Didn’t football used to be about scoring goals?
For all its great crowd noise, emotion and late drama, Wednesday night’s FA Cup replay between Everton and Liverpool was an shocking indictment of modern football, where stopping the other side scoring has become so important that teams have almost forgotten that there is another, more decisive and infinitely more entertaining way to achieve success.
Throughout the TV commentary there were references to the 4-4 draw when the teams met in the the competition in 1991, and Liverpool’s 3-2 aet final win 20 years ago, but we were never going to get a repeat after an excruciating first hour where both penalty areas might as well have been sealed off with barbed wire.
Everton, at least, have a bit of an excuse in that just about all their strikers are out injured, and the one that wasn’t, Victor Anichebe, seemingly talked himself out of the squad by rowing with manager David Moyes.
In their absence, midfielders Tim Cahill and Marouane Fellaini have toiled manfully and productively upfront in recent weeks but it was tough on Wednesday for Everton to break out of the midfield mire.
Liverpool and coach Rafa Benitez again lacked ideas. They did not manage a single worthwhile effort on goal in two hours. After all Benitez’s talk of rotation and squad resources since he arrived, he has played Steven Gerrard and an unfit Fernando Torres into the ground this season, while allowing others to sit in the stands.
With Gerrard off early with a hamstring strain and the exhausted Torres eventually substituted, Liverpool brought on winger Ryan Babel to lead the line, with predictable results. What Robbie Keane must have made of it all is anyone’s guess.
Everton boss Moyes hasn’t been fooled. “The way you (the media) build that side up, I bet you’re completely stunned tonight,” he said after the game.
And the final insult to the millions watching on TV, or at least those still awake for the closing moments? ITV cut to an unscheduled ad break, returning to show a bundle of celebrating Evertonians, having missed the only goal of the game.
PHOTO: In case you missed it, here’s a photo of Everton’s Dan Gosling shooting past Liverpool’s Jose Reina during their FA Cup fourth round replay, Feb. 4, 2009. REUTERS/Phil Noble