In the 2005/2006 season, Liverpool had an excellent defensive record. They finished 3rd in the Premiership with a club record points tally of 82. They had also beaten giants Manchester United and Chelsea en route to the final.
West Ham, on the other hand, is a team that only got promoted to the Premiership through the Championship play-offs. Although no one expected them to finish in the top ten, make the F.A. Cup Final (beating several premiership sides on the way) and secure a UEFA Cup place for next season, they were the big underdogs - especially since Liverpool had comfortably done the double over them in the league.
In short, the stage was set for a fairly one-sided final with most bookmakers predicting a comfortable Liverpool win. However, as a Liverpool fan, I can tell you it was anything but a `comfortable win'.
During the game, Liverpool fully deserved to go one-nil down because their passing was so sloppy that Match of the Day was able to collect enough bad passing clips to do a little segment on it at half time. I wasn't too concerned at 1-0, because the team needed a kick up the backside. But when Liverpool went 2-0 down, I really started to panic. There was a mountain to climb, but Gerrard's and Cisse's well-worked goal before half time calmed some nerves. It was only fair, really, because Peter Crouch had a goal wrongly disallowed for offside.
In the second half, Liverpool played better and Liverpool fans, West Ham fans and even the neutrals saw why this final is being dubbed `The Gerrard final'. His first goal was a screamer, but his second one...my God. Needless to say, I screamed the house down when this 35-yard effort went in. It was probably the goal of the season -- especially if you consider that he was hobbling around with cramp at the time. In the build-up before the game, two things were said by Alan Pardew and Jamie Carragher that turned out to be very true. Pardew said that if West Ham had Gerrard in their team they would be favourites. Carragher said that Steven Gerrard was better than Kenny Dalglish. At the time, most people scoffed when Jamie said this. Now, after this final, most Liverpool fans are beginning to wonder if it's true.
West Ham's 3rd goal looked suspiciously like a cross and it would have been a shame for such an exciting game to be decided that way. The game really did deserve not to end and to go into extra time. However, it was sad that, in extra time, the players were dropping like flies with cramp. The physio was on every two minutes and Harewood missed a golden chance at the end because he couldn't put his weight on one of his feet. I think Rick Parry had a point when he said that a 4th sub should be allowed when a game goes into extra time.
As you can probably tell from the way I fondly recall the match, it truly was a great final. It had everything: good attacking football, six goals, a brilliant equalising goal in injury time and a penalty shoot-out. To be fair to West Ham, they didn't deserve to lose. They put in a great performance and, when the West Ham fans were making their way home from Cardiff, they must have felt proud of their team.