Finnan Carragher Hyypia Riise
Benayoun Lucas Alonso Babel
Riise (og) 76’
Well, that was deserved.
I’m going to preface the rest of this by saying that anything can happen in the FA Cup, this was Luton’s cup final, the biggest match of their season, and despite their financial troubles, Luton’s home form hasn’t been bad this season.
But that said, I don’t need to say that Liverpool should have won this match. No matter how well Luton played or their motivation, Liverpool should have scored in the first half, should have forced their style of play on lower-league opposition, and should have kept the lead once they finally got the opener.
And yet, Liverpool was probably lucky to get a draw. Babel’s chance within 24 seconds, cutting between two men and forcing an excellent save from Brill, should have set the tone, but for much of the match Luton was the better side. Liverpool players were frequently both out-played and out-fought, and that’s unacceptable.
Luton had a threatening chance of their own before 5 minutes were gone, with Edwards beating the offside trap and forcing Itandje to come out to block the attempt, and as Liverpool failed to break the deadlock or impose themselves on the game, Luton grew in stature.
Drew Talbot was especially a handful, and it’s painful to see the backline that kept so many clean sheets in 05/06 struggle this season. But Luton couldn’t convert their increasing pressure into goals, and after the break, Liverpool again started the brighter.
But in the first six minutes of the second half, Benayoun was unable to direct Kuyt’s threatening cross into the net, and then Brill made another excellent save, this time from Riise’s deflected shot. And again, Luton began to see more of the ball and take the game to Liverpool.
However, in the 73rd minute, it looked as if Liverpool had finally changed their fortunes. Coyne and Perry combined to accidentally put Voronin through on Brill against the run of play, and although the keeper again made the save, Crouch was there for the rebound.
However, like against Wigan, Liverpool relinquished a hard-won lead to a fluky (albeit on the whole, probably deserved) goal. Talbot again posed Liverpool problems, and although he should have never gotten a cross off, he again found a way through. And although his effort eluded the on-rushing Edwards, it deflected past Itandje off Riise’s foot and hand.
To a man, none of the Liverpool players can be pleased with their performance. Yeah, excuses can be made for some. Itandje could do nothing about the goal and was an imposing figure in his area, but his distribution certainly can’t hold a candle to Reina’s. Alonso’s not match fit and Luton gave him absolutely no time on the ball, but he wasn’t the calming figure or playmaker he usually is. Despite the fast start, Babel grew increasingly invisible as the game went on. Crouch got a goal in his first start back, but failed to link up well with other attackers. But no one was good enough, and I can find criticisms with everyone in a red shirt.
Kuyt especially will rue his performance today. This was a game where Kuyt needed to play well and get some of his confidence back, as we’ve seen he’s better than recent performances indicate. But he did not take his chances (and he got chances), and it was probably his worse game of this recent stretch, although he moved further right in the second half and saw fewer opportunities as a result.
I still don’t want to come off as doom and gloom. It’s readily apparent that Liverpool is going through a bad spell, but the bad spell shouldn’t make everyone forget about some of the games earlier this season. We know this team can score goals, and from more than just Torres and Gerrard, and we know the team can play better than this. The Derby, Besiktas, Portsmouth, Marseille, and Bolton wins, among others, weren’t complete aberrations.
What’s the most frustrating isn’t the result. It’s the way that Luton wanted it more and were far more willing to work for it than Liverpool. The talent’s in the squad, it’s the drive that needs to be there. You don’t win games by being the better team on paper.
And again, this result is going to create more questions about Benitez. I realize that the manager does more than just pick the team, and obviously something’s missing motivationally, but I don’t know what Benitez should have done differently with the line-up. Torres clearly needed a rest, as did Mascherano, and Gerrard, Arbeloa and Aurelio weren’t fit. The team couldn’t have been much stronger.
Yes, this game looked a lot like others where Liverpool’s struggled over Benitez’s regime. They struggled to get the goal and create much in the final third, and if a clean sheet wasn’t kept, drew the game thanks to an unfortunate goal. But despite this bad spell, I still believe the team is better this season than last. Maybe we got carried away with some of the early results and margins of victory, and too much promise came to fruition too soon, but building a top-level side takes time. And I still believe this manager is the one to do it.
Replay at Anfield a week from Tuesday, and I have to believe it'll be a completely different match.