NO matter what the team, getting knocked out of the FA Cup always hurts, but elimination at the hands of a lower division side prompts even more fury and uncomfortable soul-searching.
Liverpool’s 3-2 defeat to Oldham Athletic is certainly no exception to the above. The Greater Manchester club started the game two leagues and a staggering fifty places below their illustrious opponents.
Often the reason for such a cup shock is due to the underdogs’ superior will-to-win and fight, which can often outweigh a Premier League team’s quality. The game started in exactly this manner and it took just two minutes for Oldham to overpower Liverpool and take the lead.
After a Youssouf M’Changama cross, Matt Smith towered above Sebastian Coates and aimed a header towards goal that Martin Skrtel could only divert into his own net.
A terrible start from Liverpool who had to endure a very uncomfortable opening ten minutes, with flying challenges and ferocious work-rate from the Boundary Park outfit putting the away side completely off their stride.
Fortunately for Liverpool however, Oldham couldn’t stretch their lead before the away side finally began to stamp some quality on the game. After an increasingly dangerous-looking spell, the Reds equalised on 17 minutes.
Luis Suarez received the ball in a wide-left area, sprinted towards goal, and aimed a quick ball to Daniel Sturridge just inside the box, but the ball fell to Cliff Byrne who then inadvertently nudged it straight back to Suarez before he slotted home right-footed.
The goal instigated a dominant spell for Liverpool and they should have took the lead, particularly when Raheem Sterling aimed a weak shot straight at former Reds keeper Dean Bouzanis after being put clean through on goal.
Given the performance of the home side, Liverpool would probably have accepted a 1-1 scoreline going into what would have been a welcome break, especially after Matt Smith had a header tipped over by Brad Jones on 44 minutes, but instead Oldham took a crucial lead just before the half-time whistle.
Brad Jones should have easily gathered a low Reece Wabara cross, but he instead spilled the ball straight to Robbie Simpson, who squared it to Smith for an easy tap-in. A defensive calamity.
An impassioned plea from Brendan Rodgers for increased fight and more composed play was surely ringing in the team’s ears as they strode out for the second half, but the message didn’t hit home, because Liverpool went 3-1 behind just three minutes after the re-start.
An inexperienced Jack Robinson was having a nightmare at left-back and his afternoon got even worse when the player he was meant to have picked up, right-back Reece Wabara, rose above him to loop home a fine header from Carl Winchester’s deep cross.
After Suarez and Gerrard missed two very good chances, Liverpool finally ensured a nervous finish for Oldham on 79 minutes when Joe Allen’s deflected volley bounced into the net off the inside of the right-hand post.
A relentless bombardment of Oldham’s rearguard followed for the remainder of the contest.
On other days, Liverpool’s pressure may have resulted in an equaliser, but Oldham deserved their luck – which was encapsulated in particular on 91 minutes when Steven Gerrard’s superb 25-yard drive cannoned off the crossbar.
Despite a strong finish, Liverpool deserved to be knocked out. Brendan Rodgers appears to have singled out his young players for criticism in the aftermath of this embarrassing defeat.
One can only assume that he is including the likes of Jack Robinson and Sebastian Coates in this category. The former, being of much less experience, can probably be excused to some degree.
Yesterday will have dented his confidence, but there has been enough in previous performances to suggest that Robinson will prove an asset to Liverpool.
Sebastian Coates on the other hand churned out a level of individual performance that should not be seen again in Liverpool’s short to medium term future.
The Uruguayan was literally all over the place from start to finish, and Rodgers should be asked why he remained on the pitch for the duration of the game, especially when a ready-made replacement in the form of Jamie Carragher sat on Liverpool’s bench and would have been a far more effective buffer to Oldham’s physical approach.
One player who certainly cannot be considered young is Brad Jones. He will feel fortunate therefore that he was not singled out for criticism.
Jones also was an accident waiting to happen all afternoon and his performance adds weight to an ever strengthening argument that Pepe Reina needs more meaningful competition for his place (especially when the Spaniard’s form is questionable also).
Some would say this was an afternoon to forget – on the contrary, this should be a stark reminder to all of the Liverpool players who failed to turn up yesterday that you can have all the quality in the world, but if the opponent wants it more, then you are destined for defeat.
But surely they knew this before the game?
Notwithstanding the above, it would be hard to argue that Liverpool’s defeat was solely down to a distinct lack of those dangly bits between the legs.
The overall quality of Liverpool’s squad and some of the second string players are simply not good enough; and it’s no coincidence that two players who are very much within this category – Jones and Coates – were the primary cause of this pathetic loss.
L4L Man of the Match: Steven Gerrard. It’s fitting that a player who was only on the field for the final 35 minutes was Liverpool’s best. Gerrard showed more fight and quality in his big toe than the majority of Liverpool’s starting XI.
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