Reds' Jones thrust into FA Cup semifinal spotlight
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By STEVE DOUGLAS
LONDON (AP) Thrust unexpectedly into the limelight to solve Liverpool's goalkeeping crisis, Brad Jones will look to mark a personally traumatic season by helping his club reach a second domestic cup final at the expense of fierce rival Everton on Saturday.
The 30-year-old Australian will make his first start of the season in the FA Cup semifinals at Wembley Stadium after suspensions ruled out Liverpool's two leading goalkeepers, Pepe Reina and Alexander Doni.
Jones' son, Luca, died of leukemia in November, leading the player to take a break from football. Six months on, and a week after his girlfriend gave birth to another son last week, Jones is preparing for the biggest match of his life.
"It hasn't really sunk in yet," said Jones, who came on as a substitute after Doni's sending-off against Blackburn on Wednesday and saved a penalty in a 3-2 win.
"It's going to be a big occasion against Everton. I have to make sure I do the right things, and it's going to be an extra special day."
The match will be one of two semifinal derbies at Wembley this weekend, with London rivals Tottenham and Chelsea meeting on Sunday.
All the focus was expected to be on those two games, with Manchester United appearing to have sealed the Premier League title after taking an eight-point lead over Manchester City last weekend.
However, with United upset 1-0 by lowly Wigan and City thrashing West Bromwich Albion 4-0 on Wednesday, the lead is now down to five points with five rounds left. The teams play each other on April 30.
With United hosting Aston Villa on Sunday, the gap can be trimmed to two points if City can beat Norwich on Saturday.
Arsenal can also push eight points clear of Tottenham and Newcastle in third with a victory over Wigan on Saturday.
The Merseyside derby will revive memories of the late 1980s, when Liverpool and Everton - the two dominate sides then in English football - met in two FA Cup finals at the old Wembley.
Liverpool won both matches, in 1986 and '89, the second coming weeks after 96 of the club's fans were crushed to death in the semifinal against Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough Stadium.
The 23rd anniversary of that disaster is on Sunday, and Liverpool has been given dispensation by the Football Association not to play on that day. A minute's silence will be held before both semis.
It means Chelsea's match was scheduled for the Sunday, three days before the first leg of its Champions League semifinal against Barcelona at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea is in the midst of a hectic fixture schedule, having played three games per week since the start of March.
"It'll be very demanding physically and mentally until the end of the season," said interim Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo, who could be without injured left back Ashley Cole.
Tottenham's form is dreadful, having won just one of its past eight Premier League matches to slip to fourth and jeopardize its hopes of qualifying for next season's Champions League.
"We've had some difficult moments but this is the chance to beat Chelsea and to be in the final of the FA Cup," Spurs striker Emmanuel Adebayor said. "We have to keep going, keep believing and tell ourselves, yes, we can win the FA Cup."
Unbeaten in five matches, Everton is the form team heading into the semifinals. The side's last loss was to Liverpool a month ago, but Everton has since climbed above its neighbor in the standings.
Liverpool won the League Cup in February after a penalty shootout victory over second-tier club Cardiff at Wembley but its season has imploded since then, winning just two of its past nine league games.
"It's been a long time since Liverpool played Everton at Wembley, so it's a fantastic occasion for the supporters," Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard said. "It's another important game for us players. We need to try and forget it's Everton and just focus on a really tough game on the day."
Updated April 12, 2012