When the 2006 FA Cup Final rolled around, most of us were still recovering from May 25th, 2005. So the last thing anyone wanted was another heart-stopper of a Final. And we didn't figure to get one, as though Liverpool's league season wasn't quite what we'd hoped, it was still far more solid than the previous one, and things were looking up. Steven Gerrard had already collected all the Player of The Year awards to be found, finding a level to his game that we hadn't seen before and perhaps have only seen since in the spring of 2009. He found it in a free role from the right, a position some of us have been screaming for him to return to for years now.
But it was more than Gerrard. Harry Kewell had actually put months of usefulness together and was looking like the player we thought we got from Leeds United. After injury ravaged his debut season in Red, Djibril Cisse had found some lethal form to close the season, and he did so while mostly playing on the wing. On this day, he was going to get his chance up front to partner Peter Crouch, who had overcome that drought that began his Liverpool career to become a pretty dangerous attacker. Even Momo Sissoko looked a promising player, tackling everything in sight and not yet displaying his angry birds level of passing. Carragher and Hyypia were impenetrable in the center of defense for most of the season.
And of course, this was going to be contested against a newly promoted West Ham side. This was just going to be a glorious day out to mark the progression of the Benitez-led Liverpool (progress which didn't come for another three seasons, sadly).
But of course, Liverpool don't do things that way.
The opening third of the match was as frantic as you could ask for in a Final, with Liverpool trying to assert their dominance and West Ham playing with a nothing-to-lose attitude, because they didn't have anything to lose. Most Liverpool nerves weren't jangling even when Carragher reverted to Young Carragher form (or Old Carragher form that's currently on display) and deposited into his own net after a scorching Scaloni cross. In fact, after the previous May's heroics, we barely batted an eye when Dean Ashton was able to convert a Reina spill (remember when Dean Ashton was a striker to be feared?).
Any doubt we might have had were mostly dissolved when Gerrard lofted a gorgeous diagonal ball for Cisse to cleverly volley home. Down a goal with an hour to go? Pffft. Gerrard would find a way, we all knew that.
And of course, he did. Early in the second half, Alonso found Crouch's head who nodded down for Gerrard to slam home. Once again, Gerrard popped up right where he had to be to score, just as he had done all season, and pretty much the rest of his career.
There you go, early blip survived, only a matter of time now. Surely the winner was coming soon, West Ham had been brave but were just overmatched. Water seeks its own level and all that.
And then Paul Konchesky, fucking Paul Konchesky, lofted what looked to be the useless cross that's been the hallmark of his career, toward the Liverpool box. It stayed in the air for what seemed like 10 minutes. No teammate was getting near it. And then it hit twine and an electro shock went through all our hearts. Seriously? That fucking thing?!
Still, there was 25 minutes to go, and Gerrard would save us. He always did, right?
Liverpool huffed and puffed. I was sure the equalizer was coming. It's funny, I didn't even begin to contemplate defeat until injury time kicked in. And that dread piled up quickly. We were really going to lose to West Ham in the Final?
Then, of course:
Steven Gerrard VS west ham fa cup final 90th min 2006 (via owendagreat1)
Over/under on how many times I've watched this goal? 568. 236 of them probably came on that day.
I can't describe it any better than Andy Gray did. "And you come up with this?" The level of desperation involved only made it better. This was an exhausted Gerrard piling whatever he had left into this effort. Had it not gone in, he probably would have laid down on the pitch and not gotten up. How can you hit a ball that hard and that accurate that late in a match after putting that much into it? Alan Pardew's dismissing wave after this goal is my favorite part.
Of course, extra time had its moments too. Marlon Harewood, forced to stay on the pitch with one leg after West Ham and used all their subs, missed an open net off a rebound. So of course, it was off to penalties again.
Hamann started it off successfully again, Zamora missed. And even after Hyypia took the most exhausted looking penalty we've seen, once Riise made up for his miss in Istanbul, we knew where it was going. After all, stopping penalties is what Reina did. Seeing Konchesky and Ferdinand stroll up was all we needed.
It was a second trophy in as many seasons under Rafa. The afternoon promised so much more to come, which never did sadly. But it was everything we love about the game -- the pace, the passion, the one moment you'll remember forever (because who will ever forget that Gerrard goal?), and of course glory.
Let's hope for more Saturday.