Liverpool beats Everton 2-1 to reach FA Cup final
WEMBLEY, England (AP) -Liverpool striker Andy Carroll headed the winner in the 87th minute to clinch a 2-1 comeback victory over Everton at Wembley on Saturday and secure a place in the FA Cup final.
Everton, meeting its local rival at Wembley for the first time since Liverpool won the 1989 FA Cup final, took the lead in the 24th minute after Nikica Jelavic took advantage of a mix-up between Liverpool defenders Daniel Agger and Jamie Carragher.
Liverpool started the second half the better of the two teams and its dominance was rewarded in the 62nd when Luis Suarez equalized after intercepting a poor back pass by Everton defender Sylvain Distin.
With the game seemingly headed for extra time and a possible penalty shootout, Carroll headed in a freekick from Craig Bellamy to secure Liverpool's passage to its first FA Cup final since 2006.
Carroll, who also scored Liverpool's winner in a midweek Premier League match against Blackburn, had struggled to live up to his 35 million pound (then $56 million) transfer from Newcastle last year.
But the goal marked a turnaround for the striker, who early in the second half was left hiding his head in his shirt after missing a straightforward header to get Liverpool on level terms.
"It's the best feeling ever,'' Carroll said. "We worked hard and getting the goal right there at the end was great.''
Liverpool came into the game just two days after the sudden firing of director of football Damien Comolli.
Comolli was let go for a wretched league campaign despite presiding over the spending of more than $180 million on players in a little more than a year.
The most expensive player was Carroll.
Against Everton, Carroll hesitated with the goal in his sight after just three minutes, instead teeing up Jay Spearing, who swept the ball over.
With both Liverpool goalkeepers Alexander Doni and Pepe Reina suspended, Brad Jones had to make his first start of the season. While the Australian was picking the ball out of his goal after 23 minutes, his dithering defenders were at fault.
Carragher and Agger both hesitated as the ball landed between them, and Carragher's eventual attempted clearance rebounded off Tim Cahill. The ball fell at the feet of Jelavic, who shot under Jones.
Despite dominating the game, Steven Gerrard's long-range strike was the closest Liverpool got to an equalizer but Carroll squandered a golden opening at the start of the second half.
An inviting cross from the right presented Carroll with a free header but he flicked it wide before pulling his shirt over his head in frustration.
Everton responded to its opener by also gifting Liverpool an equalizer. Distin's attempt to pass the ball back to goalkeeper Tim Howard was far too weak and Suarez nipped in to seize possession and score.
And in the 87th minute, Carroll rose above Marouane Fellaini to meet Bellamy's free kick and send the ball into the net with the back of his head.
"I had a few chances and should have probably scored earlier,'' he said. "But I kept at it and it was a great ball in by Craig, and I just had to score with that one and I did.''
The match between the neighbor clubs was played a day before the 23rd anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster in which 96 Liverpool fans died.
Liverpool has already twice beaten Everton in the league this season and won the Carling Cup. However it is languishing in 8th place in the league.
Gerrard conceded that Liverpool has underperformed in the league this season and failed to push on from the Carling Cup triumph in February.
"Our league position is not good enough ... as a squad we need to be better in the league,'' Gerrard said. "If we go on and win this cup, we can look at this season as a success.''
Everton manager David Moyes could only offer words of sympathy for Distin, who apologized to the club's supporters after the game for his costly error.
"Sylvain is really down,'' said Moyes. "I feel for them all. We are all in it together, whether it is someone who makes a mistake or not. That is the way it is here.''
Liverpool will play the winner of the second semifinal Sunday between Chelsea and Tottenham.