Monday, 6 January 2014

Aspas on target as Reds secure Cup progress

Liverpool provided more evidence that they can win when they are not at their best yesterday.

Against a determined and well-drilled Oldham Athletic side, Liverpool maintained their concentration, persevered diligently and scored important goals at critical moments to kill off their League One opposition.

The Reds were by no means at their brilliant best, but nevertheless did enough to reach the fourth round of the FA Cup, where they will travel to either AFC Bournemouth or Burton Albion to play the part of Goliath in another ‘David vs Goliath’ Cup contest.

Following a busy Christmas and New Year schedule and with important Premier League fixtures coming up in January, not least the Merseyside Derby at Anfield on the 28th, Brendan Rodgers used this Cup match to give his squad players some game time.

As an inevitable result of starting several players who haven’t played together before, many of whom also lacked game time after spending much of the season warming the bench, Liverpool were a little disjointed and took time to get going.

Moreover, some took the opportunity to impress and make a case for more regular involvement in the first team better than others.

Aly Cissokho showed his attacking qualities once again down the left wing, while it was good to see Martin Kelly back in first team action on the opposite flank. Luis Alberto performed fairly well and was arguably unlucky to be substituted at half time, although Coutinho was clearly an improvement on the Spaniard, while Aspas grew in confidence after breaking the deadlock. However, disappointingly Victor Moses was relatively anonymous throughout. The Chelsea loanee must improve if he wants to get more game time.

After a minute’s silence for former Oldham and Liverpool player Wayne Harrison, who died on Christmas Day, touchingly turned into a minute of applause, the Reds crafted the first decent opening of the match after a quarter of an hour. Cissokho’s centre found Moses, who laid the ball off to Aspas. In turn, Aspas set up Alberto and the number six curled inches wide from the edge of the box.

Alberto’s rasping drive was then beaten away by Oxley midway through the first 45, before he set up Aspas on the stroke of half time, only for the former Celta Vigo striker to drag his shot wide of goal.

Following a first half of few chances and much frustration, Rodgers made a double substitution at the break that inspired a match-winning fifteen minute spell after the interval. The introduction of Lucas in place of the ineffective Moses allowed Gerrard to move further forward, where the skipper seems to have much more of an impact. Replacing Alberto with Coutinho may have been a bit harsh on the former, but the latter undeniably added an extra element of class that the Latics struggled to cope with.

Three minutes after the restart, Gerrard’s corner caused havoc in the Oldham box, with Kelly’s shot eventually being deflected over. Gerrard then headed Coutinho’s right wing corner just over the bar as the hosts began to crank up the pressure on the visitors.

The deadlock was finally broken on 55 minutes, when Sterling’s cross picked out Aspas, whose accurate half-volley lacked power but possessed precision and thus found the back of the net.

Hopefully his goal will spark an upturn in Aspas' form
After going ten games without netting a goal prior to yesterday’s match, Aspas almost bagged his second Liverpool goal in the space of two minutes, as his header from another Sterling cross unluckily hit the woodwork.

The impressive Sterling was also involved in setting up Coutinho soon after, only for the Brazilian to make a hash of his strike, which flew high into the Kop when he should have really at least tested the keeper.

To their credit, Oldham didn’t just lie down and die after falling behind and, after riding the storm of Liverpool attacks, enjoyed their own spell of pressure, as Philiskirk fired just over the bar from 25 yards out and Petrasso forced Jones into making a good save after beating Agger.

Worryingly, with ten minutes remaining the Danish centre back went down injured and the Merseysiders had to end the match with ten men after already using all three of their substitutions. In the long term, Agger joining Sakho on the injury list leaves Liverpool short of options at centre back.

Immediately, though, his injury raised the uninviting prospect of a nervy final ten minutes at Anfield, as the improving away side must have backed themselves to take advantage of their extra man and bag an equaliser to earn a replay.

Thankfully, however, Liverpool scored their second at an important point, which ended the match as a contest and meant that Kopites could relax during the closing stages. Only moments after Agger had limped off, Sterling’s shot, which was heading off target, was diverted into his own net by James Tarkowski.

The only other noteworthy moment after the second goal came when Anton Rodgers, son of Liverpool boss Brendan, received warm applause from the Kop after coming on as a substitute. It was also nice to see the pair embrace at the end of the 90 minutes.

Brendan and Anton embrace after the final whistle
At the end of the day, both teams could be satisfied with the outcome. Oldham gave a good account of themselves and kept the match competitive, while Liverpool showed that they can win when they are not at their best and got to assess the ability of several players on the fringe of the first team.

Now let’s get back to the ultimately much more important business of clinching a top four place in the Premier League, starting with a potentially tricky trip to the Britannia Stadium next Sunday afternoon.


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