It was supposed to be the battle of English strikers that Sven Goran Eriksson had travelled a couple of hundred miles to see - Peter Crouch's spidery effectiveness versus the high speed, heads-down battering ram epitomised by Marlon Harewood. Instead, this exciting, unforgettable Cup final showcased not only the genius of Steven Gerrard and the survival skills of his team but also the efforts of a couple of front men, Dean Ashton and Djibril Cissé, who might not even have got on to the Millennium Stadium turf.
Ashton, West Ham's £7 million buy from Norwich, had been doubtful because of a hamstring, only to be pronounced tweak-free on the morning of the match, while Cissé would probably have been bench-bound but for Luis Garcia's suspension. Both took a while to warm up, as did the final itself, giving viewers time to ponder one leading bookmaker's offer of odds for the first Motty cliché of the afternoon.
The pre-match favourite had been "the magic of the Cup" but the winner turned out to be "there is a real FA Cup feeling about the whole occasion". Motty and his sidekick, Mark Lawrenson, forecast that Liverpool would focus on what they perceived as West Ham's weakness, the Argentinian right-back Lionel Scaloni, by getting Harry Kewell to run at him. Kewell rarely ran at anybody before limping off early in the second half, while Scaloni not only threw in a couple of timely tackles but set up his team's first goal with the cross which Jamie Carragher stabbed into his own net. "There we were, thinking Scaloni might be the weakest link," apologised Lawrenson.
The pass, praised as "absolutely sensational" by studio pundit Alan Shearer, which sent Scaloni away came from Ashton, as did the second goal, courtesy of some fumble-fingered work by Jose Reina. It was also Ashton's head which had carved the opening for the Matthew Etherington shot which the Liverpool keeper messed up. Lawrenson could not remember "a sloppier goal conceded by Liverpool this season." As Motty's clipboard notes reminded us, other own goals by Gary Mabbutt (1987) and Des Walker (1991) had cost their teams, Spurs and Forest, the trophy. Not this time, though.
It was time for Cissé, sporting one red boot and one white, to lift Liverpool with a volleyed goal (with the white boot), only seconds after Crouch had seen one disallowed for offside from virtually the same spot. "Tell you what, Mark," said Motty. "If Crouch was offside then Cissé's offside." Lawrenson (ex-Liverpool) felt Crouch was level, so it could have been 2-2. Slide rule pictures at the interval showed Crouch was indeed level.
Despite being involved in their 62nd match of the season, Liverpool needed to up the pace, and did so. None more than Gerrard, with Motty reminding us more than once how Liverpool had come back with three goals in last season's Champions' League final. They needed to, with Paul Konchesky's long-range score deemed "extraordinary" by Motty, while Lawrenson grumped: "He definitely didn't mean it."
As the commitment took its toll, Ashton gave his hamstring a rest after 70 minutes. Crouch went off, too. On came Bobby Zamora for West Ham and, for the final five minutes of normal time, the 40-year-old Teddy Sheringham. By now, Motty was invoking the Matthews final of 1953, as well as another cliché contender, "survival of the fittest", as cramp began to set in. Back in Matthews' time they didn't have substitutes, of course. Or penalty shoot-outs. West Ham are probably wishing they still didn't. And Liverpool? They thrive on 'em.Reuse content