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Saturday, March 7, 2009
Everton dare to dream but United await

Richard Jolly

If 2008 was the year of the outsider in the FA Cup, 2009 seems to be the season when the established order is taking its revenge. When the last four in the competition comprised the unlikely quartet of Portsmouth, Cardiff, West Brom and Barnsley, it represented a spurned opportunity for clubs accustomed to such success. Now Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal have reasserted their authority, even if the latter still have to meet Hull in the quarter-finals. Everton could be regarded as surprise semi-finalists; instead, they appear to have been co-opted into the elite who are dominating this season's tournament. This is the Big Four with a slight difference. And it is, in itself, is a sign of progress. Their pedigree is very much in the past and their recent record in knockout competitions is unenviable. Seven years ago, Middlesbrough demolished Everton 3-0 in their previous FA Cup quarter-final. The Merseysiders' reaction was to replace Walter Smith with Preston's promising manager, David Moyes. It must rank among the finest decisions in the club's distinguished history. Moyes himself made one of the better choices in his time at Goodison Park to introduce Louis Saha at half-time, when Middlesbrough led. This was the manager as match-winner, even if Saha scored the decisive goal. And, while the thought of a fired-up Moyes is sufficient to scare even the bravest, there is little doubting the impact of his half-time homily. Everton were insipid in the first half and inspirational in the second. "I'm angry quite often," said Moyes. "But it was who could get in the dressing room first to get to them. [His assistant] Steve Round got to them first. They needed reorganising and they also needed a swift charger." It can safely be said they got that. Thereafter Everton were imbued with urgency, surging forward in attack after attack. Middlesbrough were overwhelmed in 11 minutes. It was a second game at Goodison Park in this cup run that has been turned by the Scot. A second winner was indicative of his astute deployment of substitutes, despite the paucity of options often available to him. After Dan Gosling's dramatic intervention against Liverpool, Saha served as the catalyst in the transformation of the tie to eliminate the serial quarter-finalists from Teesside. "I thought 30 minutes was maybe his limit," said Moyes. "He's done 45 today. He'll be a big player when he can start games for us." In the reshuffle caused by his arrival, Tim Cahill had retreated to the centre of midfield. He was nearer the right touchline when he delivered a cross that Marouane Fellaini met, the most distinctive hairdo in football rising above Robert Huth to loop the ball over keeper Brad Jones, stationed in no-man's land, and into the unguarded goal. Then Steven Pienaar chipped in a cross from the left and Saha leapt above Robert Huth at the near post to convert a downward header. The German is much the taller of the pair, but it provided a reminder of the natural spring that, allied with his pace and ability to shoot with either foot, makes a fully-fit Saha such an accomplished striker. "You know Everton get their goals from crosses and set-plays and that's what we've worked on all week," said Middlesbrough manager Gareth Southgate. That work, unfortunately, appeared utterly unsuccessful. Indeed, more goals could have followed. With Jones motionless, Leighton Baines curled a free kick against the bar. Twice, Saha could have added a third. "It's a huge disappointment," added Southgate. "The way we have given the lead away has told us why we are where we are this season. We have to learn how to win matches and how to see games through. There are harsh lessons for us to learn." Much of the first half appeared occupied by a wrestling match between Fellaini and Huth but, on the stroke of half-time, Middlesbrough struck. It was apt that it was followed by a chant of "he's one of our own" from the visiting fans. This was a goal made in the Middlesbrough area. The Stockton-born Matthew Bates crossed and Wheater, the defender from Redcar, rose above Joseph Yobo to connect with a header. It had sufficient power that Tim Howard's first attempt at a save was unsuccessful and though he later scooped the ball back out, it had crossed the line. It was only the sixth goal Everton had conceded in 16 games. A shock to the system brought a reaction. More predictable, given that Everton have already faced Liverpool (twice), Aston Villa and Middlesbrough was their pairing with Manchester United in the semi-finals. It makes a first final in 14 years difficult, but their supporters had long since started celebrating a trip to Wembley. There was an impromptu fireworks display in the cramped streets outside Goodison Park afterwards. Everton provided plenty of pyrotechnics on the pitch, too. MAN OF THE MATCH: Joleon Lescott  Seemed to have a sixth sense that enabled him to snuff out Middlesbrough's attacks when an equaliser was threatened. A shot from Tuncay Sanli was blocked and, when Tim Howard spilled a free kick, it was predictable that Lescott was the first man on the scene to clear. EVERTON VERDICT: Theirs was a wonderful response to going behind. The tempo and energy of Everton's second-half display provided the keys to victory but, though it was very much a collective effort, individuals excelled, from Lescott and Phil Jagielka in defence, to Phil Neville at the heart of the midfield and Pienaar and Leon Osman on the flanks. Well as Cahill and Fellaini have done as ersatz attackers, Saha also showed what a natural centre-forward can offer. MIDDLESBROUGH VERDICT: Their relegation battle has to be the greater priority, but it must be a concern how they were overpowered in the second half. If fine football does not maintain their top-flight status, there was little evidence that Boro can scrap their way to safety. The fallibility of keeper Jones may be a worry for the run-in. BOYCOTT JEFF: Much to the bemusement of the professional journalists, the chief interrogator of Southgate in the post-match press conference was former referee and full-time self-publicist Jeff Winter.

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