Liverpool secure a home tie with Bolton in round four of this season’s FA Cup after Steven Gerrard guides them to a hard-fought 2-1 win at AFC Wimbledon…
Kop boss Brendan Rodgers made four changes to the side that disappointingly drew 2-2 with Leicester City on New Year’s Day for this tricky-looking third round FA Cup tie.
The players to come into the starting eleven were Martin Skrtel, Javier Manquillo, Lazar Markovic and, with Raheem Sterling given a much-needed rest, Rickie Lambert.
Despite largely being on the back-foot in the early stages, League Two outfit Wimbledon had the first opportunity of note when Sean Rigg flashed a shot across goal.
It was the visitors who struck first though when their soon-to-be-departed skipper Steven Gerrard headed home a quality cross from Javier Manquillo in the 12th minute.
The goal seemed to settle the Premier League side, after a physical opening to the game, and they began to pass the ball around brightly.
Further opportunities were not initially forthcoming however as Markovic in particular wasted a good position to create something.
At the other end, in a rare period of sustained pressure from the Dons, a fine reaction save from Simon Mignolet brilliantly denied Rigg after a timely interception from Skrtel had conceded a corner.
Wimbledon again went close in the 33rd minute when Skrtel was beaten to a long punt forward by big frontman Adebayo Akinfenwa but Matt Tubbs’ swivelled effort went fractionally the wrong side of the post.
The increased threat being posed by the hosts soon told though when Akinfenwa poked home from close-range after Mignolet had failed to deal with a George Francomb corner and the ball had bounced back to him off the crossbar.
In truth, being level at the interval was no more than the modern day reincarnation of the ‘Crazy Gang’ deserved.
Gerrard, who had been heavily involved in most of Liverpool’s best work, almost turned villain at the start of the second half by sloppily giving the ball away on the edge of his own area.
Thankfully the 34-year-old redeemed himself by heading the resulting corner off the line after Sammy Moore had sent a deflected drive narrowly wide.
Rigg was continuing to impress for Wimbledon down their left and the winger fired narrowly over after capitalising on hesitation from Emre Can.
The Merseysiders eventually managed to weather the storm and begin to impose themselves once more; Jordan Henderson and Philippe Coutinho both trying their luck unsuccessfully.
There was also a strong penalty appeal as the hour mark approached when disorientated Dons skipper Barry Fuller was struck on the arm by the ball but referee Jonathan Moss chose to ignore the incident.
The same player was at fault shortly afterwards, felling Coutinho on the edge of the area with a wild challenge, as Liverpool retook the lead.
Not for the first time, and hopefully not for the last time in his illustrious career for the Anfield side, Gerrard duly stepped up and curled the resulting free-kick into the top-left corner of the net via Shea’s fingertips.
A spirited initial response from Wimbledon almost produced an instant equaliser as Dannie Bulman volleyed a great chance over the bar with Skrtel left prone on the deck.
A swift counter-attack from Rodgers’ men should have made the game safe with 20 minutes to play but Shea got down well to deny Lambert.
Gerrard, who was finding more and more space, was the next to go close with another free-kick but this time the ball swerved off target at the last moment.
Further openings for Liverpool, who had sent Jose Enrique and Mario Balotelli on by this stage, to find a decisive third goal came and went as the hosts tired.
Coutinho, Gerrard and Markovic all forced decent stops out of Shea in the final 10 minutes while substitute Adebayo Azziz was agonisingly close to forcing a replay at the death.
Many neutrals and romantics might have seen such an outcome as a fair result but it wasn’t to be and, on the balance of chances at least, Liverpool fully merited their place in the next round.
A thoroughly professional performance by Liverpool who could have run away with the result in the latter stages. It was a cracking cup tie and Wimbledon deserve huge credit for the part they played. For a period either side of half-time they had their prestigious visitors under the cosh and looked like scoring with almost every attack. There is much to admire about the club and what they’ve achieved from the ashes of the original Wimbledon. On this evidence a bright future lies ahead and there is no reason why they cannot make further strides up the footballing pyramid. For Liverpool, they must improve defensively and be more potent in front of goal but both of those issues were already widely known. With the Reds in the Capital One Cup semi-finals and about to enter the Europa League, the knockout competitions could prove Rodgers’ saving grace this season. Another trophy in the cabinet would be a fitting send-off for Gerrard, who coincidently turns 35 on the day of the FA Cup final. An omen perhaps?
Steven Gerrard – The talisman was at his swashbuckling best tonight, scoring two or more goals in consecutive games for a first time since July 2005. Playing off the front man is clearly the captain’s best position at this stage of his career and there is no doubt he could have remained effective, both on and off the pitch, in future seasons.
Mignolet, Can, Skrtel, Sakho, Manquillo (Enrique 71′), Markovic (Toure 86′), Lucas, Henderson, Gerrard, Coutinho (Borini 90′), Lambert (Balotelli 79′).
Unused subs: Ward, Williams, Moreno, Borini.
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