Our Road to Wembley
Our Road to Wembley adventure continues as Graeme Bailey catches up with Graeme Sharp.
By Graeme Bailey - Tweet me: @skygraemebailey
Last Updated: 13/04/12 8:58am
FA Cup semi-final weekend is upon us which means our Road to Wembley feature is now nearing its conclusion.
We are finally at the steps of the now famous arch, and we remain on the coat-tails of Everton.
We have been following the Toffees since their third-round success over non-league Tamworth.
Victories over Fulham, Blackpool and Sunderland, courtesy of a replay, have followed for David Moyes's men.
They have now set up a mouth-watering Merseyside derby clash at Wembley against Liverpool, the first time these two mighty rivals have met at the home of English football since their two finals in the 1980s.
Everton lost both epic finals in the 1980s, and one of the stars of that team was Graeme Sharp, and we have caught up with the Goodison Park legend to garner his thoughts on the club's current cup run and their chance to make the FA Cup final.
Sharp is now a media pundit and he works on Everton games on a weekly basis, and he admits their FA Cup progress has been a shock given their poor start to the season.
"I think the last few months has been very good, the beginning of the season was poor," explained Sharp.
"We thought it was going to be a long hard season but the improvement has been there the last few months and that has coincided with the cup run.
"And they now also have someone up front in Nikica Jelavic who can score goals because that was something missing earlier on in the season."
There was a recent Merseyside derby clash which Everton lost 3-0 but Moyes actually picked a weakened side so that they could instead concentrate on their previous cup tie with Sunderland.
Sharp admits that Everton fans were hurt by their loss at Anfield, but he also insists that it will have little bearing on the outcome of Saturday's game.
He added: "It was disappointing from a fans' point of view because fans want to beat their rivals, whether that be league or cup.
"But at the moment it has proven to be the right decision and if we get to the final then people will forget about that and I don't think you can look back on either league game this season and take anything from it.
"The form counts for nothing.
"The semi-final is important, but they will be preparing like any other game, the derby adds spice but to concentrate on it is the main thing - it is not about who is in form and who is not, it is all forgotten on the day but hopefully we are left talking about the game and not a decision or something like that."
Victory for Everton over an out-of-form Liverpool could mean their season ending on a real low note despite their League Cup success from earlier in the season.
Sharp concedes that many Evertonians would love to end Liverpool' season on Saturday, but he insists the players will be purely focused on the win.
"I think the supporters will look at getting one over on Liverpool, but David and the boys will just be looking at the final, they got there a few years ago against Chelsea and they will be wanting to repeat that.
"As a player you want to win a semi-final against any side, the fans look at who they are playing but I'm not sure the players will."
Sharp insists that Liverpool's own poor form of late will have no impact on Everton's approach.
"Liverpool are on a bad run of form but it is who turns up on the day, has the bit of luck and will go ahead to the final."
He also insists that missing first-choice goalkeepers Pepe Reina and Alex Doni is not a major issue, as he believes Brad Jones is a more than adequate replacement.
"He would not be at Liverpool Football Club if he was a bad player, he is capable, obviously Reina is a loss as one of the best keepers in the world but these things happen in football and I think they will prepare with few worries about the keeper."
Sharp admits this weekend has brought back memories of his own Wembley dates with Liverpool back in 1986 and 1989.
"You look to think it is our time this time, we look back at what we did - Wembley is a wonderful place and it was a real disappointment for us, Wembley is for winners and not for losers.
"David and the team enjoyed their last FA Cup semi-final as they won but take it from me it is not nice to lose especially a final.
"Losing any derby game is hard to take, in 1986 I was fortunate as we had the World Cup to go to that took our mind off it, but it is not a nice feeling, a horrible one in fact and hopefully those who experience it on Saturday won't be the boys in blue."
Sharp is a firm believer in the spirit of the cup, but as he prepares to travel to Wembley for the semi-finals he insists that is the wrong venue for the games.
"I don't think the semi-finals should be played at Wembley," he insisted.
"I am old school but I think they should be on neutral grounds, personally I think the final only should be at Wembley, getting there is part of the prize. But we know the reasons why it is not and who are we to argue."
The Everton legend admits he is hopeful rather than being overly confident, concluding: "I am not confident, I am pleased with how they are playing but as I said in games like this you throw the form book away and it is who turns up on the day and performs, you have to respect the opposition can hurt you and hopefully they will be prepared for that."