Liverpool notch half a dozen goals as reigning League One champions Brighton are easily dispatched 6-1 at Anfield. The Reds secured a home quarter-final tie against Stoke City as a result.
Kenny Dalglish named a surprisingly strong line-up for this contest with only Jamie Carragher not considered a regular starter this season. Daniel Agger made way for the 34-year-old whilst elsewhere there were starts for Charlie Adam and Andy Carroll, both of whom had to make do with a place on the bench during last weekend`s 2-1 defeat to Manchester United.
The first effort at goal came courtesy of Stewart Downing in the 4th minute when his deflected effort from the angle was tipped over by Brighton keeper Peter Brezovan. The resulting corner produced an early opening goal to the contest with Martin Skrtel`s forehead powering home Steven Gerrard`s delivery at the near post.
Straight from the kick-off and on-loan striker Sam Vokes almost drew the visitors level but his effort from the edge of the area went straight at Pepe Reina. The Seagulls continued to react positively to the early setback with Will Buckley drifting around the park and enjoying a lot of possession.
Liverpool gained a more prolonged control of the game as the opening 15 minutes past with Gerrard firing narrowly wide from a quickly taken Jordan Henderson free-kick.
Having taken the free-kick at one end, the former Sunderland man gave away a set-piece at the other only seconds later. With the award being some way out, the danger looked minimal until Kazenga LuaLua stepped up and fired an unstoppable thunderbolt past the despairing dive of Reina. A magical moment to draw Brighton level although the Liverpool wall could have done better.
A nice one-two almost gave Downing a chance to quickly restore Liverpool`s advantage in the 24th minute but the winger could only flick the ball past the keeper and not the covering defenders, who cleared easily.
Although he failed to make the most of the opening, Downing was continually involved in the action to this point as the Reds looked at their most dangerous down the left. An overlapping Jose Enrique then twisted and turned well before dragging a shot wide on his weaker right foot.
Noticeable only by his lack of involvement, Luis Suarez suddenly burst into life in the 28th minute with a jinking run which wrong-footed two defenders before the Uruguayan deceived the goalkeeper with a quickly taken effort. Disappointingly for El Pistolero, Inigo Calderon was on hand to clear off the line.
At this point Liverpool were dominating and shortly after Adam had struck narrowly over with an attempt from distance, Gerrard picked out Carroll with a wonderfully dinked cross but the former Newcastle United striker could only head onto the roof of the net.
Although not offering much in the final third, the Championship outfit remained dogged and robust in defence with Carroll continually appealing and complaining about the treatment he was receiving from the likes of Gordan Greer and Adam El-Abd.
Backed by a vocal 6,000 strong away support, Brighton might have taken a surprise 42nd minute lead but goal scorer LuaLua chose to shoot from a tight angle instead of crossing for one of his well placed team-mates.
With half-time approaching, the Brighton defence uncharacteristically dealt poorly with a Liverpool corner and after Suarez`s initial attempt was blocked by Brezovan, Liam Bridcutt inadvertently bundled Glen Johnson`s header into his own net. Ignoring the element of luck about the goal, the Reds thoroughly deserved to be back in front.
During the break Gus Poyet introduced Merseyside born winger Craig Noone for a presumably injured Buckley. The former non-league player impressed in the recent League Cup encounter between the two sides and also quirkily once worked on Gerrard`s house in his former job as a roofer.
Liverpool made another fast start at the beginning of the second 45 minutes with Johnson quickly curling over and Suarez then chipping straight into the arms of Brezovan.
Shortly after Suarez had slipped when seemingly through and subsequent penalty appeals for handball were rightly ignored, Downing warmed the palms of a nervous looking Brezovan with a powerful 55th minute drive. The former Aston Villa winger continuing to impress on his more natural left-hand side having spent a lot of the season playing on the right of midfield.
To emphasise the point, the 27-year-old neatly skipped past Calderon before pulling back the perfect pass for Carroll to thump home a sweetly taken finish, low into the corner of the net. A quality finish that capped a superb 57th minute assist to give Liverpool some valuable breathing space.
Brighton responded well initially to falling 3-1 down and on a couple of occasions a better delivery from the lively LuaLua could easily have resulted in the Sussex based side getting back into the contest.
Following a more even period of the game, Poyet understandably decided to go for broke and sent on record signing Craig Mackail-Smith and former Spain and Valencia winger Vicente.
Seconds later though and the contest was all over bar the shouting. Alan Navarro misjudged a bouncing ball allowing Gerrard to nip in and despite being forced wide by Brezovan`s block, the England midfielder managed to find the back of the net at the second attempt via another deflection off the unfortunate Bridcutt.
If Bridcutt`s two own goals were unfortunate the same could not be said of what happened in the 74th minute. Suarez and Downing combined well before the later crossed, under no pressure Lewis Dunk tried to flick the ball up and volley away but instead managed to knee haplessly into the goal.
A triple substitution followed with Dalglish perhaps turning his attention to the upcoming Carling Cup final by sending on Jonjo Shelvey, Dirk Kuyt and Maxi Rodriguez.
As Brighton began to implode, Dutchman Kuyt was instantly involved and won an 80th minute penalty following a clumsy challenge by Noone. After some deliberation, Suarez stepped up to take the spot kick and hopefully help towards appeasing his recent actions in the process. Czech goalkeeper Brezovan had not read the script however and dived to his left to save the former Ajax striker`s admittedly weak effort.
Suarez did not have to wait long to get his much publicised name on the score sheet however as four minutes later an Enrique cross was headed back across goal by Carroll for Liverpool`s no.7 to turn home from close range.
A host of other chances came and went as the final few minutes passed with the men in red enjoying themselves and playing some wonderfully expansive football.
Someone else who had presumably been enjoying themself during the afternoon was the male streaker who followed the recent appearance of the Anfield Cat by entering the field of play shortly before Andre Marriner bought proceedings to a halt for the final time.
A great performance in what could easily have been a tricky tie. We had some luck with the own goals but generally speaking the team all played well and created openings at will. The tempo and desire was spot on and it was good to see a couple of our more maligned players in the shape of Carroll and Downing turning in impressive performances. A home draw against Stoke in the next round will no doubt leave many fans dreaming of a second trip to Wembley in quick succession. With FA Cup progress secured we can now all turn our attention to next weekend`s League Cup final and hopefully the return of silverware to Anfield for the first time in six years.
Liverpool’s Star Player
Reina, Johnson, Enrique, Skrtel, Carragher, Gerrard (Shelvey 76), Henderson (Maxi 76), Adam, Downing (Kuyt 76), Suarez, Carroll.
Unused subs: Doni, Coates, Kelly, Spearing.
Click here to read Kenny Dalglish’s comments on the match
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