Ian Herbert: Everton did not dare to believe until Jagielka stepped up

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The Independent Football

Even the early train from Manchester was more blue than red and the noise from the Z-Cars rendition told you which club was finding that a four-hour trip for a semi-final had some compensations. The sea of red was the one off which sunshine reflected when kick off arrived but there was nothing to overshadow the Evertonian sense of expectation. It has been 14 years since Everton last won at Wembley and before that you had to go to 1984, when they beat Watford in the FA Cup.

That was the year Trevor Steven drove Howard Kendall's side on from midfield, and Graeme Sharp and Andy Gray, threatening strikers, both scored. "If you know your history..." goes the stirring Everton anthem, though for most of this long afternoon their players somehow could not keep that particular chapter in mind. For all of David Moyes' reminders before the match that Everton had not reached a final yet ("So I'll just pull back the reins a wee bit," he said, when discussing it) his team had the edginess of one who felt they were in one.

Perhaps it was Sir Alex Ferguson who contributed most to that fact. Against something resembling his full-strength team, Everton would have remained what they were when they arrived at Wembley – a side fighting to overcome the economic imbalances of football. But instead they were put on a level field, given the opportunity to play a team with an average of 22.7, to run at a left-back, Fabio da Silva, who had only 53 minutes of previous senior experience. Rarely in this footballing age will they get a better chance to beat United at Wembley, but somehow they could not summon the belief that the afternoon was theirs.

There were a few early reminders of the vibrant expressive force Everton had been at Villa Park seven days earlier, their consistently most expressive player, Steven Pienaar, skipping past Ji-sung Park on the left and being hacked down for his effort. But it did not get much more fluent than that. Everton's best opportunities, in a 90 minutes that saw them muster three shots on goal, were both courtesy of Ben Foster's nerves. Louis Saha induced the first, troubling him as the goalkeeper tried to navigate the ball across his six-yard box. But the Frenchman was hardly seen again,and in the end, Moyes reverted to playing a midfielder, Tim Cahill, up front as he has done for much of the past four months.

Even the penalty shootout did not seem to offer much hope. True to a season in which Moyes has been forced to stitch together what teams he can, the three players who have scored penalties in the campaign – Mikel Arteta, Yakubu and Jo – were either injured or, in Jo's case, Cup-tied. When the converted striker Cahill blasted over, their fate seemed sealed. But then the destiny which has been with Everton throughout this most arduous Cup adventure took over. Yet only when Phil Jagielka, a man who has typified their spirit and been their finest performer this season, stepped up to take the final penalty, was the outcome finally in no doubt.