AN early kick-off was followed by late drama as Everton’s FA Cup dream came crashing down at Wembley.
Andy Carroll leapt highest in the closing stages to overturn the Blues’ lead and send Liverpool into next month’s final.
Nikica Jelavic, the January signing who had reinvigorated Everton’s season, had gave them the lead midway through the first-half but a moment of ill-judgement from Sylvain Distin let Luis Suarez in for the equaliser.
Everton had weathered the storm of Liverpool’s resurgence, in this the 218thMerseyside derby, but fell in the dying minutes as Carroll made amends for a string of misses this afternoon to nod home the winner.
Everton, led by Jelavic’s clinical strike, had the tie in their control but as they have done before on such occasions, Liverpool responded to book a return to the national stadium on May 5.
Distin apologised to the travelling Blues at the final whistle but it would be unfair and cruel to land the blame at his door.
The number of changes each side made were largely predictable but eyebrows would have been raised when Daniel Agger lined up at left-back for Liverpool.
Jose Enrique’s form has undoubtedly tailed off but he has been one of the Reds’ more successful summer signings.
Still, it was the Everton back four which were put under the early pressure.
Steven Gerrard’s lofted ball looked set to send Luis Suarez clean through but the back of Howard Webb’s head did the Blues a favour inside the first minute.
The referee would have not been able to help Everton when Jay Spearing lined up a shot on goal from inside the area.
Fortunately for Moyes’ men, the Liverpool midfielder fired over the bar from Andy Carroll’s cut back.
The start was pacey but Everton were soon up to speed and from a neat interchange involving Cahill, Gueye and Jelavic, they won a free-kick on the edge of the area.
Baines’ effort landed on the roof of the net but crucially Everton had settled.
Martin Skrtel would test Howard from close range but the game remained level.
A weaving run from Neville on the right wing created a half chance for Jelavic but the Croatian was unable to get sufficient power behind his overhead kick to trouble Jones.
Three minutes later though he would leave the Liverpool goalkeeper helpless.
Confusion reigned in the Reds area and from Jamie Carragher’s hurried clearance, the ball rebounded off Cahill and into the path of Jelavic.
Not for some time have Everton fans had such confidence in a striker, they knew he wouldn’t miss.
And Jelavic did not disappoint, slotting underneath Jones to put the Blues 1-0 up.
His sixth goal since signing in January was met with roaring approval from one half of Wembley Stadium.
There were suspicions of offside but the Reds offered no appeal and were probably undeserving of a favourable decision given the ham-fisted piece of defending which led to the goal.
Liverpool’s response was briefly very positive however.
Stewart Downing whipped in a dangerous cross that Carroll and Suarez were unable to reach and Gerrard was becoming increasingly hard to pick up.
The tie became scrappy and disjointed after the goal but Everton held onto the lead going into half-time and Jelavic so nearly doubled the advantage just before the break but his free-kick fizzed past the post.
Everton defend leads better than most but they were exposed when Downing’s cross to the back post found Carroll.
The giant centre-forward looked certain to head home but instead directed his effort wide.
Kenny Dalglish looked on in disbelief. Everton looked on in relief.
Suarez was by now playing with renewed energy and looked far more menacing than he had done in the first-half.
At the other end, Everton had yet to truly test Jones again but continued to work themselves into good positions.
Inter-play between Cahill and Jelavic manufactured room for Osman but his shot was comfortably gathered by the Liverpool keeper.
The tension was beginning to grow inside the national stadium.
Jelavic and Skrtel were both booked for a brief spat whilst Liverpool nerves were tested as Everton tested Jones resolve in the air.
It felt like a something was about to give but the surprise was in the manner it arrived.
Distin laid a weak pass back towards his goalkeeper. Suarez latched on to it and poked the ball past Howard to equaliser.
Liverpool now had their tails up and hogged possession, sensing a second breakthrough.
Moyes made changes and ended Gueye’s tough afternoon by replacing him with Seamus Coleman.
Everton soon had a sturdier look about them and with a foothold in the game once more, Osman would find the space to fire on goal.
Jones gathered at the second attempt whilst a slip by Coleman immediately after allowed Carroll the chance to strike from the edge of the area.
Hearts were in mouths but his shot went narrowly wide.
The game was not particularly high on quality by this stage but was an enthralling to and fro tussle.
Jelavic struck the side netting and then Carroll prodded marginally wide from inside the box.
The Liverpool striker would not miss the next time though.
Coleman needlessly gave away a free-kick and from Bellamy’s centre Carroll flicked a header beyond Howard.
Howard denied Liverpool a third goal with a fine save from Maxi but it mattered little as the Blues dream died.
EVERTON (4-4-1-1) Howard, Neville ©, Heitinga, Distin, Baines (Anichebe 87), Osman, Fellaini, Gibson, Gueye (Coleman 68), Cahill, Jelavic. Not used: Mucha, Jagielka, Stracqualursi, Hahnemann, McFadden.
Goals: Jelavic (24)
Cautions: Distin, Jelavic, Coleman
LIVERPOOL (4-4-2) Jones, Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Agger, Henderson (Maxi 75), Spearing, Gerrard, Downing (Bellamy 84), Suarez, Carroll. Not used: Enrique, Kuyt, Shelvey, Kelly, Gulacsi
Goals: Suarez (62) Carroll (84)
Cautions: Skrtel, Henderson.
Attendance: 87, 231