PHIL NEVILLE offered a quiet word of thanks to wife Julie as he celebrated leading Everton to their first FA Cup final in 14 years.
Not since he was a kid growing up in Bury had Neville felt the pressure of taking a penalty. And on that occasion he missed.
On Sunday, with the hopes of a club resting on his shoulders, Neville kept his nerve, slotting home the second of four successful spot-kicks that booked a return trip to Wembley for the Toffeemen, who will face Chelsea on May 30.
“We played Middlesbrough three weeks ago,” recalled Neville. “When I got home that night my wife said I needed to practice penalties because she had a feeling that was how the semi-final was going to be settled.
“So, for the last three weeks, I have been practising.
“I was 11 when I last took one. And I missed. But I knew, as captain, against my old club, I needed to show my leadership qualities.”
No matter what he achieves in his career, Neville’s name will always be linked with Manchester United, the club he won six Premier League titles with and made 386 appearances for before he finally quit to join David Moyes’ Everton revolution in 2005.
Yet the sight of brother Gary striding out of the stadium, an unused substitute in Alex Ferguson’s first FA Cup semi-final defeat, was a further reminder of the link that still exists, one of the reasons Neville waited before celebrating his spot-kick success.
“I was burning inside,” he said.
“But I didn’t celebrate because I was right in front of the United fans and I don’t think you should rub the noses of those who helped you in your career into the ground.”
Although rarely a regular during his time at Old Trafford, Neville was the kind of loyal foot soldier Ferguson loves to rely on, so it was something of a surprise when he left and moved to Merseyside.
Yet it was also a signal of Moyes’ intent as, in his discussions with the Scot, Neville made it perfectly clear he would not settle for winding down his career. “I signed for Everton because the manager promised me we would be challenging for honours,” he said.
“I expect to win trophies – I don’t want to see out my career with the cabinet closed. That is what the manager has instilled in the club.
“Everton have moved forward in giant strides over the last few years.
“The next step is to win a trophy.
“It’s a mammoth task still. We will go into the game as underdogs – Chelsea are a powerful unit.
“But winning a major honour is something we have just got to do.”
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