Liverpool battled to a gritty 2-1 win against a stubborn AFC Wimbledon side in the FA Cup third round, with captain Steven Gerrard’s double saving his side’s blushes just days after announcing his summer exit at Anfield.
AFC Wimbledon 1-2 Liverpool
FA Cup / Kingsmeadow / Monday, 5th January 2015
Goals: Gerrard (12 and 62); Akinfenwa (36)
By Henry Jackson
Liverpool faced a potential banana skin as they faced League 2 side AFC Wimbledon at Kingsmeadow to start their 2014/15 FA Cup campaign. It was a repeat of the 1988 final, which famously ended in heartbreak for the Reds. Victory would see a fourth round tie at home to Bolton Wanderers.
Brendan Rodgers named a strong starting eleven, making just three changes to the side that drew 2-2 with Leicester City on New Year’s Day.
Martin Skrtel returned from suspension in place of Kolo Toure, Lazar Markovic replaced the injured Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert came in for Raheem Sterling, who was rested.
Sean Rigg had the first chance of note, dragging his effort wide from the left-hand side of the penalty area. Liverpool were ahead after 11 minutes though, and it just had to be Steven Gerrard who scored the goal after all that has gone on in the last few days.
The skipper clinically headed home Javier Manquillo’s cross, outlining the goal threat he still carries in an advanced midfield role.
The Reds were completely in control of proceedings, and the early goal helped take an edge off the game and silence the home faithful. Markovic raced through and almost scored from a tight angle.
Simon Mignolet made a stunning save to deny Rigg, and from the resulting corner Adam Barrett headed over. It was the first spell of sustained pressure by The Wombles.
Star striker Matt Tubbs then had a wonderful chance to equalise, but fired wide. Liverpool had to wake up a bit, and had taken their foot off the gas.
In the 36th minute Wimbledon were level, and it had been coming. Mignolet didn’t deal with a corner, as is the norm, and Ade Akinfenwa eventually prodded home. It was yet another gaffe from the much-maligned Belgian.
The rest of the half went by without much of note happening, and at half-time the scores were level. A nervy second-half awaited.
Half-time: Wimbledon 1-1 Liverpool
There were no changes for either side at the interval, as the Reds looked to improve on a limp first-half performance in Kingston.
Gerrard headed Barrett’s effort off the line just minutes after the restart, as Liverpool’s pathetic ability to defend set-pieces continued. Rigg shot over after ponderous work by Emre Can.
Coutinho fired wide when he should really have teed up Gerrard, while the visitors also had a penalty appeal for handball waved away.
At the hour mark it was still 1-1, and it was becoming an increasingly nerve-wracking evening. Defeat was unthinkable for Rodgers.
After 61 minutes Liverpool were back ahead though, thank goodness, and it was down to more Gerrard magic. The 34-year-old curled a stunning free-kick past James Shea; not dissimilar to his effort against Basel last month.
The goal seemed to settle the Merseysiders, and the disappointing Lambert forced Shea into a decent save. Another Gerrard free-kick curled a yard wide, while Jose Enrique replaced Manquillo with 19 minutes remaining.
Coutinho had a wonderful opportunity to kill the game off, while Gerrard’s shot was saved solidly by Shea after 81 minutes. Was there to be a late twist?
Lucas made a terrific block to deny Adebayo Azeez, while Markovic should have scored on the break but produced a tame effort with the goal at his mercy.
Gerrard almost got his hat-trick in the dying seconds, with substitute Mario Balotelli almost pouncing too, while Mignolet made a fine stop with his legs at the other end.
Liverpool were through, but they hadn’t had it their own way whatsoever.
Man of the Match: Steven Gerrard
Liverpool: Mignolet, Manquillo (Enrique 71), Sakho, Skrtel, Can, Markovic (Toure 87), Lucas, Henderson, Gerrard, Coutinho, Lambert (Balotelli 79).
Subs not used: Ward, Enrique, Moreno, Borini, Williams.
Wimbledon starting XI: Shea, Fuller, Kennedy, Moore, Barrett, Goodman, Rigg, Bulman, Akinfenwa, Tubbs, Francomb.