their pricetags could signify, Carroll, perhaps buoyed by a midweek winner at Blackburn, finally delivered on a big occasion.
He had looked dangerous in the opening moments, playing a role in setting up decent half-chances for Jay Spearing and Martin Skrtel. The copybook, however, would be blotted when he headed impossibly wide when granted a golden chance in the 46th minute that would have wiped out all of Liverpool's first-half woes. He buried his head under his shirt. It fitted as uncomfortably as his transfer fee has often done.
Jelavic, at almost a sixth of the Carroll cash, had proved what a confident striker can do. Having shown how to lead an attacking line with energy and determination, he kept his cool when others' had gone.
Through him, Everton had scored the goal their first-half efforts deserved via a comedic mix-up between Agger and Jamie Carragher. Agger showed why his right foot is used primarily for standing as he meekly rebounded the ball off Carragher and Tim Cahill into Jelavic, who rarely misses from such a golden position. It was the type of disarray that has become commonplace in a Liverpool defence that was perhaps the Premier League's best until the turn of the year. Yet Everton's ascendancy did not last much beyond the break.
"We played well enough to be a goal in front. I thought we had weathered it," Moyes said. "We made a mistake, and we gave Liverpool more impetus."
Suarez's finishing was as predatory as Jelavic's in seizing on an opposition mistake. Liverpool had barely seemed credible as a threat but, as their belief grew, Everton's faded badly. The arrival of Maxi Rodriguez and Craig Bellamy from the bench offered another gear that Moyes could not find from lesser resources, and Carroll had begun to exert greater influence and danger.
A swing of the left foot that was once such a weapon at Newcastle was a decent effort that went wide. A nod of a ponytailed head from a Bellamy free-kick was the moment that Liverpool could proclaim their No. 9 as one of their own as he celebrated the winner.
It was difficult to tell if Kenny Dalglish was happy in the aftermath. It often is, but he spoke of his pride of taking the club to two cup finals - "one we have won, one we are looking forward to". Carroll and Suarez were not singled out for praise. The public defences are still up. As he confronted the press in his usual brusque manner, he gave his view of the current state of the team and institution he still leads.
"If you cannae enjoy winning, you may as well put the lid on the box," he said in remarks that barely seemed to tally with his demeanour. "It's called work in progress. We said after the Carling Cup we were not the finished article. We are saying the same now."
David Moyes was left to reflect on another case of what might have been. "It was our chance. Liverpool haven't been where they would like to be but it's a couple of margins," he reflected, though he acknowledged that he is the latest in a long line of Everton managers who have fallen to the Reds. The last time Everton won a semi-final against Liverpool came in the decade before the Titanic sunk.
"We're no' gloating," Dalglish said, though he could perhaps have allowed himself a smile that Suarez and Carroll in particular had both delivered moments of sweet vindication.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Andy Carroll. All the brickbats and all the errors are forgotten for now after a performance that was effective throughout. For once, his confidence did not fade when a golden chance had been missed, and the winner was reward for his hard work and a rarely seen will to win. He may make a Liverpool player yet.
LIVERPOOL VERDICT: "There's no' a tap you can turn on or off," Dalglish said, but something happened after half-time. The league form had been reflected in a disjointed opening half, but the second half was one where patience was matched with determination. In the end, their quality told.
EVERTON VERDICT: "We were so desperate to get to the final for the supporters. I feel for them all," Moyes said. Desperation was the emotion once Liverpool equalised. A chance had gone, for all that Everton had been the better team until Distin's moment of misery. After that, tired legs and a lack of quality in reserve meant a revival was beyond reach.