Remembering the fab 4-4 on Merseyside - The Cup derby that thrilled a generation and was the last stand for Dalglish
The Everton players stopped talking, opened their changing room door and listened. Along the corridor at Goodison Park, Liverpool's players and staff were holding a heated inquest into how they had four times surrendered a lead in a Merseyside derby. Tensions were spilling over.
"I remember all the shouting and bawling coming from their dressing room," recalls winger Pat Nevin. "We all went quiet and were thinking, 'What is that all about?' The dressing rooms were so close. The noise was unusual. I thought it was a bit weird. The only other time I remember hearing the opposition dressing room at Goodison was when Wimbledon came and they had their music on full volume."
It was February 1991, moments after a 4-4 draw in the FA Cup fifth round and a game some consider the most thrilling in derby history. Tonight's meeting is just the third time the clubs have been paired in the competition since, but the repercussions 27 years ago extended beyond full-time. Within 48 hours, Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish resigned. This game pushed him over the edge.
"We scored four good goals and they scored four s****y goals," is how Ian Rush, scorer of Liverpool's third, remembers it.
Peter Beardsley had twice put Liverpool ahead, only for Graeme Sharp to twice equalise. While John Barnes and Beardsley were finding the top corner from distance, Tony Cottee, a late sub, pounced on calamitous mistakes, striking on 89 minutes and shortly before the end of extra-time to earn a second replay. "When I scored a header in the second half to make it 3-2, I thought that was it," said Rush. "Then they equalise and Barnesy scores a worldy in extra-time to make it 4-3 and I thought that is definitely it. We were the better team."
It was a frenetic, end-to-end tie.
"We did not score particularly good goals but we were like predators ready to seize the moment," said Everton's Dutch full-back Ray Atteveld.
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"Every time they scored, we would look at each other and think, 'This is not going to happen for us', but then our crowd would react and we believed again. The stadiums in England are like nowhere else in the world, so the atmosphere was different to anything I experienced.
"We had a good team spirit and kept believing and pushing when we were behind. It is one of the quickest games I ever played in - fast and furious. There was no time to control the ball or look around."
Then, as is so often the case now, Liverpool's defenders took the flak. "It was a hell of a good game to watch, but losing four goals? Not so good for us," says Glenn Hysen, who captained Dalglish's side.
"Rushie is right about their goals. S**t. One was from a pass back from Jan Molby that was so hard I thought it was meant for Bruce Grobbelaar. I let it through my legs and then Cottee scored. As a defender, none of us could be happy. If you let four goals in, you have to shout at the defenders."
Nevin queries the view that Liverpool were sole masters of their downfall. "It's true we rode our luck a bit against a phenomenal Liverpool side but we were not some plucky underdogs - we had good players!" he said. "We reached the Cup final a few years earlier and always finished high up the league, but on the back of a successful period, that Everton era was viewed differently.
"We knew Liverpool were a good team but we never felt we could not beat them. There was never a sense you would not have a go. It was never like now, where teams will go defensive against the better sides. We attacked and made things happen."
Rush agrees opponents were starting to sense Liverpool vulnerability. "There was the Crystal Palace semi-final in 1990 which was a bit similar, when we lost 4-3 conceding poor goals," he said. "At that time, teams started to think they could pressure our defence more than had been the case. The way to beat us was set-pieces and getting the ball into the penalty area, forcing us deep. We would concede scruffy goals that way. We struggled defending those situations."
Behind the closed doors of the away dressing, a bigger story was emerging. "The one who would have been shouting most was Ronnie Moran," says Hysen. "He definitely was not happy - I could not repeat what he said - but he was right. We should have done better. Kenny was never one for screaming."
Rush also recalls Dalglish taking a back seat as Liverpool chastised their carelessness. "Kenny did not say too much after the game. Ronnie did most of the talking, telling us to sort it out," he said.
Atteveld saw no hint of Dalglish's inner turmoil. "I remember speaking to Kenny after the game but I did not feel anything that was going to happen," he said. "When it came out he had quit, it made the next replay very different, without the same pace or style. It affected Liverpool when Kenny went."
When news broke two days later, Nevin says Everton's focus was solely on the challenge ahead. "Dalglish quitting was a massive story, but honestly? Our attitude was, we couldn't care less, we just had to go out and beat them," he said.
The second replay was also at Goodison, Dave Watson's winner taking Everton into the quarter-final. "We were in a limbo period waiting to see who would get the manager's job but we still played well in the replay. Neville Southall had one of his best games that night," said Rush. Hysen added: "It was a strange feeling without Kenny. Ronnie did all he could but obviously we were a little low."
Everton savoured victory but Howard Kendall's side failed to grasp their opportunity to return to Wembley.
"The regret for us is we did not move on from there to win the FA Cup," says Atteveld, now the assistant performance director at Maccabi Tel Aviv. "We lost to West Ham who I think were hyped up after we beat Liverpool because they knew they would have to be at their best to beat us."
For Liverpool, a golden era was ending. Graeme Souness took over and they won the FA Cup a year later, but they lost their title to Arsenal and their dominance of English football was ending.
"Souness tried to change too much too quickly," says Hysen. "But if you had told me that night Liverpool would still not have won the league title for another 28 years? I would never have believed that." (© Daily Telegraph, London)