By Nicholas Veevers at Wembley
Chelsea 2-1 Liverpool
The FA Cup with Budweiser
5.15pm, Saturday 5 May 2012
Live on ITV1 and ESPN
Winning club receives £1.8m and runners-up £950,000 from The FA's prize fund
Chelsea’s impressive FA Cup form of recent years continued at Wembley in 2012, but they were certainly given a real run for their money by Liverpool, chasing their first Cup title since 2006.
It had looked as though Roberto Di Matteo’s men were going to cruise to victory after going two goals clear in the early stages of the second half thanks to goals from Ramires and Didier Drogba, but the introduction of substitute Andy Carroll by Reds boss Kenny Dalglish changed the whole dynamic of the game and almost saw Liverpool draw level and take the match to extra-time.
The big Geordie was just what Liverpool had been crying out for in a stale first half, with Luis Suarez often left isolated as a lone striker, whilst Chelsea largely controlled proceedings and took an early lead through Drogba, whose own FA Cup Final record was further enhanced.
Unfortunately for Dalglish and Liverpool though, it was too little too late and Chelsea managed to contain the Merseysiders and hold on to win their fourth FA Cup in the last six years.
For captain John Terry, it was an historic day as he became the first player to captain a side to four separate FA Cup victories whilst fellow Blues defender Ashley Cole added to his own personal record by collecting his seventh Cup medal.
In the first half, Chelsea looked to be cruising and took the lead after just ten minutes, catching out Liverpool with a classic sucker-punch. With the majority of the Red shirts in Chelsea’s half, the ball broke to Juan Mata just short of the half-way line and when his slide-rule pass for the onrushing Ramires wasn’t dealt with by Jose Enrique, it allowed the Brazilian to progress and fire a low shot past Pepe Reina, who will be disappointed with his contribution by letting the ball slip past him at the near post.
Liverpool hit back though and were denied an almost instant equaliser just two minutes later, when the ball found its way to Craig Bellamy in the area. The Welshman struck a sure volley at goal, but his effort hit Branislav Ivanovic just in front of goal and the ball rebounded to safety.
It was the Reds who ended a fairly stale first half in more progressive form, with Stewart Downing on the left beginning to find his rhythm as the game opened up. One 40th minute cross in particular was crying out to be finished, but Suarez was absent and Cole desperately cleared behind for a corner before Bellamy could get on the end of it.
Shooting towards their own supporters in the second half, Liverpool looked to have found even more momentum with one Gerrard run in particular threatening the Chelsea rearguard, but again they were caught cold in the early stages and made to pay. This time it was Frank Lampard who was the architect, placing a pass into Drogba’s feet and once he’d controlled the ball in the area, his left-footer picked out the far corner.
That was the prompt for Dalglish to unleash Andy Carroll onto the pitch and ironically, they could have done with him just before the second goal as another delivery from Downing on the left went begging.
It proved to be an inspired decision though, as less than ten minutes after his introduction, Carroll had reduced the arrears. A Downing cross from the left was diverted into the area by Jose Bosingwa’s block and landed straight at Carroll’s feet and after fashioning just enough space to the side of John Terry, he smashed a fierce left-footer past Petr Cech and into the roof of the net to bring the Liverpool fans to life.
Their team came to life too, throwing everything at their opponents with Carroll often at the centre of the action. Another Downing centre was chested down by the striker, but Gerrard’s volley went high and wide of the target, before a fine save from Cech denied Suarez’s low shot from creeping home.
Carroll then got his head onto a pacy delivery from Enrique, but with Bellamy in his way, he lost balance and that attempt went over. Liverpool could smell blood though and their supporters sensed that too.
Another chance went begging for Liverpool in the 80th minute, as Downing’s clever pass inside Bosingwa set Suarez free in the box, but his miscued cut-back was eventually fired over by Henderson.
They came even closer soon after, as Glen Johnson and Suarez linked up on the right before the latter chipped a cross towards Carroll. The substitute got a firm header on goal, but Cech somehow got a hand to it and turned it onto the bar and seemingly out to safety. Carroll and Suarez were convinced the ball had crossed the line and duly celebrated, but neither referee Phil Dowd or his assistant Stuart Burt were convinced and the attempt was correctly never given.
That moment seemed to take the heart from Liverpool, and with their charge stunted, Chelsea’s experience came to the fore as they blocked out what they needed to and saw out the five added minutes.
With one Cup now secured for their season, Chelsea will be looking for a similar outcome as they chase European glory in Munich in a few weeks.
Chelsea: 1 Petr Cech, 2 Branislav Ivanovic, 3 Ashley Cole, 7 Ramires (16 Raul Meireles, 77), 8 Frank Lampard, 10 Juan Mata (15 Florent Malouda, 90), 11 Didier Drogba, 12 John Obi Mikel, 17 Jose Bosingwa, 21 Salomon Kalou, 26 John Terry (c ).
Substitutes not used: 22 Ross Turnbull, 5 Michael Essien, 9 Fernando Torres, 19 Paulo Ferreira, 23 Daniel Sturridge.
Manager: Roberto Di Matteo
Liverpool: 25 Pepe Reina, 2 Glen Johnson, 3 Jose Enrique, 5 Daniel Agger, 7 Luis Suarez, 8 Steven Gerrard (c), 14 Jordan Henderson, 19 Stewart Downing, 20 Jay Spearing (9 Andy Carroll, 55), 37 Martin Skrtel, 39 Craig Bellamy (18 Dirk Kuyt, 79).
Substitutes not used: 11 Maxi Rodriguez, 23 Jamie Carragher, 32 Alexander Doni, 33 Jonjo Shelvey, 34 Martin Kelly.
Manager: Kenny Dalglish
Referee: Phil Dowd
Assistant Referees: Stuart Burt & Andrew Garratt.
Fourth Official: Michael Jones
Chelsea win The FA Cup, but were run all the way by Liverpool at Wembley.