Vital Report: Mansfield Town 1-2 Liverpool
Vital Liverpool report on an immensely difficult passage into the fourth round for odds-on favourites Liverpool. A controversial Luis Suarez goal helped the Reds to a 2-1 victory.
After a season of rescuing Liverpool from several disappointing results, Luis Suarez yet again gave his team a helping hand and secured their presence in the fourth round draw of the FA Cup.
The pun is obviously intentional (sorry), and Suarez's goal, robbed an incredibly gutsy Mansfield performance of all the headlines. Liverpool eventually recorded a 2-1 victory, but it wasn't without an unexpected amount of nervy moments and an equally unexpected amount of controversy.
After an opening to the game that looked a lot like Mansfield were in awe of their Premier League opponents, it appeared by all intents and purposes that Liverpool would cruise to a comfortable victory.
Daniel Sturridge - making an immediate debut for Liverpool - opened the visitors' scoring on 7 minutes.
The former Chelsea man's pace, and of equal importance, his intelligent movement, was the perfect compliment to Jonjo Shelvey's tidy through ball. Sturridge's finish was very classy - he took no touches before slotting in an immediate side-footed shot straight into the bottom corner.
On 15 minutes, a very skilful looking Sturridge should have doubled Liverpool's advantage. An early understanding between him and Shelvey was evident, where the latter yet again put through his new team-mate; he subsequently tried to commit Alan Marriott in Mansfield's goal, but the big stopper stayed on his feet and pawed away his left-footed shot.
A couple more openings were created between Liverpool's pair, the most notable of which came after a fine run by Sturridge who couldn't quite pull it back for Shelvey; but the longer the first half wore on without Liverpool stretching their lead, the more the Field Mill outfit grew into the contest.
Indeed, Mansfield suddenly began to press Liverpool much more effectively, and were able to aim some awkward-looking long balls (and long throws - at every opportunity) into the away side's penalty area. Already rocked previously this season by similar tactics in their defeat to Stoke, the Reds couldn't hold on to their early rhythm.
By the start of the second half, Mansfield were inspired by the idea of securing a lucrative replay at one of the most famous grounds in world football - very possible with only a one goal deficit.
A pattern quickly emerged, whereby Liverpool eventually won possession in a deep-lying area, but instead of keeping the ball and playing it simple, they were put off their stride by relentless Mansfield pressing, before surrendering the ball again and becoming the subject of another aerial bombardment.
Brendan Rodgers reacted on 54 minutes by substituting a tired looking Sturridge (who had just missed another chance, firing wide across goal after being put in by Stewart Downing) and an anonymous Suso, for Luis Suarez and Jordan Henderson respectively.
The manager would more than likely have preferred to keep his star man on the bench, but such was Mansfield's dominance, he had no choice but to send an SOS to Suarez.
Just as Mansfield's threat reached an uncomfortable peak, Suarez netted an all important second goal on 58 minutes. Typical of him to rescue Liverpool from an uncomfortable situation, but also typical of him to score a controversial goal that has attracted even more questioning of his integrity.
There are two things to be said about Suarez's goal:
1) For the ball to have avoided his hand, he would have had to move it away from the direction of the ball.
2) Once the goal was given, the only way it could possibly have been chalked off was if Suarez admitted the offence.
Therefore, there are two corresponding conclusions to be made:
1) Notwithstanding the fact that 99 players out of 100 (a stat used by Mansfield's own manager in the aftermath) would not have moved their hand away, there is also an argument that any slight movement towards the ball - in that position in particular - was pure human instinct.
2) Hardly any footballer in the world would have admitted the offence. In addition, was it not for the referee to judge it properly in the first place? It's interesting to hear the views of Ian Wright and Mickey Quinn - both prolific strikers in their pomp - on this particular issue.
Nevertheless, it's a shame that Suarez is yet again in this position. It doesn't matter whether he is right or wrong, he cannot help but court controversy and we just have to accept that he will never win over the wider English footballing fraternity.
Mansfield manager Paul Cox's comments regarding Suarez in his post-match interview were class, they probably went some way to dampening down the headlines in fact, but in the modern world of still photographs and slow-motion replays (look at it in real time), this morning's papers made Suarez's offence look even worse.
It definitely deflated the hosts, but they threw caution to the wind before scoring a highly deserved consolation goal on 80 minutes.
Liverpool failed to properly clear a punt into the box, and the ball fell eventually to Matthew Green, whose half-volley took a couple of deflections before trickling into the net.
A nervous finish ensued, but Liverpool were able to hold on. It was very much a case of taking the win and running, for this was a typically awkward third round tie.
In terms of their overall performance, Liverpool were poor. They started very well, and the form of Sturridge looked very exciting (fans should have high hopes for a player with such talent), but the Reds' failure to capitalise on their early dominance only served to encourage the Stags.
The second half was embarrassing at times. It was hard to believe that Mansfield were four divisions below their opponents, and if one were to be completely honest, they earned a money-spinning replay. Unfortunately for them however, Suarez's controversial goal secured Liverpool's victory.
As harsh as it sounds though, all the controvesy will be forgotten if Liverpool embark on another journey to Wembley in May.
Liverpool's Star Player
Jamie Carragher. Vintage Carragher - a performance littered with superb last-ditch tackling and gutsy leadership qualities. Daniel Sturridge was probably the other strongest contender.
Jones, Wisdom (Flanagan 79'), Coates, Carragher, Robinson, Lucas, Allen, Shelvey, Suso (Henderson 54'), Sturridge (Suarez 54'), Downing.
Click here to read Brendan Rodgers' comments on the match
Click here to see comprehensive match stats from the game
Follow me on Twitter @antonyjlfc
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