The search for a fitting superlative from David Moyes for his Everton players reached its conclusion in their masculinity. “They looked like a lot of men,” he said of his team after they booked what will be a hugely anticipated FA Cup semi-final derby against Liverpool.
Moyes had taken time to warm to the task of finding the right words to match one of the most professional displays of his 10-year tenure at Goodison Park. Men just about hit the spot, capturing the way in which his side trampled all over Sunderland, on a night when those who claim the magic of this old competition has gone were noticeable only by their absence.
This was also an occasion when Martin O'Neill's devastation could not be found in his words, his sense of desperation was a matter to watch, rather than listen to. He has never won the FA Cup in his 60 years, and as he admitted recently, opportunities to reach Wembley can slip through your fingers, without you even noticing.
That another went was down to the 11 men from Merseyside and the 7,000 or so who travelled to be beside them with such raw fervour it took your breath away. They saw their side score twice, and each time the end in which they were housed exploded like an angry sea.
Moyes was as controlled on the sidelines as his players were on the pitch, but that belied the sense of agitation in his and his players' late arrival on a coach that got stuck in traffic. "The Sunderland police bolstered us by the way they performed before the game," he said. "They never got us here on time."
The Everton team bus finally arrived at the Stadium of Light at seven o'clock and much preparation was in tatters. It did not show. Perhaps it helped. Everton looked a notch above their hosts before the game had reached 10 minutes.
Then it was all Everton and all about Everton. It was hard not to be impressed. All over the pitch they had players performing at their best: Tim Cahill was a menace, Marouane Fellaini was too powerful in the heart of midfield and the likes of Leon Osman, Phil Neville and Magaye Gueye were strong and resolute enough to garner more praise once Moyes had shaken off an understandable disappointment that the margin of victory was not far greater. "There were some really, really top performances out there," he said. "Everton played well tonight and, because of that, the victory ranks really highly. Through this season we have won some big games but we've not played as well as we did out there.
"If we hadn't won tonight there would have been something not right. Getting to a semi-final is a fine achievement, whether you've been at a club for 10 years or one. I am thrilled."
Getting to a semi-final in the manner in which Everton did was the real achievement. They had been denied three times by the 24th minute, by the time Nikica Jelavic rounded off another fine move with a first-time finish past the superb Simon Mignolet.
They were denied further before Jelavic shot for goal three minutes before the hour-mark and watched his slightly misdirected effort fired into his own goal by David Vaughan, the Sunderland substitute who had been on the field for three minutes.
It was not men against boys, but it was men against a team a level beneath them. "It is hard to take with Wembley such a big incentive," O'Neill said. "When we did play, we didn't play well enough. It is hugely disappointing."
Man of the match Jelavic.
Match rating 7/10.
Referee L Probert (Wiltshire).
Attendance 43,140.Reuse content