The moment of ecstasy that would flush Andy Carroll's seasons woes down the drain, and perhaps being the moment that would justify Liverpool's sub-par season fizzled as quick as it came. Running away from the Chelsea goal in celebration after having thought he scored the tying goal in the FA Cup Final, a goal that would surely send it to extra time, was disallowed by the officials. It typified Liverpool's season in one second. A team that have hit the post more times than any other, once again suffered from the curse of the wood work. This kept the game 2-1 in Chelsea's favor, after second half substitute Andy Carroll scored for the Reds, shifting momentum, and showing the watching world the potential he bares. He thought he did it again, a goal that would equalize the game, but a smart save from Petr Cech slapped Carroll's header off the bar and out. A huge cry from the Liverpool players, fans and Manager Kenny Dalglish pleading that the ball went over the line cascaded around Wembley, but this was waved away by the officials. I still believe the angles leave some ambiguity in it, but by the letter of the law, the whole ball must go over the line, and according to the cameras set up at Wembley, it didn't.
On the whole the match was well fought by the Liverpool squad, looking for their domestic cup double, having knocked Chelsea out of the Carling Cup earlier this season on their way to winning silverware. It was a Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde performance from the Reds, as they started the game as I suspected, not as I hoped, with Suarez the loan striker, Gerrard, Henderson and Spearing behind him. Downing and Bellamy operating on the wings, with Carroll on the bench. Liverpool were slow out the gates, allowing Chelsea to press upon them, as they sat deep and seemed to lack options when trying to break upfield. Downing and Jose Enrique on the right side both started off bag's of nerves, sloppy in passing and disconnected in their thinking. Their tempo was slow, much like Chelsea under Andre Villa Boas, with unnecessary passing in their own half, that ultimately lead to nothing. I didn't take long for the sloppy play to cost them as Ramieres capitalized on Enrique defending to tight, making it easy for the Brazilian to tun him, skin him for pace and crack a rocket shot off Pepe Reina and into his near post. Clever keeping by Reina backfired, as the Spaniard showed Ramieres his far post, only to have his momentum take him away from the shot at the near. It pains me to say that I was glad Liverpool conceded, but I knew now that they would have to open up and stick the game to the Blues. This is exactly what they did.
Towards the end of the half Liverpool enjoyed some promising forays forward, yet their talisman Luis Suarez remained anonymous. Coming out after the half the excitement and tension of Wembley harnessed itself in my back, and I wondered what changes in mentality and tactics Dalglish instilled at half time. Right from the off I knew more expansive football would be in the offing as a long searching ball was hit by Midfield maestro Gerrard, something non-existent in the first half.
Hope sprung eternal, until a pocket opened up between Johnson and Skrtel in the back line, just wide enough for Lampard to slide a pass to the Wembley specialist himself Drogba, whose one touch then smack trimmed the grass on its way into Reina's far-post, making it 2-0. Just like the first half Liverpool conceded early, but with 40 odd minutes left to play, the game was far from over. The introduction of Andy Carroll turned the game on it's head, and Liverpool grew some teeth in attack. So much criticism has been shot the big Geordie striker this
season, yet in this match he put all the critic's to rest. His hold up play, superb. Inspired by the presence of Drogba, Carroll won numerous headers against anything no slouches, Terry and Ivanovich. It was a loose ball that fell to his feet, and where some would smash it in a panic, Carroll shifted it onto his left and hammered it into the roof of the net past an outstretched Cech, personifying cool.
His scream of joy said it all, knowing he just gave his side a way back into the game. It was his last minute header in the semi-final against Everton that got them to Wembley, and now he did it again. After this Chelsea started to crumble, and the urgency from Liverpool brought out their best stuff. If you look back on their play this season, the times they looked a dangerous side always came when they were down by a goal. Even back to the Rafa Benitez days, Liverpool have always been a "do or die" kind of club, often leaving it late to take their chances, and always a team for the big occasion. At first their play reflected a side unconfident in this match, but growing into it they looked much a better side, one capable of sustaining a challenge for a european place next season. It's no secret that the project didn't work this season, and I fully expect whole-sale changes this summer.
Another goal for Liverpool looked inevitable, as Carroll threw his weight about, Downing started cutting in- and- out getting crosses into the box, and Suarez started to pull strings around the arch. It was Suarez who presented the chance that could have changed the outcome, when tidy work from right-back Glen Johnson put him past Ashley Cole, and into the box. The onrushing Suarez took over the ball, looked up and dinkted a cross to the back post where the poaching Carroll loomed with intent. A violent whip from his pony-tail shot the ball towards the net, where a quick reflexed Cech parried it off the cross bar and out. At first glance it looked to have crossed the line as the keeper arrived late. With Liverpool's No. 9 running away arms outstretched in celebration, the whistle blew and a shake of the head from match official Phil Dowd squashed the celebratory Carroll's exhalations instantaneously. If you look at the shot below, it's really any ones guess if it's a goal or not. It looks as though the ball is over the line, but you cannot tell if all of it is or not. If it didn't, it really is a fantastic reflex save from Cech, who knew it to add, as he wagged his finger in denial at the onrushing Carroll. The debate for goal line technology will rage on, as Liverpool fans will feel argreaved that once again there team was denied by the post.
This decided the match, as Chelsea held on for the remainder and Liverpool lost the opportunity of a domestic cup double. The players can hold their heads high, as they made a valiant effort, but sometimes the luck is not with you, and it has been that way for the whole season. In a positive outlook, Carroll looked fantastic during his spell on the field, and when Liverpool face Chelsea in their next league game on May 8th, he'll be a shoe-in to start.