Manchester United's dream of a clean sweep of five trophies was gone last night after two saves in a penalty shoot-out from Tim Howard, the goalkeeper they sold to Everton, contributed to the win which sent the Merseyside club into the FA Cup final against Chelsea.
The United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, was disgruntled about the state of the Wembley pitch, which he said had forced him to leave Dimitar Berbatov and Paul Scholes out of his starting line-up and opt for a youthful side. He also believed the referee, Mike Riley, might have been influenced by the Everton manager David Moyes' suggestion, before the game, that he was a closet United fan, when deciding not to award a penalty against Phil Jagielka for an apparent infringement on Danny Welbeck in the United box.
"All that garbage about [Riley] being a Manchester United fan," Ferguson said. "Somebody filled [Moyes'] head full of nonsense and it was used at a press conference and can play on referees' minds. I just hope I'm right in saying that the referee just wasn't dead sure [enough] to give a penalty in such a big game." Moyes agreed, having seen the second-half incident, that he would have demanded a penalty, too. "From where I was I thought it was," Moyes said. "I've not seen it but I thought that may be close."
But the afternoon – Moyes' most important in his five-year career at the club, he said – belonged to Everton, Howard and Jagielka, arguably their player of the season who stepped up to convert the fifth and decisive kick, despite having missed one in the shoot-out which saw Everton exit last season's Uefa Cup against Fiorentina.
"I don't think he was madly keen on taking one, but he had taken one in training and scored one and it stuck in his mind so good on him," Moyes said of Jagielka. So short of takers was Moyes that he also turned to James Vaughan, who had not played since November because of cartilage surgery, to take a spot-kick. "It took great bottle and courage for James as he probably only had a couple of shots in the match," Moyes said.
The Everton manager agreed with Ferguson's opinion of the pitch, which Arsenal's Arsène Wenger described as "embarrassing" after his side's Cup exit to Chelsea in the first semi-final on Saturday. But Everton also felt justifiably aggrieved by one of Riley's decisions, in which he penalised Tim Cahill after he appeared to have turned Nemanja Vidic and ran free towards the United goal in the second half.
The defining moments were the poor kicks from Berbatov and Rio Ferdinand which gave Everton life after Cahill had sent the first of the shoot-out high over Ben Foster's crossbar. Leighton Baines, Phil Neville and Vaughan were then on target for Everton, with Vidic and Anderson responding for United. Everton's fans' deafening shouts helped Jagielka to slot the decisive penalty calmly home to send one half of Wembley wild.
The Everton chairman, Bill Kenwright, looked close to tears in the Wembley directors' box as Moyes raced on to the turf to celebrate with his players. For United and Ferguson, there was only disappointment and they must now turn their attentions back to the pursuit of the Premier League and the Champions League.
As expected, Ferguson made wholesale changes to the side that secured a Champions League semi-final place with victory in Porto on Wednesday, with Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Edwin van der Sar not even on the bench.
The Everton captain Phil Neville, another former United player, said: "It's one of the proudest moments of my career – to lead the team out at Wembley in the FA Cup final. They say your next achievement is the best and that is how it feels. We've beaten the best side in the world."
Welbeck said of his penalty appeal: "I was barged on my left-hand side and as I went down I was caught on the leg as well. I had no reason just to go down because if I had not been fouled I would have scored because I was round the goalkeeper."