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There is not much romantic about Everton’s current lineup, especially now they are operating without injured Spaniard Mikel Arteta, but the unceasingly honest boys in blue certainly injected some desperately-needed colour to this season’s FA Cup with their penalty-shootout win over Manchester United on Sunday.
Yes it was an awful semi-final, with neither team really testing the opposing goalkeeper, but at least Everton, and their fans, took it seriously.
If United’s reserves had gone through to play Chelsea, again, it would have been another nail in the coffin of a competition that used to be the highlight of the season.
Alex Ferguson decided to rest his big names to keep them fresh for Premier and Champions League action. Everton boss David Moyes couldn’t have done the same even if his team had anything else to play for.
So, it will be an all-Blue FA Cup final this year, after Everton set up a date with Chelsea thanks to the penalty shoot-out heroics of goalkeeper Tim Howard in the semi-final against Manchester United.
Howard, a former United keeper, you may remember, saved the first two penalties from Dimitar Berbatov and Rio Ferdinand and Everton didn’t look back.
Speaking as someone who once sat in a brick-built outhouse at the bottom of the garden for five years writing a book about the FA Cup, I have rather a soft spot for the old pot.And so, it seems, after all these years, do Arsene Wenger, Alex Ferguson, David Moyes and many other managers, some of whom have not always treated the competition with the respect I still think it deserves.It seems almost every year at about this time, the same stories are run about how the FA Cup has lost its magic and the competition is now a mere end-of pier show compared to the Champions League and Premier League.The doomsayers point to dwindling attendances at grounds and dipping TV viewing figures to prove the FA Cup is not what it was.Last season the jump-on-a-bandwagon team proclaimed the cup “was back” because of all the upsets along the way that meant that just one Premier League team — Portsmouth — reached the semi-finals. Portsmouth v Cardiff was an “old-fashioned” final, a throwback to the 1920s and 1930s.This season the same voices are proclaiming the cup is dead again because Manchester United, Chelsea and Everton are all in the last four with Arsenal set to join them, although Hull City are still involved, and can still of course win it for the first time in their history.But the critics can’t have it both ways. Some years there are upsets, some years there aren’t — and irrespective of the outcome, an FA Cup match does have a different atmosphere, a different tempo and a different level of excitement to a league match, even if both teams are in the same division and regularly play each other.I was at Fulham v Manchester United on Saturday and saw a magical performance from Michael Carrick, Carlos Tevez and their team mates as United crushed the home side 4-0.Despite modern improvements there is still a timeless feel about watching matches at Craven Cottage next to the River Thames, just as there is still a timeless feel about the FA Cup.Sometimes it ebbs, sometimes it flows. I still believe that for most fans, nurtured on just a little history who still appreciate the romance of the game, you can’t miss it for a moment.PHOTO: Everton’s Marouane Fellaini (R) challenges Middlesbrough’s Justin Hoyte during their FA Cup quarter-final at Goodison Park, March 8, 2009. REUTERS/Phil Noble
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.
Families will be divided and bars will be filled with talk of nothing else this weekend when Everton host Liverpool on Saturday and the Milan derby takes place a day later.
Despite the plethora of foreign players on show at Goodison and the San Siro, as well as Spanish, Scottish and Portuguese managers, the two derbies will still sum up what is great about being a football fan.
The usual new season optimism was in short supply at Everton on Saturday.
Never mind the last-minute defeat by Paul Ince’s Blackburn, that was merely salt in the wounds for a club whose preparations for the 2008/09 campaign could barely have been worse.
After recording sixth and fifth-placed finishes in the previous two seasons, Everton’s hopes of continuing that momentum look doomed already when you consider the scant options available to manager David Moyes.