Liverpool booked their place in the quarter-finals of this season’s F.A. Cup with a resounding 6-1 victory at Anfield on Sunday evening. The Reds, who face Cardiff City at Wembley in the Carling Cup Final next weekend, came through with a sensational second-half performance to set up a home clash with Stoke City in the next round.
Liverpool, playing in a 4-4-2 formation with Carroll and Suarez partnered up front, Henderson and Downing on the flanks and Gerrard and Adam in central midfield, handed Jamie Carragher his record equalling F.A. Cup appearance in a Reds shirt, at the heart of the defence. Craig Bellamy and Daniel Agger were rested, with next week’s Wembley trip in mind. The home side started positively and were one goal up after just five minutes, Carragher’s defensive partner, Martin Skrtel, rising at the near post to glance home Steven Gerrard’s corner, after Downing had forced Brezovan into a good save.
Liverpool continued to dictate the play and dominate possession, however on 17 minutes, they were hit by a sucker punch as Lazenga Lualua, drilled a superb right-footed free kick through the disintegrating defensive wall, and into Pepe Reina’s bottom right-hand corner. The Spanish stopper had no chance, as Brighton fans of a certain age were beginning to remember their side’s famous F.A. Cup victory at Anfield back in 1983, when former Anfield hero Jimmy Case got the winner in a 1-2 win.
The way in which Liverpool responded meant that these reminiscences would be short lived, Luis Suarez, who’d started quietly, was growing into the game, and he combined beautifully with Downing, only for England man’s cross to be cleared from danger. Five minutes later, Suarez turned on a sixpence in the Brighton penalty area, slipped the ball past the last defender, but, unfortunately for him, the goalkeeper got to the loose ball first. Five minutes before half-time, Suarez picked up the ball about 40 yards out, beat two Brighton players, and hit an early right footed effort from 16 yards with the outside of his boot, the goal-bound effort was cleared off the line superbly by Calderon. From the resultant corner, Suarez deftly controlled the dropping ball, taking three defenders out of the game, and hit a shot which Brezovan could only push out as far as Glen Johnson, Johnson’s header went in off Bridcutt to make the half-time score 2-1.
In the second-half Liverpool came out renewed, Andy Carroll, who’d had a good first half causing the Brighton back four, El Abd especially, all sorts of problems with his size, also began to link up well with Gerrard, Suarez and Downing. It was the combination of Downing and Carroll that provided the Reds with a third goal in the 57th minute; Downing’s magnificent burst from midfield, and pinpoint cutback allowed Carroll to slam home a well-executed, first time finish from 12 yards.
The confidence was coursing through Liverpool’s veins by this point, their crisp, incisive play, and the relentless Red wave, pushing ever forward, had the Seagulls totally rattled. This fear factor was confirmed when the away side scored two more own goals in the space of four minutes. The first, in the 71st minute, came after a driving run from Liverpool skipper and talisman Steven Gerrard, Gerrard drove the ball across goal from the narrowest of angles, and there was Bridcutt, again unable to sort his feet out, to bundle into his own net. The second came from a Luis Suarez cross, which defender, Dunk, mis-controlled while attempting to clear, allowing the ball to get away from him and trickle over the line.
Liverpool were rampant, and they weren’t finished there, a flowing attacking move ended when, substitute, Dirk Kuyt was upended before he could get his shot away. Penalty to the home side and, with Gerrard having just come off along with Henderson and Downing, Kenny Dalglish signalled for Luis Suarez to take the kick. It was a poor penalty however, which Brezovan saved, to the clear frustration of the Uruguayan, but the Little Wizard still had one more trick up his sleeve. Five minutes from time, Jose Enrique stood up a fantastic cross to the back post, Andy Carroll rose to meet it, and instead of going for glory himself, nodded it back across goal perfectly, for Suarez to cap a truly emphatic Liverpool performance with a close range header.
Liverpool through to the next round to play Stoke, and manager Kenny Dalglish will be hoping that his side can produce a display such as that in the Carling Cup final next week. Gus Poyet, who described his teams defending as “comical” at times, will doubtless be disappointed, but will concentrate now on making sure his Brighton side reach the Championship play-offs at the end of the season. Next stop for Dalglish, Suarez, Carroll, Gerrard and co., Wembley!