Saturday, 25 January 2014

Moses and Sturridge fire average Reds into next round

A bit of quality and goals at important points separated Liverpool and Bournemouth in their FA Cup fourth round contest at Goldsands Stadium.

For the majority of the match it was difficult to distinguish between the mid-table Championship side and the team chasing Champions League qualification. Liverpool were distinctly average, while Bournemouth rose to the occasion in their biggest match since the visit of Real Madrid in pre-season, giving the visitors a good run for their money and providing a decent account of themselves.

In the end, however, Liverpool’s quality told and, although they never hit top gear, Moses’ goal midway through the first half and Sturridge’s strike on the hour mark were enough to send the Merseysiders into the fifth round of the FA Cup.

Brendan Rodgers’ decision to start a strong team was quite surprising considering the fact that Liverpool play Everton in the second Merseyside derby of the season at Anfield on Tuesday night. Nonetheless, with no other Cups available for the Reds to win, the Northern Irishman clearly valued progress in the FA Cup enough to start the match with his big guns out on the pitch, rather than resting on the bench. In addition, injuries limited the amount of rotation he could engage in.

Sturridge, Suarez, Coutinho and Gerrard all started, with Jones, Kelly and Moses the only changes to the team that drew 2-2 at home to Aston Villa last time out.

Bournemouth began the brighter, asserting early pressure on their opponents. Brad Jones looked particularly vulnerable, flapping worryingly at a few set pieces, including Francis’ curling free kick, which the Aussie keeper had to back track to tip over the bar.

The Cherries also regularly exploited the lack of protection offered to Kelly by Coutinho down the Reds’ right hand side, as Charlie Daniels broke clear and centred a left wing cross to Andrew Surman, who flicked a header wide of goal.

At the other end, Liverpool rarely looked like threatening, playing most of their attacking football in front of Bournemouth, whose defence dealt relatively well with the infamous SAS. Surprisingly, and encouragingly, Victor Moses, who has been rightly lambasted for failing to impress during his loan spell at Liverpool, was the away side’s greatest threat, dribbling purposefully down the left wing on two occasions and reaching the by-line but lacking support in the box.

After Gerrard wastefully sent a free kick high over the bar, Moses also opened the scoring on 26 minutes. Liverpool counterattacked and Suarez sent a cross square to the 23-year old Nigerian international, who sent a powerful low strike through the legs of a few defenders and into the bottom corner from the edge of the box.

Moses was much improved against Bournemouth and opened the scoring
Bournemouth keeper Lee Camp should have done better at his near post, but that doesn’t detract from the quality of Moses’ impressive strike. Hopefully it will inspire him to perform better during the second half of the campaign.

Although they had the lead, Liverpool were still not particularly impressive and Bournemouth threatened to reply quickly. Ten minutes after the opener, Kelly was exposed down the right wing and Daniels and Surman combined before the latter’s strike was deflected behind by a crucial block from Kolo Toure. The resulting corner was headed just over by Elphick, as the South Coast side showed their potential.

Frustratingly, Henderson then blasted high over the bar when well-positioned after composed build-up play from Suarez, as the former Sunderland man wasted a golden opportunity to put the visitors firmly in the driving seat at the interval.

Seven minutes after the restart, Skrtel, who performed ably throughout and was arguably Liverpool’s best defender, won a key aerial battle with Surman to prevent the striker testing Jones. The Slovakian even managed to control his normally insatiable desire to pull opponent’s shirts at set pieces. 

Unfortunately, Kelly couldn’t keep his hands to himself, and was extremely fortunate to escape punishment from referee Lee Probert after he clearly pulled Francis’ shirt in the box at a corner kick.  

To rub salt in Bournemouth’s wounds, moments later the SAS struck a fatal blow. Suarez expertly slipped Sturridge through on goal, and the England international scored his 10th goal in 14 FA Cup career appearances in front of the Three Lions’ manager Roy Hodgson, who was watching on from the stands.

From Bournemouth to Brazil: Sturridge's goals will surely earn him a spot in England's World Cup squad
Although the hosts responded positively, Grabban thrashing wide at the near post, that passage of play was probably the moment Liverpool won the match. Of course, had the Cherries nicked one back it could have created an interesting and nervy conclusion to the contest, but the second goal seemed to be the clincher, particularly coming so soon after Bournemouth were unfairly denied the opportunity to equalise from the penalty spot.

In the closing stages Sturridge and Suarez went close to adding to the Reds’ lead, the former lobbing the keeper but hitting the bar and the latter sending a looping strike over the bar when he perhaps should have done better.

Jones had to beat away Grabban’s toe-poked effort in injury time, but late pressure from Bournemouth thankfully never materialised and Liverpool progressed through to the fifth round of the FA Cup.

The Reds made hard work of what should have been a relatively routine cup tie, but all that ultimately matters is that the Merseysiders won the match and earned a place in the fifth round draw tomorrow afternoon.

Winning when you’re not at your best is a trait of top teams and it’s encouraging to see the Reds claiming victories despite failing to reach top gear. However, let’s hope they put in a much-improved performance versus Everton on Tuesday and achieve a similar score line in the crucial six-pointer against their neighbours.


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