A year after the magic in Istanbul, Liverpool found themselves back in a major cup final, this time in Cardiff against a West Ham side that hadn't featured in an FA Cup Final since 1980, when they won the competition as a second division side. Both clubs had their share of narrow results along the way to Wales in what would be the last FA Cup final hosted at the Millenium Stadium, where Liverpool won the first final at its temporary home five years earlier.
It was a fairly successful year domestically for West Ham, who had won promotion just a season earlier and ended their league campaign in ninth place. Given that Liverpool had ensured Champions League qualification, it meant European football for a club that had struggled to get back to the top flight after being relegated with the highest-ever points total in a 38-match season. And while Liverpool's failings in Europe were disappointing, they recovered well in league, setting a record of their own in earning 82 points on the season, the most ever for a third place team.
So the stage was set for a fairly competitive final, but few could have predicted the manner in which this one unfolded. West Ham opened up a 2-0 lead through two Liverpool errors---first when Jamie Carragher punched the ball into his own net trying to clear a dangerous cross from Lionel Scaloni, and then after Dean Ashton bounced on a spilled Pepe Reina save.
But this one is destined to be remembered as the Gerrard Final, and he once again led a Liverpool fight-back in a final. First with his perfectly placed 40-yarder that was volleyed home by Djibril Cisse, and then with two second half equalizers, the latter of which is arguably one of the finest goals scored in FA Cup Final history. Sandwiched around a Paul Konchesky cross that sailed over Reina to give West Ham the lead at 3-2, they're among the most important goals that Gerrard's scored in a career full of important goals. And in typical Liverpool style, Reina, who hadn't had his best outing in a Liverpool shirt, found redemption in the shootout, saving three of West Ham's four efforts to give Liverpool yet another piece of silverware.
The video below isn't of the best quality, and an HD version can be found here since embedding was disabled. But this one's special for me, as the John Motson commentary of Gerrard's goals will forever be cemented in my memory.
"Two players, far post, here comes GERRRRAAARRRDDD! IT'S 2-2!"
"Riise's cross...oh it's fallen...GERRRAAAARRRDDD! HE'S GOT IT! Oh, Steven Gerrard, just when he looked injured and out of it, has equalized for Liverpool. With 90 minutes gone, it's 3-3, in surely the best cup final of modern times."