It is a moment that will haunt both players. As the game drew to a conclusion Hayden Mullins and Luis Garcia tangled for possession. The West Ham midfielder appeared to win the ball. Garcia caught him in the back with his elbow. Mullins retaliated. Garcia went down. Play-acting in the dress rehearsal? A mêlée followed. The West Ham manager, Alan Pardew, marched onto the pitch. Red cards for Mullins and Garcia. Both will now miss the FA Cup final.
Garcia, Liverpool's match-winner in the semi-final, had only been on the pitch for two minutes. Now, with a three-match ban for violent conduct, he will not play again this season. And neither will Mullins. Players have missed Cup finals before through suspension but never because of what they have directly done to each other.
Pardew later revealed that he, Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez and the players had all been to see referee Howard Webb. "We were all in agreement that maybe the FA should show some clemency," Pardew said. He suggested the ban should be served for the last two League games of this season and the first of next. Benitez concurred, saying that was possible in Spain. Webb said he could not budge on the cards. "Under the guidelines he was given he would have been punished if he hadn't shown two reds," Pardew shrugged.
Appeals will be lodged. "We know how important the final of this Cup is," said Benitez. "The incident is not serious. Both managers had the same idea. Someone must be sensible." Even if their players weren't.
Their sentiments were wholly understandable and the incident overshadowed a victory that kept alive Liverpool's hopes of overhauling Manchester United and finishing second. With 13 players rested, it also produced few pointers to the final beyond indicating it will be an entertaining encounter and Liverpool have a stronger squad.
Garcia's misfortune may be a boon for Djibril Cissé. He scored twice - with a fierce drive in the first-half and a breakaway in the second - but Benitez pointed out he should have had four. The Frenchman was also aided by a disappointing display by West Ham goalkeeper Jimmy Walker. He was beaten at the near post and then allowed Cissé's weak sidefooted shot through his legs for the second after the striker had been cleverly released by Robbie Fowler.
In between West Ham had carved out a brilliant equaliser. A slick passing move 50 seconds into the second-half ended with Bobby Zamora squaring for Nigel Reo-Coker. The home side had earlier missed with two headed chances. Teddy Sheringham struck the side-netting and then Yossi Benayoun sent a diving header over. Jerzy Dudek in the Liverpool goal also parried Matthew Etherington's crisp free-kick.
But then Liverpool also struck the crossbar from six yards, after Fernando Morientes met Mohamed Sissoko's cross, while Fowler sent another clear header wide. It boded well for Cardiff next month. That's no consolation for Mullins or Garcia unless, unlikely as it is, they earn reprieves.
West Ham United (4-4-2): Walker; Ferdinand, Collins (Fletcher, h-t), Ward, Scaloni; Benayoun (Harewood, 77), Mullins, Reo-Coker, Etherington; Sheringham, Zamora. Substitutes not used: Hislop (gk), Ephraim, Reid.
Liverpool (4-4-2): Dudek; Finnan (Hyypia, 63), Traoré, Carragher, Warnock; Kromkamp, Sissoko, Hamann, Cissé; Fowler (Garcia, 80), Morientes (Riise, 85). Substitutes not used: Reina (gk), Alonso.
Referee: H Webb (South Yorkshire).Reuse content