FA Cup
Liverpool 3-3 West Ham United 

Saturday, 13th May 2006
by Graeme Howlett

Istanbul - Wednesday, 25 May 2005: Liverpool - spurred on by inspirational captain Steven Gerrard - come back from 3-0 down in the Champions League final to beat AC Milan 3-2 on penalties in an extraordinary game.

Cardiff - Monday, 30 May 2005: Bobby Zamora's second-half strike is enough to secure a 1-0 win over Preston in the Coca Cola Championship play-off final and propel West Ham United back into the Premiership after two years in exile.

Cardiff - Saturday, 13 May 2006: The Reigning European champions and Championship play-off winners come together for the FA Cup Final, the last to be held in the principality (assuming, that is, that Wembley is eventually completed in time for the 2007 final).

Our home from home

What a difference a year makes. Whilst both teams had plenty of cause for celebration this time 12 months ago few would have entertained the notion that come this May these two sides would need penalties to separate one them in one of the most exhilarating, exciting, nail-biting FA Cup finals ever.

Much of the media are already hailing this classic as the 'Steven Gerrard Final' after the match-winning contribution by the England midfielder turned the game on its head. But for West Ham, this game will be remembered as the 'What If' final:

What if John Arne Riise hadn't been awarded a free-kick that never was which led to Liverpool's second goal?

What if Lionel Scaloni had let the ball run out of play instead of launching it back upfield only for Liverpool to score a 90th minute equaliser?

What if Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina hadn't pulled of the save of the season to deny Nigel Reo-Coker's last-gasp goalbound header - and what if the resulting rebound had fell to anyone but Marlon Harewood, who could barely stand after going down with cramp?

What if the Hammers could have held their nerve in the dreaded penalty shootout?

What if indeed. But regardless of the eventual outcome, West Ham left their fans with a feeling of immense pride after they pushed the reigning European Champions all the way in a game which was not just a great advert for both clubs but also a ringing endorsement for a competition that had been degraded in recent years by a string of cock-ups by its organisers and a series of dull, uneventful finals.

West Ham - bidding to become the first club outside of 'the big four' to win the trophy since Everton beat Manchester United 1-0 in 1995 - went into the competition's 125th final as clear underdogs but belied the bookies and pundits with a performance that perhaps deserved to see the famous old trophy return to East London.

Of course, it wasn't to be - but every one of Alan Pardew's players can hold their head high this morning knowing they had given everything they possibly could in a effort to win the trophy for the first time since Trevor Brooking's stooping header was enough to secure a famous win over Arsenal back in 1980 that sparked wild celebrations in the East End.

Although his career at the club has long since ended Brooking's influence is still felt, none more so than because of his (major) role in bringing present manager Alan Pardew to West Ham two years ago. Pilloried by some (once again, some - not all) supporters in his opening months at the club today was vindication - if any was needed - for Pardew, a man who has restored pride in a great club that that has suffered more than it ever deserved in recent years.

And whilst it was to be an equally-reinvigorated Liverpool side that took the Cup home, yesterday was all about the re-emergence of West Ham United as a major force in English football.

This season, Alan Pardew's side have beaten both Arsenal (who play in this year's Champions League final later this week) and Tottenham (a club that could learn a lot from West Ham's conduct - both on and off the pitch - today), whilst achieving a top-ten Premiership finish - a feat almost unheard of for a newly-promoted outfit in these days of financially driven on-field success.

And today they twice led against a Liverpool side that went into the game with 11 straight victories behind them, and a statistic showing an incredible 34 clean sheets earned this season.

Prior to today, only two teams - Chelsea (1-4) and Luton (5-3 in an earlier round of the FA Cup) - had scored more than two goals against Liverpool this season. Punters hoping for a Cup final windfall would have been offered odds topping 100-1 for the eventual 3-3 outcome prior to the game.

Previous final underdogs (I'm looking at you Southampton and Millwall) have opted for damage limitation rather than have a go at their more illustrious opponents. But not Pardew's Hammers, who came within moments of beating Liverpool with a performance full of pace, guile and invention. It was a fitting tribute to former managers Ron Greenwood and John Lyall, who both led previous Hammers sides to success in this, the world's greatest Cup competition, and who both passed away earlier this year.

The world's biggest johhny

Much had been made in the build-up of Pardew's tactics for the game; some envisaged a backs-to-the-wall formation designed to stifle the opposition, whilst others looked to the aforementioned Lyall - and his tactical masterstroke against Arsenal in 1980 - as a source of inspiration.

To the surprise of those (and many more) Pardew sent his side out with one clear instruction - to attack their opponents with pace, whilst limiting their time on the ball as much as possible. This high-tempo approach has served the Hammers well all season, whilst delighting various commentators who have enthused over West Ham's approach to the big games in a climate of defensive football and five-man midfields.

Not unlike many other teams this season who have succumbed to West Ham's fresh approach, Liverpool simply failed to cope for long periods (a possession rate of 63-37% in favour of the Reds fails to tell the full story). Leading the drive forward for the Hammers was the impeccable Yossi Benayoun, a player virtually unknown on these shores 12 months ago who became the first Israeli to grace an FA Cup final.

Benayoun exemplified West Ham's brave approach; he dazzled the opposition with a display of fine footwork and clever passing that would have earned him the man of the match award but for the simply stunning performance of Liverpool and England's Steven Gerrard.

Gerrard - who created Liverpool's first goal before breaking Hammers hearts by scoring their second and third goals - had been cited as the big danger prior to the game by Alan Pardew. Suggestions by the Hammers boss that his inclusion alone tipped the balance in favour of Liverpool were initially met with derision by Reds supporters, although he was to be proved spot on - something later recognised by Liverpool supporters across Red message boards in the post-match examinations.

Despite the close attention of Nigel Reo-Coker - who became the youngest player to captain an FA Cup final side, eclipsing Bobby Moore's 42-year-old record in the process - Gerrard was immense and without his crucial intervention in the 54th and 90th minutes West Ham would almost certainly have been celebrating their fourth FA Cup win tonight.

To add insult to injury, Gerrard popped up in the penalty shootout to convert one of Liverpool's spot kicks - although the hero of the hour was keeper Reina who saved three of the four West Ham penalties.

Bobby Zamora, Paul Konchesky and Anton Ferdinand will go down in the history books as the unfortunate players who missed from 12 yards - and in truth they were all poor penalties - but no blame will be attributed to the trio, all of whom have played their part in West Ham's excellent season.

As have all of Alan Pardew's squad, if truth be told; from the likes of Danny Gabbidon - West Ham's player of the year - right through to players like Shaun Newton and Carl Fletcher, who have earned their stripes despite being only rarely called upon.

It was an achievement recognised by West Ham's supporters at the Millennium Stadium, for even as Liverpool walked up the (hastily arranged) steps to collect the trophy 'Bubbles' could be clearly heard ringing our around the ground - a moment as spontaneous and beautiful as the response to the minutes' silence for John Lyall prior to the FA Cup semi-final some weeks before.

In a season in which Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho have got away with murder thanks to their privileged positions, and one in which Tottenham sunk to new depths by stamping their feet and demanding a reply after being beaten 2-1 by the Hammers a fortnight ago West Ham have shown their class both on and off the pitch.

It was perhaps inevitable that the Hammers would lose yesterday (those fortunes are always hiding after all), but after a season in which the club have firmly re-established themselves as one of the countries top teams there can be no losers. Every player can be justly proud of their efforts this season, and for every supporter the new season can't begin quick enough, which is testament to their efforts.

For all this praise must go to Alan Pardew, whose growing reputation is bound to begin to attract the attention of one or two of West Ham's rivals - and almost certainly that of the FA who may begin to wonder whether they made the right decision in appointing Steve McClaren should the West Ham manager add to his achievements next season and thereafter.

The match - minute by minute

West Ham go into the game with both Dean Ashton and Matthew Etherington, neither of whom have trained in the past fortnight. Liverpool welcome back Xavi Alonso after fears that he may miss the game.

21: Lionel Scaloni breaks down the right-hand side and delivers a low, dangerous looking cross into Liverpool's near post. Jamie Carragher somehow manages to deflect the ball into his own net to send the claret and blue end of the ground into raptures.

28: Dreamland. Matthew Etherington blasts at goal from the edge of the box through a crowd of Liverpool defenders. Pepe Reina sees the ball late and fumbles; Dean Ashton is on hand to roll the ball over the line to put the Hammers two up.

30: Warning signs for the Hammers as Peter Crouch's goal is ruled out for offside. The supplier of the cross? Steven Gerrard, who is beginning to exert his influence.

32: Steven Gerrard's 40-yard pinpoint cross befuddles the Hammers defence and Djibril Cisse finishes expertly to reduce the deficit to one.

46: West Ham blow a glorious opportunity to go 3-1 up after Reina blocks from Yossi Benayoun with his feet.

54: Liverpool complete the comeback after the ball falls to the feet of Steven Gerrard eight yards from goal. No goalkeeper in the world would stop the resulting shot which the England midfielder arrows into the top left-hand corner.

64: Ecstasy. Paul Konchesky scores only his second goal for the club with a mis-hit cross. His angled drive evades a poorly-positioned Pepe Reina to put the Hammers ahead again.

89: West Ham sportingly put the ball out of play so that a Liverpool player can receive treatment. The throw-in is returned to Lionel Scaloni who, under pressure, gives away possession. The ball falls to Gerrard 35 yards from goal and he blasts into Shaka Hislop's bottom right-hand corner to level the scores again.

93: Alan Riley blows for full-time.

118: Nigel Reo-Coker's looping header looks destined for the back of the net until Reina pulls off an incredible finger-tip save to push it against the post. The resulting ball falls to Marlon Harewood who can barely stand, let alone aim goalwards.

121: Riley blows for full-time after one minute of injury time.

Penalty shootout

Liverpool go first, penalties taken at the West Ham end of the ground.

1-0: Dietmar Hamann converts to open the scoring and put Liverpool ahead for the first time in the match.

0-1: Bobby Zamora's spot-kick is easily saved by Reina low down to his right.

1-0: Sami Hyypia's weak shot is well saved by Shaka Hislop.

1-1: Teddy Sheringham converts before emulating Stuart Pearce with an exhibition of pumping fists.

2-1: Steven Gerrard puts Liverpool ahead again.

1-2: Paul Konchesky aims for the centre of the goal but his shot catches the flying boot of Pepe Reina.

3-1: John Arne Riise powers home to leave the Hammers needing to score their last two penalties.

1-3: Anton Ferdinand's low drive to the right is easily saved by Reina - it's all over for the Hammers.

Game over

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Player Ratings

Shaka Hislop
Despite picking the ball out of the net six times it was a relatively quiet afternoon for Hislop. He had little chance with any of Liverpool's three goals, whilst his penalty save from Hyypia should have proved more important.

Lionel Scaloni
Despite going to ground more often than his manager would have liked it was a decent farewell to the club for the on-loan Argentinian. His cross led to West Ham's first goal.

Paul Konchesky
A mixed afternoon for Konch; he scored the goal that should have won the Cup before missing from the spot in the shootout.

Anton Ferdinand
Solid and trustworthy at the back and absolutely distraught to be the one whose penalty miss proved oh so costly.

Danny Gabbidon
One or two vital interceptions although he was guilty of playing Cisse onside for Liverpool's first goal. West Ham's player of the Year - and rightly so.

Carl Fletcher
Did the groundwork in the heart of the midfield; the biggest praise you could give him was that the Hammers didn't miss the suspended Hayden Mullins.

Nigel Reo-Coker
A fantastic first half for the youngest ever captain in an FA Cup final, although he will be disappointed to have lost Gerrard twice for the two second-half goals.

Yossi Benayoun
A quite simply stunning performance and one that deserved to be rewarded with a winners medal.

Matthew Etherington
Considering he had barely kicked a ball in the last three weeks Etherington was full of running. It was his shot that led to West Ham's second goal.

Dean Ashton
Like Etherington injury had prevented Deano from training ahead of the game, however he led the line superbly and his goal was well deserved.

Marlon Harewood
Full of pace and running although he rarely featured in front of goal. Despite being unable to walk he stayed on the pitch until the end and cruelly saw West Ham's best chance of winning the game fall to his injured left peg.


Bobby Zamora
(Replaced Ashton, 71) Never really got going despite playing for almost 50 minutes. He was the first Hammer to miss from the spot.

Christian Dailly
(Replaced Fletcher, 77) Last year he was introduced at a similar stage in the play-off final to see out the game. This year he was moments away from doing another successful job.

Teddy Sheringham
(Replaced Etherington, 85) Became the third oldest player to play in a Cup Final. The only Hammer to hold his nerve in the shootout.

Jimmy Walker
Did not play.

James Collins
Did not play.

Match Facts

West Ham United: Shaka Hislop, Lionel Scaloni, Paul Konchesky, Anton Ferdinand, Danny Gabbidon, Carl Fletcher, Nigel Reo-Coker, Yossi Benayoun, Matthew Etherington, Dean Ashton, Marlon Harewood.

Goals: Jamie Carragher (og) 21 Dean Ashton 28 Paul Konchesky 64              .

Booked: Dean Ashton 61          .

Sent Off: None sent off.     .

Liverpool: Reina, Finnan, Carragher, Hyypia, Riise, Sissoko, Gerrard, Kewell, Alonso, Cisse, Crouch.

Subs not used: Dudek, Traore.

Goals: Cisse (32), Gerrard (54, 90).

Booked: Carragher, Hamann.

Sent off: None.

Referee: A.Wiley.

Attendance: 71,470.

Man of the Match: Yossi Benayoun.