Was it so long ago? Manchester United endured an end of season without the one player who could make a difference: one midweek evening at Selhurst Park, the red mist descended on Eric Cantona after a Wimbledon fan – yes, such people really did exist – shouted something rather stronger than the admitted “Off! Off! It’s an early bath for you!” following the Frenchman’s sending off.
So the Red Devils arrived at Wembley – the original and genuine one – for the F A Cup Final without him. They were still fancied to beat Joe Royle’s Everton side, but the clock ticked by and the score remained nil-nil. Until, that is, an Everton counter attack found the Blues with a man over and they scored the only goal of the game. Alex Ferguson’s men besieged the Everton goal in the dying minutes but there was no way past Neville Southall, a keeper who ranked alongside the very best.
Until today, the joke going the rounds about Everton is of Joe Royle getting a letter from Everton FC, only to find a huge electricity bill inside. When Joe calls to ask what they’re playing at, they tell him that he was the last one inside the trophy cabinet, and he left the light on.
Well, whisper it quietly, but in David Moyes, Everton once again have a manager who can get them punching well above their weight. And this afternoon at Wembley – the new one with the unfeasibly poor playing surface – Moyes got his tactics absolutely right. The match went to extra time, then to penalties – but that would be suicidal against Man U, right?
I would never have called Everton to come out on top in a penalty shoot out, but Moyes must have been busy behind the scenes. So Everton are the first team in 39 years to put Man U out at the semi final stage of the F A Cup. Now they only have to beat The Chelski in the final. It’s a big ask, but at the start of the season, nobody would have given them a chance of being there at the death.
Perhaps the time has come for someone else to go into that trophy cabinet.