Everton and Louis Saha broke the long-standing ‘Fastest Cup Final Goal’ record at Wembley today, but ultimately left the famous stadium with broken hearts and no silverware.
Alas it was FA Cup joy for Chelsea’s Guus Hiddink as he signed off from his role as ‘Temporary Manager’ (an increasingly popular role in football) by winning the oldest cup competition in football. As he promised on his arrival in West London, he will now “go back East”.
As ways of leaving a football club go, this must be close to perfection, and much more elegant than the cloak and dagger removal of Jose Mourinho early last season. Claude Makelele had lifted the lid on the reasons for Mourinho’s Chelsea departure on the eve of this final with all the timing of a Rodney Marsh Tsunami gag, suggesting he was forced out by club captain John Terry. Mourinho not Marsh. Marsh was forced out by Stelling.
These revelations were angrily refuted by Terry and indeed Chelsea, but if that had somewhat soured the start of John Terry’s day, it will have only made lifting the famous old cup that bit sweeter later on.
As with most things, it could have been different. ITV’s Clive Tyldsley hadn’t had a chance to mispronounce a player’s name when Louis Saha lashed in a ferocious volley with just 25 seconds on the clock, writing his name into the history books in the process. The Everton fans, who seemed much louder pre-match, blew the roof off Wembley and started to believe maybe this was their year.
Saha hadn’t been a certainty to start, but Everton boss David Moyes had decided to give the 30 year old Frenchman the task of leading the line, remarking to the TV cameras it was the “right decision”. What a way to be proved right. He gave Petr Cech no chance after Marouane Fellaini jostled well to keep the attack alive.
Chelsea, like Man Utd in midweek, looked visibly shaken by the early setback, they were rushed in possession and their passing was erratic. Everton had their tail up, and were hunting down the ball in a similar fashion to Mark Viduka hunting out a burger van.
However, it was very hot, and Chelsea are a very good team, it looked unlikely that Everton would be able to keep up with their own level of effort. Chelsea began to dominate possession and carved out a few openings, particularly down the left hand side, where Ashley Cole was on his way to making a Man of the Match contribution.
Florent Malouda too, was becoming a menace to the Everton back line and was tripped by the increasingly hapless Tony Hibbert, earning the Liverpudlian a booking.
It was from another left sided raid that the Chelsea equaliser eventually came from. Malouda crossed invitingly into the Everton box for Didier Drogba to leap majestically and butt the ball venomously past Tim Howard, scoring another Cup Final goal. Joleon Lescott briefly looked around for someone to blame, but in truth it was his sloppy marking and failure to make a good enough challenge that made Drogba’s finish that much easier.
From then on Chelsea were pretty much in control of proceedings and had a decent chance to take the lead when Ashley Cole got in behind Hibbert (again), but pulled his effort wide.
Half time came and went, and with it went Tony Hibbert. He is known for his consistent performances for The Toffees, but in the first half he had clearly struggled and been consistently caught out by Chelsea (Malouda in particular). Moyes chose to replace his right back with Lars Jacobsen, who had been almost completely forgotten at Everton until very recently, a shoulder injury hampering much of his debut season in England.
Despite the half time reshuffle, the second half started in the same way the first had ended, with Chelsea keeping hold of the ball with ease. John Obi Mikel was selected in favour of the mega rich Michael Ballack, and was excelling in his role, operating in the space between defence and midfield, winning the ball back and setting up attacks.
Despite Chelsea’s dominance, Everton did not give up the fight and came with inches of re-taking the lead. Again the threat came through Saha, who got his head to a whipped Leighton Baines cross but was unable to keep it down, the ball flying over Cech’s bar. Saha along with thousands of Evertonians looked to the heavens in dismay, recognising both the quality of the chance and fearing the consequences of the miss.
A few minutes later, Chelsea did make them pay. Frank Lampard, collected a pass from sub Ballack, turned inside Phil Neville, lost his footing, regained it again, and let fly with a 20 yard, left foot shot which arrowed into the top corner. Hitting across the ball helped it away from Howard, but the American keeper might feel he should have done better as the shot wasn’t particularly powerful.
In any event the goal seemed to snuff out Everton’s challenge for the Cup, a challenge that has seen them beat Liverpool, Villa, ‘Boro and, of course, Man Utd en route to the final. Everton didn’t manage another meaningful effort, as Chelsea made them chase the ball and had several attempts to extend their lead.
Malouda was denied a Cup Final goal when referee Howard Webb failed to spot his terrific long range effort had actually crossed the line after coming down off the crossbar. In fairness to Webb, it would have been some spot. More ridiculously Webb booked Lampard for a dive in the area, when in reality, he had been kicked over. Fortunately for Chelsea these mistakes did not cost them and they went on the see the game out and claim their second FA Cup in three years.
Moyes has previously been mentioned as a potential successor to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. Maybe it will be in how his ever improving Everton side responds to this disappointment next season which will determine whether he will be considered a serious candidate for the Old Trafford post when Fergie eventually retires.
As for Guus, he will go back east with a FA Cup winners medal to show for his short time in England. After the game Larry David look-alike and Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck suggested a ‘Permanent’ manager will be appointed “sooner rather than later”, with AC Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti widely tipped as the next man to try his luck at Stamford Bridge.