Lua Lua 17'
Bridcutt (og) 44' 71'
Dunk (og) 75'
Well, that had a little bit of everything. Set play goals, incredulous equalizer goals, a trio of own goals, Downing to Carroll goals, and Carroll to Suarez goals. Liverpool missed a penalty and hit the woodwork and still somehow scored six. Another FA Cup tie with a glut of goals after too many games with too few. Capped off by a streaker running the length of the pitch in injury time. Typical and atypical, wonderfully so.
Liverpool started in the best possible manner, opening the scoring within five minutes. Deftly mimicking his goal at Aston Villa, Skrtel out-muscled three at the near post, flicking a header past Brezovan, the seventh time Liverpool have scored from a corner this season.
It wouldn't be the last Liverpool tallied from a corner today, and it should have been the platform for a romp. It eventually would be. But first, the usual frustration and an unlikely equalizer had to be fought past. Again. In the 16th minute, Suarez didn't win a free kick, to his obvious frustration, and Brighton immediately countered, getting a free kick of their own as Henderson clipped Lua Lua from behind. The same player stepped up from 25 yards out, blasting through a broken wall as players tried to charge down the touched free kick.
For just under half an hour, Liverpool impotently pushed back, trying to retake their deserved lead. Brighton players twice cleared off the line, from Downing's shot/cross across the face and Suarez's infinitely clever toe-poke. Carroll and Adam put efforts over the bar, Suarez had multiple shots blocked, and Carroll kept pleading for a penalty that'd never come after hand-to-hand combat with El Abd. It was all too frustratingly familiar: chances created but dreams deferred.
Finally getting the second just before the interval made all the difference. Surprise. Gerrard had a free kick palmed over, and the scramble from the resulting corner ended with a Bridcutt own goal following rebounds from Suarez and Johnson. Goals win games, but just as importantly, goals restore confidence. Clearly buoyed, it took just 12 minutes from the restart to get the game-killing third. And Liverpool had multiple chances to extend the lead prior. Suarez was twice denied, Henderson redirected Gerrard's off-target shot just wide, Brezovan parried Downing's blast. Then, in a flowing move, Downing finally set up a goal for Carroll, his first assist of the season, when the mammoth striker sweetly side-footed the winger's low cross.
The final 35 minutes were a formality – an enjoyable formality, but a formality nonetheless. Comfortably ahead, Liverpool's hardly-threatened defense soaked up pressure, content to counter-attack. Frequently. A 71st-minute counter-attack saw Liverpool's fourth, as Henderson wonderfully found Gerrard over the top, allowed possession after hilarious confusion from Greer and Brezovan, with a shot again turned in by Bridcutt after Gerrard's first effort was saved.
Four minutes later, Liverpool completed an hat-trick of own goals as Dunk haplessly made this season's gag reel, taking three touches in an attempt to clear Suarez's cross but somehow just taking the ball over his own goal line. After making a triple substitution – with Kuyt, Maxi, and Shelvey replacing Henderson, Downing, and Gerrard – Liverpool wasted a chance for a sixth when Kuyt was felled in the box; in an attempt to force a goal for his own confidence, Suarez stepped to the spot. And promptly missed for the second time this season, with his tame penalty easily saved before Brezovan somehow prevented three players from reaching the rebound. However, the same player made amends with the capstone five minutes later, heading in from close range after Carroll put Enrique's cross on a plate, with Brighton again torn asunder with a rampant fast break.
It's hard to judge on one match, especially in a domestic cup against lower-division opposition. Liverpool's performance may merit the score line, and could have merited even more goals, but a fully-demoralized Brighton conceded some very soft goals with the outcome already assured. Regardless, the 4-2-1-3 formation looked promising: pairing Suarez and Carroll without the restrictions of 4-4-2, a solid center with Gerrard, Adam, and Henderson and without an out-and-out holding midfielder. Even Downing looked more threatening. Liverpool's defense had exceptionally little to do, well protected by the midfield. The formation may have mutated into more of a 4-4-2 in the second half, especially after the crucial third, but the initial output was intriguing to say the least.
Liverpool have used multiple variants on the 4-5-1 over the course of the campaign. But Suarez, Carroll, and another have been a three-man front line in just two: the 0-1 loss at Fulham and 0-4 loss at Spurs, the two fixtures where Liverpool had a man sent off. Gerrard, Adam, and Henderson have been a midfield trio in just one: the first leg semifinal at Manchester City. It's also, notably, the first time Gerrard, Suarez, and Carroll started together all season.
The latter two scored, and all three players impressed. Gerrard dictated play with Adam while Carroll continues to improve, learning to throw his weight and talent around within Liverpool's system. Suarez wasn't as effervescently explosive, too often losing possession when trying to dribble past defenders and too often petulantly frustrated, but he was still a barely-stoppable handful trying to set the tone, regardless of his weak penalty. Downing had his best game for the club after so many invisible performances, Adam was steady and stable while still splitting defenses, and Henderson was full of running. There's little more than can be asked from the performances of all involved, with the added bonus of goals goals goals. Unfortunately, there's also the overly pessimistic notion that cup matches and lower league opposition haven't been Liverpool's problem this season.