The ‘Gerrard final’ which epitomised Stevie’s Liverpool career

Saturday, May 13, 2006, marks the most recent occasion that the Reds lifted the FA Cup. JAMES NOBLE remembers the contribution made by their skipper which saw them claim victory in Cardiff.

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Rafael Benítez’s Liverpool, in truth, could justifiably claim to be the winners of both the best finals in both the Champions League and the FA Cup of the modern era.

When that specific period began could be a point of debate but, either way, it’s not a bad thing to have a claim to.

A little under 12 months after their famous triumph over AC Milan in Istanbul, Rafa’s Reds produced another enthralling 3-3 draw and penalty shootout victory to claim the club’s seventh FA Cup crown.

It was tough on a West Ham United side who had only been promoted to the Premiership a year earlier and were within minutes of a famous victory – which would have been the Hammers’ fourth success in the competition, and first since 1980.


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In the end, though, it would be Steven Gerrard and, in the shootout, Pepe Reina who would make the decisive contributions in the Welsh capital.

Alan Pardew’s east Londoners had punched above their weight in the league and the cup in 2005/06.

They secured ninth place in the top division and overcame Norwich City, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Manchester City and Middlesbrough on their way to the final.

Liverpool, who finished third with what was their best points total – 82 – since the league’s 1992 rebrand, saw off Luton Town, Portsmouth, Manchester United, Birmingham City and champions Chelsea to reach Cardiff.

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The two sides had, in fact, faced off at Upton Park just 17 days prior to the final – and less than a week after their respective semi-final victories.

Djibril Cissé’s brace secured a 2-1 victory for the Merseysiders, who completed a league double in doing so following a 2-0 Anfield victory in October.

The most notable consequences of the evening came courtesy of a brief scrap between Luis García and West Ham midfielder Hayden Mullins, however. Both were red-carded for the confrontation and, therefore, were suspended for the final two Premiership games and the FA Cup decider.

It was the last of six consecutive FA Cup showpieces to be played at the Millennium Stadium, prior to the new Wembley taking over – and it proved a worthy farewell.

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The game came alive in the 21st minute. Dean Ashton’s cleverly timed pass sent right-back Lionel Scaloni in behind down the right flank and the Argentine’s low cross – with Reina committed – was inadvertently diverted into his own net by Jamie Carragher.

A surprise lead for the Hammers and things got even more surprising seven minutes later when Reina spilled Matty Etherington’s shot and Ashton pounced to convert the rebound and double the advantage.

An already intriguingly set-up game got even more enticing just four minutes after that, when Gerrard – who would later net his 22nd and 23rd club goals of the season – made his first key contribution of the afternoon.

After receiving the ball from Steve Finnan – right of centre and just inside the opposing half – the skipper looked up, spotted Cissé’s dart into the box and then found it with a beautifully flighted pass.

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The French striker did it justice with a first-time volleyed finish that whistled past goalkeeper Shaka Hislop. He’d be given little chance again eight minutes after the restart.

The Reds got themselves back on level terms in the 54th minute when Peter Crouch nodded Xabi Alonso’s cross into the path of Gerrard who gleefully slammed the bouncing ball into the top-left corner from 15 yards.

As it turned out, as well as a super equaliser, it was also a pretty effective range-finder for the 25-year-old.

West Ham had their lead back in the 64th minute when left-back and future Red Paul Konchesky’s early cross – assuming it was a cross – drifted over Reina and into the top-right corner.

Intentional or not, it put the silverware back in the Hammers’ sights.

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It was practically within touching distance as four minutes of stoppage time were announced at the end of the 90 minutes.

Gerrard had been cramp-ridden moments earlier but, then, another bouncing ball came his way.

It dropped to him about 35 yards from goal, this time – but he simply struck it even sweeter.

It flew off his right boot, roared past those in the box and nestled in the bottom-left corner before Hislop could get close to it.

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The Liverpool end erupted in response to the reprieve that had arrived from, seemingly, nowhere. Gerrard took it on – as he so often did – and made it happen – as he so often did.

Extra time was comparatively quiet, aside from a brilliant Reina save which saw the Spaniard tip Nigel Reo-Coker’s looping header onto the post in the second 15-minute period.

Indeed, the Liverpool stopper seemed to be hitting his stride.

He would come into his own in the shootout. Penalties, as we’d get used to, were very much his forte.

After Dietmar Hamann put the Reds ahead, Reina got down to his right impressively to palm Bobby Zamora’s spot-kick around the post.

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Hislop’s save from Sami Hyypiä and 40-year-old Teddy Sheringham’s powerful conversion made it 1-1 after two penalties each, but Reina would soon swing things back Liverpool’s way.

Gerrard – who, less than five weeks later, would score another belter past Hislop during England’s 2-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago at the World Cup in Germany – sent the goalkeeper the wrong way as he fired into the top-right corner from 12 yards.

Reina then made his second stop as his trailing leg kept out Konchesky’s attempt to send the ball straight down the middle.

John Arne Riise went for a similar spot but, characteristically, with considerably more power. It flew in, made it 3-1 in the shootout and gave Liverpool match point.

Reina took it. He dived to his right to keep out Anton Ferdinand’s penalty and secure the FA Cup.

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It wasn’t the easiest of routes to victory, but you’d do well to find a more exciting one.

Arsenal’s 3-2 comeback win over Hull City in 2014 is probably the FA Cup final that has come closest in terms of entertainment value since.

There were so many stories, so many highlights within this one. The most notable theme that runs through it, though, in the eyes of so many, will be Gerrard’s individual display. The inch-perfect assist, the pair of thumping equalisers.

He’d been named PFA Player of the Year a little under three weeks earlier and here was yet another reminder of the influence this man could have within matches and the action-based leadership he could simultaneously provide.

As the years pass, those 2005 and 2006 finals almost seem to grow in value. They feel like one-off, high-stakes football at its very best.

After receiving the most well-earned of man of the match awards, Gerrard led his colleagues in lifting the FA Cup into the Cardiff sky.


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