Liverpool 3-3 West Ham: The 'Steven Gerrard Final' Where One Man Secured FA Cup Glory

Ross Kennerley
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It's the date on each footballing calendar that everyone looks forward to. Whether your side has made it to the final of the FA Cup or not, all eyes are glued on Wembley Stadium to see who secures victory in the oldest national competition in world football.

Well, not quite, as this was to be the sixth and final edition played at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium. The five finals previously had all been vastly different, including some narrow wins, late comebacks, penalty drama and comprehensive victories. Back in Wales again, the latest edition looked like falling firmly under the 'comprehensive victory' category ahead of kick off.

West Ham had scraped their way through to the final with some uninspiring results, meanwhile Liverpool had seen off Manchester United and Chelsea en route to this stage - placing themselves well within the bracket of favourites prior to kick off.

So when Jamie Carragher bundled into his own net in comical fashion just 21 minutes in, an almighty upset seemed on the cards. Plenty still expected a comeback of sorts, but Dean Ashton doubled the lead seven minutes later after another comical defensive display, this time from Pepe Reina in net.

This was to be the Steven Gerrard final, though. Handing the Liverpool skipper all the plaudits would not be an unjust ruling on his fellow teammates - they were crap - as he stood head and shoulders above the rest with a vintage Reds showing. His first major involvement was a perfectly crafted long ball for Djibril Cisse, who volleyed home to reduce the arrears just past the half hour mark.

The captain then turned scorer after the break, smashing an unstoppable rising effort into the roof of the net that would have knocked Shaka Hislop unconscious if he had managed to get in the way.

Yet, we mustn't forget the other party in all this. The Hammers had put in an impressive Premier League campaign following their promotion from the Championship that season, with their determined and valiant display putting them in good stead in Cardiff. They were almost as determined as Paul Konchesky's feet, which were adamant on doing the complete opposite of whatever the defender told them to do.

On this occasion, he asked them to cross towards the back post so, obviously, they sacked off that idea and decided to fly into the back of the Liverpool net from the edge of the box.

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That was surely it. The clock was ticking down. The fatigue of an entire league season was taking its toll, and as the board for injury time went it up it seemed the Hammers would be worthy winners of their first trophy in this competition for 26 years.

Gerrard had other ideas.

While fatigue is normally a killer in these moments, it was the lack of energy in Gerrard's legs that would prove to be the saviour this time around. A ball was cleared 35 yards out from goal and without the capability of carrying it forward, he smacked a first time half volley that went flying into the bottom left corner. He had no right to score from there - or even attempt the shot - but he's Steven Gerrard, and this was his final after all.

That very same tiredness meant no goals were forthcoming in extra time, and for the second consecutive season, the FA Cup final went to penalties. There was to be no fairytale victory for the Irons, though, as Reina saved three of their spot kicks to cap off one of the best finals in this competition in recent memory.


Key Talking Point

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Having endured some rough patches in the league that saw their title bid ultimately fade off, while they also failed to defend their Champions League crown with a tepid 3-0 aggregate defeat to Benfica in the round of 16 and they fell out of the League Cup after a third round defeat to Crystal Palace, this wasn't how the season was meant to go.

Still, silverware was on the cards, but the manner with which they seemed like throwing that opportunity away was a shock for all. Sure, two calamitous mistakes and one fluke goal summed up the efforts they conceded in Cardiff, but they needed something to drag them out of the mire.

This time, like many times before, it was Gerrard. Look at it however you want, but without their captain, there wouldn't have won this match in a month of Sundays.

Gerrard was the beating heart of the Reds (despite being initially fielded on the right side of midfield) and his interventions alone were the Get Out of Jail free card that Rafael Benitez's side so desperately craved. Sometimes you need a little bit of magic from an individual; Liverpool got a title's worth of it. Because, truth be told, they were pretty darn rubbish.

Liverpool Player Ratings

Starting XI: Reina (7); Finnan (5), Carragher (5), Hyypia (6), Riise (5); Gerrard (9*), Alonso (5), Sissoko (7), Kewell (3); Crouch (5), Cisse (6)

Substitutes: Morientes (5), Kromkamp (5), Hamann (6)

Steven Gerrard

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There were some truly dire performances across the Liverpool side in this game. Their previously solid defence was shaky throughout, Harry Kewell might as well have not bothered lacing his boots and the substitutes hardly inspired.

But still, they won, and it was almost entirely down to the exploits of Steven Gerrard. On the day he was Liverpool, with his teammates merely occupying the space for long enough to provide him with opportunities to either shoot or spray balls around the pitch.

If 'one man team' appeared in the dictionary, it would point to Gerrard's display on May 13th 2006.

West Ham

Key Talking Point

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West Ham shouldn't have been in the FA Cup final this season. They achieved promotion to the Premier League that term despite finishing sixth in the Championship the season prior, with their focus entirely on retaining their top flight status.

That was clear with their FA Cup run building up to this match, as narrow victories saw them fumble their way into the competition's showpiece. So, with safety completely assured after a ninth-place finish and a trophy within their grasp, all the neutrals in England were vying for them to oversee a historic victory over Liverpool.

How painfully close they were to doing so cannot be understated. They were one 35 yard piledriver from doing so, even if fortune had favoured their bravery with the goals they had scored themselves during 90 minutes.

An impressive Premier League season and a trophy to boot? Well, that would have been the icing on a very large cake. On the other hand, there would have been one supremely smug Alan Pardew dancing his way up towards the trophy celebrations, so maybe Gerrard did all of us a favour. Still, West Ham can consider themselves very unlucky to lose this final. In 90 minutes they were worthy of it.

West Ham Player Ratings

Starting XI: Hislop (6); Scaloni (5), Ferdinand (7), Gabbidon (8), Konchesky (6); Benayoun (8*), Reo-Coker (7), Fletcher (6), Etherington (6); Harewood (5), Ashton (7)

Substitutes: Zamora (5), Dailly (5), Sheringham (6)

Yossi Benayoun

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Embodied the Hammers' approach throughout, with boundless energy and willingness to get track back and add bodies in defence when his side were under pressure. Most of West Ham's attacking play went through the Israeli, and he had a hand in two of his side's goals.

It was his debut season in English football, later going on to play for Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Queens Park Rangers. This performance was merely a sign of things to come for the winger.

What Aged the Worst

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Kewell's sloppy display was to be the end of the line for his career in England - even if he did stay with the club for two more seasons. It spelled the end of first team football at Liverpool, because he really was that bad.

Pepe Reina's hair didn't last much longer either.

In terms of West Ham, well, anything West Ham related has aged pretty poorly in the following 14 years. The club have achieved just one higher placing in the English football pyramid since, seen players and managers alike come and go, fan revolt, questionable ownership and now play at a track and field ground.

What Aged the Best

Any compilation of Gerrard goals will feature his equaliser from this match. It was a magnificent strike and will long be remembered as one of the finest scored in an FA Cup final.

Speaking of which, the final itself aged very well. The 1990 final was the last time before this clash that there were six goals on show, with the only once since then being the most recent 6-0 thumping that Manchester City inflicted on Watford. Hardly the same, is it?

It was a final that had all you could want. 22 players going hammer and tongs throughout, with goals, drama and countless nearly moments making it one of the best we've seen in FA Cup history. Furthermore, one player's role in it all was so profound the match itself is often labelled the 'Steven Gerrard Final'.

That level of entertainment has been few and far between in the 14 years since.

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