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THIS is the fixture Jamie Carragher has always relished more than any other. The long-serving Liverpool centre-back is immersed in the history of the all-Merseyside tussles.
Over the past 15 years Carragher has experienced the ecstasy of victory and the gut-wrenching agony of defeat at the hands of their neighbours.
Today’s FA Cup semi-final will be his 29th derby but none of those previous meetings have offered such a tangible reward.
For the first time since 1989 Wembley is hosting the Reds and Blues, and Carragher can’t wait to be a part of it.
Of course pride is at stake this afternoon but the Bootle-born defender has his eyes firmly fixed on a greater prize.
“Nothing beats playing in derbies against Everton,” Carragher said.
“There’s been some important games between us that I’ve played in terms of competing for European qualification but nothing comes close to this.
“With it being at Wembley this has to be the biggest derby I’ve ever been involved in.
“It’s going to be a special day but it will be even better if we come out on top.
“All the talk has been about how it’s a derby but the most important thing is the chance to keep alive our hopes of winning the FA Cup.
“We’re playing for the chance to go back to Wembley in a few weeks and try to lift the trophy.
“If we do the job right against our neighbours in the semi-final then we’ll have a great chance of winning the FA Cup. That’s the target.”
Carragher, who could find himself on the bench if Kenny Dalglish opts to recall Daniel Agger following his return to fitness, has been impressed by Everton’s resurgence in recent months.
David Moyes’ men have suffered just two defeats in 17 games but the Reds have dominated this season’s previous derbies.
At Goodison last October they made the most of Jack Rodwell’s controversial sending off to run out 2-0 winners and Steven Gerrard’s stunning hat-trick at Anfield last month made it an emphatic double.
It means the Reds are looking to beat the Blues three times in a season for the first time since 1986/87.
“We know what to expect from Everton,” Carragher said.
“Everton always seem to have a difficult start to the season but they always come on strong in the second half of the season. They’ve had some good results of late. They are a good side with a great manager.
“Going into the last derby at Anfield we were in poor form and they were doing well but we won 3-0 so you never know how it’s going to pan out.
“If we win on Saturday people will say we had the edge on them with what we had done before in the other derbies season. I would certainly rather have won those two games than lost them.
“There’s no doubt it’s bound to be in the back of both teams’ minds. We’ll take confidence from those victories against Everton and maybe there’s a bit of extra pressure on them.
“Going into it in the knowledge we’ve beaten them twice already should help us.”
Carragher dismisses the idea that Dalglish’s men must win the Cup in order to prevent this season being classed as a failure following their struggles in the Premier League.
The 34-year-old insists regardless of what happens today progress has been made.
“Any season in which you win some silverware has to be classed as a good season,” he said.
“We won the Carling Cup and it had been a long time since this club had won anything.
“It’s been a good season but winning the FA Cup would make it a great season.
“Back in August we were only competing in three competitions so if we were to come out of it with two trophies that would be a great return.
“Now isn’t the time to dwell on what’s gone wrong in the league. We’ve still got a lot to play for.”
Liverpool travelled south by train yesterday on a high following Tuesday night’s dramatic 3-2 win at Blackburn.
They remain eighth in the Premier League – a point adrift of the Blues – but Carragher says the way a much-changed line up battled so hard with 10 men to clinch maximum points courtesy of Andy Carroll’s late header provided a timely boost ahead of the semi-final.
“There is no better feeling in football than getting a last minute winner,” he said.
“It was important for both the players and the supporters to have something to shout about after recent results.
“You could see the scenes at the end. Everyone was delighted and it lifted everyone.
“Even when we haven’t got good results I don’t think there has been many times when you can question the lads’ character. Maybe you can question the quality on occasions but not the character.”
If the Reds’ show of spirit at Ewood Park buoyed supporters, the goalkeeping situation remains a concern.
With Pepe Reina and Alexander Doni both banned, third choice Brad Jones is set to line up at Wembley today.
It will only be the Australian’s fourth appearance for the Reds since he arrived from Middlesbrough in August 2010 and his first start for 16 months.
Jones made an instant impact after coming off the bench at Blackburn when he saved Yakubu’s penalty. But he later blotted his copybook with his error gifting Rovers a second spot-kick which the striker converted.
Carragher is confident the 30-year-old shot-stopper won’t let anyone down against the Blues.
“It’s a funny old game,” Carragher said.
“Doni hadn’t played all year and then with Pepe getting sent off he had a great chance to play in a massive game.
“It was taken away from him at Blackburn the other night but that’s football.
“We’re all in that situation every time we go out on the pitch that you are one slip away from something like that.
“One mistake might cost you your place in the team or a red card. Doni got sent off and now someone else has a chance.
“It’s great for Brad, especially with what he’s been through. He’s not had too much to shout about in the last 18 months on a personal or professional level.
“He hasn’t really played but this is a great opportunity for him. Hopefully he grabs it with both hands.
“Saving that penalty with his first touch the other night should do his confidence the world of good.
“Who knows it might come down to penalties on Saturday so we might need him to save a few more.
“He’s got international experience and he’s played in the Premier League so he’s more than capable of doing a job.”
It promised to be an emotional weekend with the Wembley clash followed by tomorrow’s Hillsborough Memorial Service at Anfield.
“We all know this is a very important weekend in our calendar,” Carragher added.
“The fact we’re playing Everton the day before the anniversary makes it more special. April 15 is always a sad day for the club and for the families of the 96.
“Hopefully we can make it a bit better by getting a positive result.”