Howard the hero as Ferguson ploy backfires

Manchester United 0 Everton 0 (Everton 4-2 pen.)
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The Independent Online

When Danny Welbeck was denied a penalty in the second half yesterday, the fury in Sir Alex Ferguson caused him to flap his arms and sprint forward in the manner of a recently hatched chick making its first attempt at flight. In that moment of splenetic rage Ferguson did not look like a man who did not care for the FA Cup or whether he reached the final.

That, unfortunately, is the charge that Ferguson will face this morning, having fielded a team without Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Edwin van der Sar, Ryan Giggs, Michael Carrick and John O'Shea which eventually succumbed to Everton on penalties.

That is unfair on the grounds that the young team Ferguson fielded more than held their own over 120 minutes before the nerve of senior players Dimitar Berbatov and Rio Ferdinand failed them in the penalty shoot-out.

This, instead, was Everton's day. A match low on quality punctuated by two penalty appeals, one for either side, that were turned down, ended with Everton reaching their first FA Cup final in 14 years. Ferguson claimed that he made the selection decision on the basis of the deteriorating Wembley pitch, and that he had intended to start with Berbatov, Paul Scholes and Patrice Evra. But the feeling was rather more that the FA Cup had proved one competition too far for a squad fighting on three fronts.

United's dream of five trophies is over and while the game was instantly forgettable, the celebration from the blue end of the stadium will live on. The former United goalkeeper Tim Howard made the crucial saves in the penalty shoot-out against the club which eventually rejected him. Revenge might be putting it a bit strong for a God-fearing American goalkeeper, but his performance was about as good as it gets for any player who knows what it is like to lose Ferguson's faith.

Phil Jagielka, Mancunian by birth, scored the winning spot-kick having been extremely lucky not to concede the penalty to Welbeck in the 68th minute. At the end, Everton's Z-Cars theme tune rang out around Wembley and the mood was that, though they might not have outclassed United, this was a club who craved an FA Cup final place so much more than their more illustrious opponents.

Having disposed of Liverpool, Aston Villa and now United on their way to a final on 30 May against Chelsea, David Moyes' team are worth their place. They will have a chance to measure themselves against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday in the Premier League. No matter who they have beaten so far, next month will be Everton's most rigorous test because they will face a Chelsea team at full strength, rather than the youngsters whom Ferguson sent into battle yesterday.

No more nonsense about United fans being short-changed by being denied the chance to watch the club's big names, this was still a fascinating insight into a generation in whom Ferguson has invested so much faith. His starting team included the Brazilian brothers Rafael and Fabio da Silva, Federico Macheda, Welbeck and Darron Gibson. Rooney, Ferguson claimed, was injured but he will play against Portsmouth on Wednesday. The remainder of his absent big names were rested.

Yet if there was one team that appeared caught in unfamiliar territory then it was Everton, who must have been expecting the big guns and instead found themselves facing a collection of United players many of whom were equally inexperienced on this kind of stage. There was none of the intensity generated in their landmark defeat of Liverpool in the fourth-round replay and, apart from one slip by Ben Foster that presented Louis Saha with a half-chance, it was hard to remember a decent Everton attack in the 120 minutes.

Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic were dominant for United, the latter back to his best again. At the opposite end Jagielka and Joleon Lescott were impressive against Carlos Tevez who struggled to make a serious impression upon the game. With Saha a major disappointment, and a serious shortage of strikers, Moyes even threw on James Vaughan in the later stages; his cartilage injury meant that before yesterday he had played just one reserve match since 16 November. The two moments of controversy centred upon penalty appeals for both teams, which were devilishly hard to call definitively, even with the benefit of television replays. The referee Mike Riley should probably have given them both but they were horrendously close. The first came when Rafael da Silva put an arm across the chest of Steven Pienaar in the area on 37 minutes and might have impeded the run of the midfielder.

That decision might have been playing on Riley's mind when he turned down Welbeck's tumble on 68 minutes as he went past Howard and Jagielka in the area. Did Jagielka trip Welbeck? Yes, the United man was changing direction at speed and the replay - enhanced and slowed down - showed that Welbeck's thigh made contact with Jagielka. The Everton man admitted as much.

In extra time there was a half-chance for Vaughan, a less than impressive contribution from Berbatov and - mercifully - we were at the penalties. Tim Cahill, who had struggled all day to make an impact, missed with his first penalty - it seemed that this was not to be Everton's day. But no penalty was worse than the lackadaisical effort from Berbatov that went straight at Howard. Ferdinand also failed to beat the goalkeeper with United's second penalty.

The impressive Leighton Baines scored, so too did Phil Neville, Vaughan and Jagielka, and Everton were in the final. It will be Everton's first FA Cup final since 1995 but more importantly for them it is the first time they have properly stepped out of Liverpool's shadow since that fourth-placed finish in the Premier League in 2005.

Much of that credit must go to Moyes, who has fashioned a team and revitalised a club in the last seven years. Yesterday was not his team's finest performance but when it mattered there were a great many signs of a club that has been well managed and a side that was well prepared. The FA Cup was valuable to United in what it would represent as part of a set of trophies; for Everton it is quite enough on its own.

Manchester United (4-4-2): Foster; R Da Silva, Ferdinand, Vidic, F Da Silva (Evra, 64); Park (Scholes, 67), Gibson, Anderson, Welbeck; Tevez, Macheda (Berbatov, 91). Substitutes not used: Kuszczak (gk), Neville, Nani, Evans.

Everton (4-4-2): Howard; Hibbert, Jagielka, Lescott, Baines; Osman, Fellaini (Vaughan, 102), Neville, Pienaar; Cahill, Saha (Rodwell, 70). Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Yobo, Castillo, Jacobsen, Gosling.

Referee: M Riley (West Yorkshire).

Booked: Manchester United R Da Silva, Tevez, Scholes; Everton Fellaini, Cahill.

Man of the match: Vidic.

How the shoot-out unfolded

*Everton

Cahill (missed)

Baines (scored)

P Neville (scored)

Vaughan (scored)

Jagielka (scored)

*Man Utd

Berbatov (saved)

Ferdinand (saved)

Vidic (scored)

Anderson (scored)

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