Ten years to the day that Andy Carroll – with arguably his best moment for Liverpool – headed home an 87th-minute winner that completed a 2-1 comeback victory over the Toffees, and earned the Reds a final clash with Chelsea, James Noble remembers a lively afternoon in the capital.
Saturday, April 14, 2012 had the look of a significant day in the weeks preceding it. It brought together Merseyside neighbours Liverpool and Everton in one of the domestic season’s biggest matches – the teams’ third meeting that term – and, touchingly, also brought the clubs together just one day before the 23rd anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster.
The Reds and The Toffees were close in both geography and footballing standards at this stage. David Moyes’ side were about to finish one place above their rivals in the league for the first time since 2004/05 – and that was a feat they would repeat in 2012/13.
Kenny Dalglish’s men would, in the end, make it three 2011/12 derby wins out of three – as Luis Suárez and Carroll’s second-half goals overturned Nikica Jelavić’s 24th-minute opener – but that wider context made this Wembley matchup on a balmy spring afternoon all the more intriguing.
It was the kind of idyllic weather that had also been present on Saturday, April 15, 1989, of course. Nottingham Forest’s meeting with the Reds at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium – in an FA Cup semi-final – saw 97 Liverpool supporters lose their lives as a result of a crush at the Leppings Lane end of the ground.
The verdict that those supporters were unlawfully killed was still more than four years away, at this point in 2012, which feels important to remember.
As it does, that the impact of the disaster continues to be felt in so many ways, by so many – as we now approach the 33rd anniversary.
Andrew Devine suffered life-changing injuries at Hillsborough and sadly passed away as a result of those in July 2021, at the age of 55. That, tragically, meant he became the 97th victim.
So, what would prove to be an enthralling afternoon at Wembley began with perspective and quiet contemplation in tribute to the then 96 supporters who lost their lives and to all those who continue to be impacted.
This was yet another example of the admirably supportive role Everton have played in relation to Hillsborough – and of the collective spirit of Merseyside. And so, in time, followed the game.
Perhaps understandably, it took some time to get going. Leighton Baines – then as good a set-piece taker as just about anyone in the Premier League – curled an early free kick onto the roof of the net.
Little else of note materialised, though, before Jelavić gave Moyes’ men the lead just after the opening period’s midway point. Jamie Carragher’s attempted clearance struck Tim Cahill and inadvertently left the Croatian one-on-one with Brad Jones in the Liverpool box, it was no surprise that the ball was coolly swept first-time into the bottom-left corner.
Everton led and there was a relatively limited Liverpool response prior to the break. They stepped it up after the restart, however. Carroll headed an inviting far-post Stewart Downing cross wide in the minutes prior to Suárez’s leveller and then, in the 62nd minute, the Uruguayan came up trumps.
Typically persistent, he first chased a slightly loose Carroll flick-on and he was then swiftly onto the ball when Sylvain Distin significantly under-hit his attempted backpass. The No.7 burst into the box and found the net calmly with the outside of his right boot in front of the bouncing Liverpool contingent at that end of the ground.
Game on. And Dalglish’s side were seemingly the ones who were on it that bit more. Carroll drilled a low left-footed attempt just wide of the right-hand post from 18 yards, while Jelavić found the side netting from similar range, but a tighter angle, at the other end. Before Carroll’s moment arrived.
The 87th minute saw Craig Bellamy – introduced from the bench only moments earlier – deliver a free-kick from the left after himself winning it. His in-swinging, enticing delivery was on point.
Carroll held his ground, leapt, and allowed the top of his head to redirect the ball behind him, beyond Tim Howard and into the bottom-right corner. Off went that end of the ground again. And off went Carroll and co.
They roared in celebration at the thousands of delighted Reds who were now in raptures – and they got a similarly affectionate response back. Maxi Rodríguez met a low Suárez delivery and struck the post from point-blank range in the closing minutes, but the decisive moment had been provided.
Carroll and Liverpool were soon celebrating the final whistle. He would come off the bench to halve Chelsea’s 2-0 lead in the final, three weeks later – and then come within inches of an equaliser – as the Merseysiders narrowly missed out on a domestic cup double at the hands of Roberto Di Matteo’s soon-to-be European champions.
The League Cup had been won in late February, at least. That 3-2 penalty shootout victory over Cardiff City, following a breathless 2-2 draw in 120 minutes, had earned the Reds their first silverware since 2006. That was something.
Within a season where Carroll ultimately disappointed – scoring nine goals in 47 appearances across all competitions – and Liverpool finished eighth in the Premier League, there was still progress of some kind and a fair numbers of thrills.
That demonstrates the value of domestic cups. There’s a unique context and intensity to them, especially come the latter stages.
The wider circumstances may be significantly – and happily – different for LFC in 2021/22, but it’s a value that the team appear to be enjoying once more.
There have already been some wonderful moments en route to winning the League Cup and again reaching the FA Cup last-four this term.
The opportunity to create more in Saturday afternoon’s Wembley semi-final meeting with Manchester City – just six days after that barnstorming league encounter at the Etihad Stadium – is a genuinely exciting one.
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