Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Penalty madness as poor Reds progress

Liverpool required 120 minutes plus a penalty shootout consisting of 30 spot kicks to beat Middlesbrough in the third round of the Capital One Cup.

The match may have got off to a dream start, but it almost ended as a nightmarish disaster for Liverpool last night. 17-year old debutant and Academy graduate Jordan Rossiter provided the perfect opening as he netted after only ten minutes, but Boro responded and were arguably the better team for the rest of the game, Adam Reach equalising on the hour mark.

Aitor Karanka’s side stayed strong and took the game to extra time, where substitute Suso looked to have won it for Liverpool, but another remarkable twist in the dying stages kept the visitor’s hopes of a cup upset alive, as Toure conceded a penalty which Patrick Bamford duly converted. Thirty penalties later, the relieved Reds were celebrating the narrowest of victories in the most weird and wonderful of cup ties.

It was a fitting conclusion to a match that reminded us why we love cup football. However, Rodgers will be far from happy with how the game transpired, as the same old problems cropped up yet again, this time against obviously weaker lower league opposition. Liverpool’s attack rarely troubled Jamal Blackman, a Chelsea loanee who was making his first ever senior appearance in goal for Middlesbrough, while defensive errors preceded both of Boro’s goals, as the game followed a frustratingly familiar pattern.

Intending to use the low-key fixture as an opportunity to rest senior players and give squad members a chance to stake a claim for more regular first team action, Rodgers made a host of changes to the starting line-up. Toure and Enrique came in at the back, while Rossiter debuted alongside Lucas and Lallana in the middle and Lambert fulfilled his boyhood dream of captaining the club.

Surprisingly, although other key players, such as Gerrard and Balotelli, were rested, Sterling started and played for the full 120 minutes, which was a strange decision by Rodgers. Surely it makes more sense to rest Raheem in the Capital One Cup than in the Premier League, which is what the Northern Irish man did recently when Aston Villa visited Anfield.

Nonetheless, the match went much to plan in the opening stages, and Jordan Rossiter made the ideal start to what will hopefully be a long and successful career at Anfield after only ten minutes. The talented teenage midfielder reacted quickest after Blackman made a good save to deny Lambert, striking the ball through the keeper’s legs and into the net from 30 yards out.

Dream debut: Rossiter started the match and his Liverpool career perfectly
It was a great goal and fantastic to see an Academy graduate doing so well on his debut, although caution must be urged and comparisons with club captain Steven Gerrard are to be avoided because Rossiter needs the time and space to develop without being burdened with the ‘next Gerrard’ tag, which could well be more of a hindrance than a help.

Unfortunately, Liverpool failed to build on their lead and Middlesbrough slowly came back into the match, producing a couple of decent goalscoring chances before the break as Kike’s left footed shot was blocked on the half hour mark and Lee Tomlin called Mignolet into action with a powerful 25-yard strike eight minutes prior to the interval.

The North East outfit, who made seven changes to the team that beat Brentford 4-0 on the weekend, carried on from where they left off after the restart as well, Tomlin cracking a shot wide instantly before Boro’s efforts were rewarded on the hour mark with a fully deserved leveller.

Predictably aided by poor defending, Adam Reach buried a free header from four yards out in front of ecstatic travelling supporters after referee Mike Jones had awarded a free kick following a handball offence by Sakho.

Reach netted a deserved leveller for the visitors
Smelling blood, Boro went for the win and almost pulled off a giant killing within the 90 minutes. Reach headed another effort wide, while Adam Clayton was denied by Mignolet and the woodwork as Liverpool lived extremely dangerously, relying more on good fortune than robust defending to keep Boro at bay.

Nevertheless, Liverpool should have been awarded a spot kick in injury time, as ex-Red Daniel Ayala headed the ball against his own hand, but Boro rode their luck and, to be fair to them, their performance had already earned them the right to extend the contest by an extra half hour.

With hopes of a gentle build-up to Saturday’s Merseyside derby dashed, Liverpool improved in extra time as they sought to finally win a match that should have been so much more straight-forward. Suso, who should have started, replaced Markovic on 97 minutes and soon shot over after good work by Lallana, Sterling and Balotelli.

The silky Spaniard wasn’t to be denied, though, and he scored what seemed destined to be the winner on 108 minutes. Enrique and Sterling had already tested Blackman in quick succession, before Suso rounded off a fine move down the left by firing home from 12 yards, much to the relief of the Kop.

Taking one last roll of the dice, Karanka made a double substitution, introducing forwards Jelle Vossen and Patrick Bamford. It paid off, as the latter turned out to be Boro’s late rescuer, although he was helped in large part by tactical naivety from Sterling and simple stupidity from Kolo Toure.

In injury time of extra time, Sterling gave the ball away by trying to do too much with it when he really should have just been taking it into the corner. As a result, Bamford broke clear before being ploughed down by Toure. A penalty was inevitably given, and Bamford dusted himself down to convert and send the match to a penalty shootout.

Thankfully, Bamford’s skills from the spot seemed to desert him in the shootout, as he was the only player to miss his penalty until Sterling’s night went from bad to worse when his decisive penalty, which could have ended the shootout and won the match, was saved by Blackman.

A penalty taking master class ensued, with every member of each team taking a spot kick, some twice. Eventually, Albert Adomah was the unlucky one to miss, inflicting an arguably undeserved sudden death on Middlesbrough, who had been valiant opponents but just lacked Liverpool’s experience in high pressure penalty shootouts.

Relief and joy for the Reds at the end of the penalty shootout marathon 
Liverpool’s lucky escape was a relief, as an early cup exit in the week before the Merseyside derby would have been extremely demoralising. However, the drama and excitement of a thrilling night of football mustn’t mask the fact that the Reds simply weren’t good enough again, either defensively or in attack.

A promising performance and morale boosting win against neighbours Everton, who are also struggling currently and exited the Capital One Cup last night following a 3-0 defeat at Swansea, is essential to kick-start Liverpool’s season.


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