Limpar's three steps to heaven

FA CUP FINAL 1995
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Everton 1 Manchester United 0

Rideout 30 Att: 79,592

All football matches have their defining moments, those images that linger after the rest of the game has become just a hazy memory. FA Cup finals have more than most, televised repetition sharpening the recollection. Think of Gazza's tackle, Keith Houchen's header, Dave Beasant's save and Willie Young's trip.

The 114th final was like many of its predecessors, long on tension, short on quality, but it, too, had its moments. The sight of Peter Schmeichel, drifting aimlessly in the centre-circle while his goal was being threatened and his season turning to dust, will remain; so, too, Joe Royle, the Everton manager, "heading" in Paul Rideout's goal from the bench.

But the sight that encapsulated Everton's 1-0 win over Manchester United on Saturday was drummed in through live repetition. Not once, not twice, but three times Anders Limpar robbed Paul Ince of possession in a first- half that set the pattern of the match. It was an unlikely scene but it exemplified Everton's commitment.

They had a plan, they stuck to it, and they had some leonine displays from artist and artisan alike. The match, as expected, was scrappy, ridden with fouls and errors, more prosaic than poetic. But Limpar and, belatedly, Ryan Giggs, lit it up. As well as showing a determination never suspected when he was wallowing on the wing at Highbury, the Swede played the best passes of the match and created its only goal.

In the first half he was also the only player to find space in a clogged and clogging midfield, in which Roy Keane and Ince never escaped the claustrophobic attentions of Joe Parkinson and Barry Horne.

Behind them Dave Watson was indomitable and David Unsworth everywhere, his speed of thought and movement enabling him to cover mistakes even as they were made. When United did get through they found Neville Southall reprising his golden years of the late 1980s, when Everton were last winning trophies.

Three times Southall denied United, once with a double save reminiscent of Jim Montgomery's for Sunderland 22 years ago. To think, back in October, he was being written off and earmarked for the scrapyard.

So were his team - Everton's revival since has been remarkable. It always did seem a false position, they played nice football even when they were bottom of the Premiership without a win in three months, but they lacked confidence and passion.

Royle has instilled both since taking over as manager and this win brings echoes of 1984, when a dire league campaign was rescued by Cup success, which became the springboard for five years of triumph.

On Saturday night Evertonians were dreaming of a repeat and it is not out of the question. There are a number of weaknesses, and Watson and Southall cannot deny the years indefinitely, but there is belief, stacks of money and a nucleus of good players. A tilt at next year's European Cup-Winners' Cup - which Everton won in 1985 - is well within their compass.

For United the match signalled the final collapse of a campaign which was fatally undermined when Eric Cantona lost his head at Selhurst Park. Alex Ferguson, their manager, was forced to admit on Saturday that Cantona's self-inflicted suspension probably cost United the double. The red hordes still idolise him but the more contemplative will realise how badly he wounded the club he loves.

The loss of Andrei Kanchelskis has been equally debilitating. In the first period United had neither width nor imagination with Lee Sharpe a major disappointment. They were thus constantly forced to play harmless passes across the face of the goal while Everton defended with depth and bite.

From such a situation the goal came. Ince, pressured by Limpar, lost the ball to Watson, Limpar was first to the loose ball and, as he surged forward, one saw United had been sucked in en masse and were outnumbered at the back.

Matt Jackson, the Everton right-back, was one of the first to realise this and he steamed up in support. Limpar fed him, Jackson came inside Pallister before squaring to Graham Stuart yards from goal.

Stuart then crashed his shot against the bar and some of the Everton bench, aghast, buried heads in hands. But not Royle, as the ball fortuitously rebounded up to Rideout Royle thrust his head forward like the old centre- forward he is; on the pitch Rideout did the same and Everton were ahead.

Until then the game had been poor, but even. United had just kept out a succession of Andy Hinchcliffe corners; Sharpe had wasted two chances at the other end; and Gerald Ashby had given as palsied a refereeing display as Wembley can have ever seen with foul after foul going unchecked.

Fortunately the players found some self-restraint and the game began to flow, notably from Limpar's feet. United re-organised at the break, Giggs coming on for Steve Bruce, who had a hamstring injury; Keane went to right-back and Gary Neville to central defence where his wild challenge soon ended Rideout's final.

Giggs was raring to go but Southall was equal to everything he created. His first save was from Nicky Butt after Giggs had skipped by Unsworth and crossed. Then Giggs went by Jackson and from his cross McClair's looping header hit the bar - possibly with a touch from Southall. Next Giggs ran at the heart of Everton's defence and slipped the ball to Paul Scholes who brought a stunning double save from Southall. Scholes then turned creator but, again, Southall was there, leaping to gather Gary Pallister's header.

It was one-way traffic. Limpar had departed, with a hamstring strain, taking Everton's imagination with him while Ferguson, unfit and seemingly disinterested, and Amokachi did little to hold the ball up when Everton did hack it clear. It mattered not, when the game ended in near-farce with a disconsolate Schmeichel stranded in midfield and Amokachi too hesitant to do a Nayim, Southall remained unbeaten.

United were distraught. All that effort and the best team in the country had ended the season with nowt. Schmeichel, the arch-competitor, was in tears.

Sympathy for the Red Devils, but not too much. Everton deserved their win and they have been there themselves, finishing runners-up to Liverpool in both league and cup eight years ago. Everton recovered to win the title the following year, United may well do the same.

But that is for the future. Today United are inconsolable while Merseyside's double delight - for Liverpool have the Coca-Cola Cup - will last all summer.

Goal: 1-0 Rideout (30).

Everton (4-4-2): Southall; Jackson, Watson, Unsworth, Ablett; Limpar (Amokachi, 69), Horne, Parkinson, Hinchcliffe; Stuart, Rideout (Ferguson, 51). Substitute not used: Kearton (gk).

Manchester United (4-5-1): Schmeichel; G Neville, Bruce (Giggs, h-t), Pallister, Irwin; Butt, McClair, Ince, Keane, Sharpe (Scholes, 72); Hughes. Substitute not used: Walsh (gk).

Referee: G Ashby (Worcester).

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