“We are all happy for him. He is a good player and it just goes to show that all that is written about him is nonsense. Andy’s always in the spotlight because of how much we paid for him but I think on days like this one he shows his critics what he is all about. He doesn’t hide and he takes criticism on the chin,”Liverpool captain STEVEN GERRARD hails the Reds match-winner

AS a delirious Andy Carroll charged around Wembley having secured his place in Anfield folklore, a Frenchman may just have afforded himself a wry smile.

This was a glorious afternoon for Liverpool in the capital, and one laced with irony.

Just days after owners John Henry and Tom Werner ruthlessly signalled their dissatisfaction at the club’s expensive recruitment policy by sacking Damien Comolli, the director of football’s most controversial purchase made his most telling contribution in a red shirt.

Having headed home a dramatic late winner at Blackburn in midweek, Carroll repeated the trick under the giant arch to secure the Reds’ passage to the FA Cup final and break Evertonians’ hearts.

As the big frontman soared above Marouane Fellaini to nod past Tim Howard, Kenny Dalglish leapt for joy and punched the air with delight.

For a manager who has steadfastly defended Carroll as he toiled following his record-breaking £35million move from Newcastle 15 months ago this was payback.

That fee has been like an albatross around Carroll’s neck. So often he’s appeared burdened by the weight of expectation that comes with the tag of being the most expensive British footballer in history.

Having never started more than three successive games since his arrival, the 23-year-old has been a spare part Dalglish has struggled to fit into his Liverpool machine.

However, on Saturday that famous No 9 shirt looked at home on those broad, brave shoulders.

It wasn’t just the goal, Carroll terrorised Everton all afternoon. He imposed himself on the contest, dominated in the air and his movement was intelligent. His double act with Luis Suarez was potent.

When the Geordie missed a sitter at the back post early in the second half he pulled his shirt over his head to hide his embarrassment.

The knives were being sharpened. It was manna from heaven for those who have already written him off as an Anfield flop, but Carroll refused to accept his fate. He simply redoubled his efforts with a show of character which was replicated by his team-mates during a gutsy second-half fightback.

How times change. A fortnight ago he stormed down the tunnel at St James’ Park after an insipid display, throwing invective in the direction of the dugout having been mercilessly mocked by the fans who once adored him.

Today Carroll is the toast of the red half of the city having put Liverpool just 90 minutes away from adding the FA Cup to the Carling Cup which already resides in the trophy cabinet.

Having waited 16 years for a trip to Wembley, Kopites are now planning a third mass exodus to ‘Anfield South’ in the space of 10 weeks.

Dalglish’s love affair with the national stadium goes on and this was a huge victory in the context of the Scot’s reign.

Comolli’s exit may have been followed by a vote of confidence for Dalglish from the owners but the message was clear – under-achievement anywhere at Anfield won’t be tolerated.

On the back of the club’s worst run of league results for more than half a century, defeat to Everton would have consigned this season to one of failure. The inquests would have begun.

Instead Liverpool are today preparing for another showpiece final with the chance to make this their most trophy-laden campaign since 2001. So much for talk of a crisis.

Of course Cup glory won’t be enough to satisfy Henry and Werner in the long-term. The owners weren’t at Wembley on Saturday, having flown home to watch the Boston Red Sox’s first home game of the baseball season.

Fenway Sports Group’s business plan demands the Reds’ participation in the Champions League, with the riches on offer. And it’s the league position which prompted them to fly across the Atlantic merely to give Comolli the bullet.

But success breeds success and if the Reds can triumph at Wembley once again on May 5, then hope will spring eternal going into the summer as Dalglish continues his rebuilding job.

Both sets of fans were a credit to the city on an afternoon packed full of emotion. From the minute’s silence in memory of the 96 who died at Hillsborough 23 years ago, to the tributes paid to the late Gary Ablett.

Then there was Brad Jones who sunk to his knees at the final whistle, kissed the turf and pointed to the heavens.

Five months after the anguish of losing his young son Luca to leukaemia and 10 days after becoming a father again to Nico, the Australian was a Wembley winner.

How the Reds’ third choice goalkeeper came to find himself between the posts is a remarkable tale.

With Pepe Reina and Alexander Doni having served their bans, Saturday could be the last time Jones ever plays for the Reds but what a way to sign off. He will never be forgotten.

A jubilant Reina showed his appreciation for Jones’ solid display by making a beeline for him amidst the celebrations.

It was Everton who went into this game with the momentum but for the Blues the sense of despair was painfully familiar.

For the third time this season Liverpool secured the derby spoils as this semi-final went the same way as the Wembley finals of 1986 and 1989.

One club had won a trophy seven weeks earlier, the other 17 years ago. And it showed. When the pressure was on, the Reds delivered and their neighbours buckled.

Dalglish’s men had to dig deep after the defensive mix-up between Jamie Carragher and Daniel Agger which gifted Nikica Jelavic the opening goal.

After the break they came out and played with an energy and intensity the Blues couldn’t live with.

Skipper Steven Gerrard drove them forward, while Luis Suarez came alive and tormented Sylvain Distin.

When Distin left a backpass hopelessly short, Suarez pounced and finished exquisitely to restore parity.

With Martin Skrtel outstanding at the back, there was never any threat of an Everton response.

The introduction of Maxi Rodriguez and Craig Bellamy maintained the Reds’ stranglehold on proceedings and three minutes from time they got their reward.

Having already been booked, Seamus Coleman was lucky to stay on the pitch after chopping down Gerrard but it mattered little.

Bellamy’s inviting free-kick got the finish it deserved from Carroll to send the sea of red into raptures.

A Liverpool career has been ignited. Carroll may never be worth £35million but that was priceless.

LIVERPOOL (4-4-2): Jones, Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Agger, Henderson (Rodriguez 75), Gerrard, Spearing, Downing (Bellamy 84), Carroll, Suarez. Not used: Gulasci, Kelly, Enrique, Shelvey, Kuyt.

GOALS: Suarez 62, Carroll 87.

CARDS: Martin Skrtel, Jordan Henderson.

REFEREE: Howard Webb.