When the rain left Maine Road awash only a few minutes before the kick off on Saturday, hopes of Liverpool and Everton producing a memorable FA Cup semi-final were doused. The puddles and mud did indeed affect the course of the game, but only adding unpredictable moments to matchlong excitement, and doubts were swept away by a torrent of adventures. Finally, after two worthy teams had exhausted themselves and finished undecided at two goals each, there was the palatable prospect of a replay at the same ground on Wednesday, though it would be gluttonous to expect as much again.
This was a rare semi-final, prepared from the beginning by local rivalry and given special interest by Liverpool's dream of winning the "treble". Everton, cast as a team who would delay rather than deflect Liverpool from one of their trilateral quests, were a shade unlucky not to win at the first attempt, but, after such a performance, they go into the replay as underdogs with a pedigree.
By Wednesday they had hoped Latchford would be fit enough to give their attack even more strength in the air, which was their single most telling asset, but with McKenzie and Pearson here so effective, a change seems unnecessary. Dobson, majestic in midfield, may not recover from a leg injury, though the balance of strength could be unaltered if Smith is also missing from Liverpool's defence because of a damaged thigh.
Liverpool thought they played badly in the first half. In fact they merely played less well than usual. The gangling Fairclough might have lightened their task if, in the first minute, his elusive run into the penalty area had not finished with the ball firmly held by the mud as he put all of his strength into a kick that left him on his back and feeling foolish.
It was not to be his day and soon the quizzical McKenzie was to make it his. Essentially the match was steeped in team effort, but McKenzie, whose value to Everton they seem unable to assess, brought a quality of individual expression that was never unnecessarily extravagant.
McKenzie always caught the eye approaching the penalty area, but he was more effective in the clusters. Goodlass served a variety of thoughtful centres into the wind and McKenzie was always menacing as the ball regularly dropped into his range. Clemence saved his close header and again from Buckley before Liverpool escaped the early ordeal when Keegan square-passed the ball inside the penalty area. McDermott had to confuse Buckley into thinking he was going to shoot before he raised the ball over the reach of Lawson for a delightful goal.
Rioch and Dobson worked outstandingly in Everton's midfield at this important stage when Liverpool might have gathered confidence and before the half was over the game was again open to the highest bidder. Hughes slipped when trying to intercept Pearson on the wing. The centre was put across the goalmouth by Dobson and McKenzie's fierce shot was slightly deflected, veering away from Clemence into the corner of the goal.
For all of this time Liverpool had been noticeably tense. It was, by their own admission, their most difficult test of a varied and demanding season. They began to surge into a more familiar stride only during the run-in towards the finish. Keegan, who had tended to busy himself with lost causes, suddenly began to appear in the penalty area, bringing good saves from Lawson. Heighway had lost some of his appetite for the game when falling awkwardly in the first half but now moved gracefully, wafting through the defence like a Zephyr.
Kennedy gained some midfield territory and a decisive influence was Johnson, brought on to replace Fairclough.
Johnson was keenly trying to create an impact when a high free-kick was floated into the goalmouth. His fresh efforts helped inhibit Lawson who hurriedly fisted the ball upwards only for Case to head back, giving Liverpool a lead they threatened to keep. Lawson had to save a good shot from Johnson with his legs as the pressure increased, but then McKenzie appeared unexpectedly and dangerously close to the Liverpool goal. He left Smith scything the air and his pass, tantalyzingly pulled back to avoid the defence, was deflected enough to unsettle Clemence who was unable to reach Rioch's equalizing shot.
Everton lifted themselves for a final assault and Goodlass again broke through on the left. McKenzie glanced the centre to the lively substitute, Hamilton, who nudged the ball in, but Everton's delight was crushed by Mr Thomas' ruling that Hamilton was offside. For Liverpool it was a relief that brought with it yet another burden; another strenuous match to threaten their hopes of winning a greater prize, the European Cup.
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