“Forget that full week on the training ground” – How the papers reacted to Exeter City 2-2 Liverpool

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Following Liverpool’s 2-2 draw at Exeter City on Friday night, in the FA Cup third round, we round-up the best newspaper reaction from the game.

EXETER, ENGLAND - Friday, January 8, 2016: Liverpool's Joe Maguire and Brad Smith applaud the travelling supporters after the 2-2 draw with Exeter City during the FA Cup 3rd Round match at St. James Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

A replay is far from ideal for Jurgen Klopp, given how relentless January is in terms of fixtures, but it still beats being knocked out by a League 2 outfit.

Liverpool’s young side produced a spirited performance against the Grecians, with Brad Smith’s goal fairly late in the day rescuing a draw for the Reds.

Jerome Sinclair had earlier equalised – Exeter twice took the lead in the game, with one goal courtesy of an Adam Bogdan howler – in front of an atmospheric St James Park.

It was not the perfect night by any means for Klopp and his side, but it could have been far worse had it not been for Smith’s excellent finish.

Here is how the morning newspapers saw the game:

EXETER, ENGLAND - Friday, January 8, 2016: Liverpool's Brad Smith celebrates scoring the second equalising goal against Exeter City during the FA Cup 3rd Round match at St. James Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

James Pearce of the Liverpool Echo believes it was vital Liverpool didn’t lose the game, even if a replay is rather problematic:

Forget that full week on the training ground later this month. Exeter City are heading to Anfield for a FA Cup third round replay.

Yet in truth the German boss should be thanking his lucky stars after the Reds narrowly avoided a humiliating exit at the hands of the League Two outfit.

Regardless of the rights and wrongs of his team selection, Klopp would have found himself in the eye of a storm if the Grecians had become the first club from at least three divisions below to knock Liverpool out of the FA Cup since the infamous defeat to Worcester City way back in 1959.

On the back of a gutsy League Cup triumph at Stoke, it would have unleashed an unwelcome torrent of negativity.

For most of the night that bleak scenario looked a distinct possibility before a spirited late rally spared their blushes.

The Daily Mail‘s Martin Samuel was one of many to criticise Liverpool’s more experienced players, and feels it was needless Klopp leaving Simon Mignolet out of an already weakened team:

Brad Smith swung a boot, instinctively, and Jurgen Klopp got away with it. In that moment, Liverpool earned a replay at Anfield. Dare they field a below strength team against Exeter a second time? Not if they want guarantees of FA Cup progress.

This was horribly close, and uncomfortably revealing of the task that lies ahead for Klopp. The kids, it seems, are not completely alright. Neither are some pretty stellar names. There was nothing in Christian Benteke’s game to suggest a £32m striker up against a League Two team of free transfers, and academy graduates.

By playing him in a starting XI of such meagre experience, Klopp was clearly hoping Benteke would prove a decisive influence, showing his class, maybe winning the game. Instead, he needed rescuing, much like Liverpool’ s reserve goalkeeper, Adam Bogdan.

Until Smith stepped up, he was going down as the klutz responsible for one of the most memorable giant-killing goals in FA Cup history – scored directly from a corner by Lee Holmes, whose career has been on a steady downward trajectory since leaving Derby.

Klopp was hardly emerging from that moment with great credit either. He has an appalling list of injured players, but first-choice goalkeeper Simon Mignolet is not among them. Why he included Bogdan in a team already comprised of raw recruits is a mystery.

EXETER, ENGLAND - Friday, January 8, 2016: Liverpool's goalkeeper Adam Bogdan flaps at the ball as Exeter City score the second goal during the FA Cup 3rd Round match at St. James Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The Mirror‘s Liam Prenderville focussed on the performance of Enrique, who was woeful in patches in a rare centre-back role:

Anyone else remember when Jose Enrique was one of the best full-backs in the Premier League? It seems a hell of a long time ago now.

The Spaniard hasn’t played competitively for over a year and it showed in Exeter’s opener.

Playing out of position in central defence, Enrique let the ball bounce and was left for dead by Jamie Reid, who burst down the wing before crossing for Tom Nichols.

Things didn’t get much better from there, with the defender all over the place positionally.

Enrique almost looks certain to be on his way when his contract expires in the summer but he could be called upon in the coming weeks given Liverpool’s injury crisis.

You can’t imagine how he would fare against Ozil and co. in midweek.

The Echo‘s Ian Doyle discussed the lesser-spotted Tiago Ilori, who finally made his Reds debut, over two years since signing for the club:

There has long been a suggestion that Tiago Ilori is a figment of our collective imaginations, a kind of modern-day Didier Baptiste (Google is your friend if you aren’t aware of this tale).

Tales have been heard, stories shared. The Portuguese turned up at Bordeaux for a while, then he was said to be training with Aston Villa.

One phone call later, though, and Ilori was making arguably one of the most delayed Liverpool debuts of all time some two-and-a-half years after arriving at the club.

And Ilori did well. He snuffed out most problems, was careful in possession and surprisingly effective in the air.

Yet it was perhaps apt given his unfortunate injury record that he hobbled off with 13 minutes remaining.

It means Liverpool ended the game with a defence consisting entirely of full-backs – a nod, surely, to Kenny Dalglish’s first stint in charge.

Maybe we’ll see Ilori again in a Liverpool shirt. Maybe we won’t.

EXETER, ENGLAND - Friday, January 8, 2016: Liverpool's Christian Benteke in action against Exeter City during the FA Cup 3rd Round match at St. James Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Bogdan and Benteke were deservedly slaughtered by Steven Kelly, in his ESPN player ratings, but Smith fared much better:

Bogdan (3/10) – A night that will only be remembered for a shocking error when he allowed a Lee Holmes corner to drift over his head into the net before the half-time whistle. Adding to his poor mistake at Watford, Bogdan’s decent performances earlier in the season have now become irrelevant. Goalkeepers rarely recover from such a weakness being so brutally exposed.

Benteke (3/10) – A dismal first half where he treated his selection and the captaincy almost with disdain. Service wasn’t great, but with a team of such limited experience, he didn’t lead by example. Denied a second-half equaliser by an excellent save, he at least kept going until the end, but it was another disturbingly toothless performance from the big Belgian.

Smith (7/10) – Once again the Australian was the only saving grace on a poor night for Liverpool. As against FC Sion, his willingness to charge forward helped him stand out from everyone else, and he was eventually rewarded with a well-taken equaliser against the run of play. Dangerous attacking outlet in the first half, and kept going when several other heads dropped.

EXETER 2-2 LIVERPOOL

RATINGS: Smith MOTM, but Bogdan flops

TALKING POINTS: Youngsters outshine senior trio

OPINION: Youngsters with spirited showing

KLOPP: Don’t blame players, blame me

FAN REACTION: “Well done kids”

PAPERS: “Forget that week on the training ground”

TACTICAL: Klopp tweaks in-match to get draw

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