Everton’s Pienaar launched the ball into the box from the left side. Chelsea’s Mikel got his head to it but could not clear. Fellaini headed the ball back into the danger area where Louis Saha waited, unmarked, uncontended. He spins into the volley to catch it perfectly with his left foot, catapulting the ball past keeper Petr Cech. It was brilliant. It was beautiful. It was 25 seconds into the match. The fastest goal in the history of the FA Cup final.
But Saha should have saved it for later.
Scoring so early fired Chelsea up and switched them on. Particularly Lampard and Malouda. And despite Everton’s consistent and brilliant defending throughout the many remaining minutes, going down a goal caused the London side to take big chances and convert them. Sure, scoring right out of the gate gave Everton boundless confidence and the belief they could win. But it also unleashed Chelsea. An unstoppable force.
Scoring 25 seconds from the final whistle. Now, that would have been perfect. If Everton defended like they did without the lead. Chelsea wouldn’t have the same fire lit beneath them. It might have stayed nil-nil until Saha whipped in a stoppage time winner. At worst it’s one-nil down and he delivers them into extra-time.
I said this while watching the match in a pub in Massachusetts. A friend responded with, “Everton have to take these goals when they can get them.”
She was right. These moments cannot be planned. When John Terry leaves you with an acre of space in the box and Fellaini makes that juicy assist, what choice do you have but to fire the ball home?
But look at the way Chelsea won. The equalizer came down to horrible Everton defending (probably their only truly bad spell) showing they’d lost some focus after the early goal. They left Malouda wide open on the wing with plenty of space to gobble up the ball and send in a fine cross. And then nobody was on Drogba as he sailed in for the header. And Chelsea’s other two decisive shots were completely audacious. Lampard turned a defender in traffic, stumbled and then fired it home from distance. We know he likes to shoot from range, but I don’t think he would have taken his chances as he struggled to find balance if Saha and Everton hadn’t been so good at keeping Chelsea from feeling in control. Chelsea were desparate to make their mark on a very tight match.
Even after the equalizer, they didn’t really look comfortable as they struggled to mount convincing attacks.
Another brash shot came from Malouda who fired from 30 yards on 79 minutes. The ball bounced off the bar and eventually spun out for Tim Howard to track and collect. But replays showed the ball clearly landed over the line before coming back out. Again, though, maybe Malouda doesn’t take such a chance if Chelsea weren’t put into high-tension mode from Saha’s early goal.
This is all pure conjecture. I know. But Everton defended so brilliantly for most of regulation time! Everton stripped Chelsea of the ball again and again. They diffused and deflated Chelsea attacks repeatedly and consistently. Chelsea only had one other shot on goal other than the three that went in. Apart from allowing Malouda’s cross, Everton contained their opponents well while searching for another break like the one in the first half-minute.
Maybe without that goal, Everton remain focused and don’t let Malouda cross or Drogba connect. Maybe without that goal, Chelsea keep it pragmatic. Lampard passes the ball after stumbling rather than blasting. Malouda tries to run it in rather than fire from range. Who knows.
What I do know is in the opening seconds, Everton sneaked past a sleeping giant. Then woke it up with one of the loudest goals in FA Cup history. It was a visceral explosion of football beauty. But the punishment was severe.
Still, a good show, Everton. Pity there was no reward for such a fine outing.