Liverpool 2 - West Bromwich Albion 3
Albion pulled off a magnificent win at Anfield to dump Liverpool out of the FA Cup, but despite this being Liverpool's first defeat on home soil since April, all the talk will all be about something else.
The game got off to a flying start when a mixup between Jonny Evans and Ben Foster gave Mo Salah a shot; Foster managed to save but the rebound fell to Firmino to chip into the empty net. Jay Rodriguez responded with two strikes in four minutes - one absolute belter through the heart of the Liverpool defence after great control of a pass from Chris Brunt, and one neat finish after Grzegorz Krychowiak fed Kieran Gibbs to cross into the box.
Albion thought they'd scored again on 20 minutes but the Video Assistant Referee (a.k.a. Andre Marriner banged up a shed near Heathrow) was called into play and determined that Gareth Barry, stood in front of Simon Mignolet, was active in play and offside and it was eventually deleted from the scoreboards.
Three minutes later, the VAR was called into action again when Jake Livermore appeared to touch Salah who threw his hands in the air and fell to the ground in theatrical fashion. But the VAR couldn't quite seem to make his mind up, and referee Craig Pawson eventually had to go to the technical area and look at the video replay for himself - the first time this has ever been done. After a good three minutes the penalty was awarded but Firmino hit it against the crossbar.
Albion finally got the two goal lead in the second minute of added time. Craig Dawson, playing at right back after Gibbs had gone down with a hamstring injury and been replaced by Ahmed Hegazi, put a cross in and a deflection by Joel Matip put it into the Liverpool net; this time the VAR review allowed the goal to stand.
The second half was relatively quiet by comparison, Liverpool making for a nervous end for Albion when Salah finally got a goal with twelve minutes to play and both Livermore and Evans spent the last minutes limping with injuries, but they held on thanks to a series of great saves by Foster.
The FA will no doubt be reviewing their clever new review system, though most seem to agree that it did at least get the decisions right... eventually. Alan Pardew will no doubt be wondering if he has eleven players fit enough to face a tough midweek trip to Manchester City and Jurgen Klopp will no doubt be wondering why a great deal of money spent on his defence appears to have made it worse.
The last time we played Liverpool in the FA Cup was in 1968. After a goalless draw at the Hawthorns, followed by a 1-1 replay at Anfield, the second replay at Maine Road ended 2-1 to Albion, making the overall score... 3-2. And we all know how that Cup run ended!
A great team effort for 65 minutes and then, like almost every game this season, we hung on desperately, retreating in ever-decreasing circles until Liverpool pulled one back. The difference this time was that we had had a two goal cushion and it proved to be just about enough. J-Rod had his best game in an Albion shirt and looked world class, not only in the way he took the goals, but through his control and tireless running.
We took Liverpool apart at times in the first half and if we had played like this since the start of the season we would be in good shape. It started badly though when a mix up between Evans and Foster gave Firmino an easy chip in. In fact Evans played like he had a few things on his mind and was not at his sharpest.
We seem blighted by hamstring injuries. Not sure if this has to do with fitness or what? By midway through the first half we had used two subs. This meant that when our aging midfield ground to a standstill in the 65th minute we only had the pedestrian Yacob to come on.
I have been an enthusiastic advocate of VAR, so it was with a sense of irony that I watched us get shafted twice in the space of three minutes at both ends of the pitch. My understanding is that VAR is to be used only in the case of clear referee error. Neither case seemed compelling to me and the penalty call also showed Salah committing blatant simulation, for which nothing was done.
However, that's three wins and a draw in four games and surely the lads must be gaining confidence. I hope we approach the Man City game in the same vein. I just hope the crocks and pensioners will recover by then. Well done lads!!!
Did anyone else see a subliminal 3 second "Do it for Cyrille" on BT-TV just before the match?
Brilliant, absolutely brilliant stuff from the Albion!
I thought the lineup was strong and sensible - and better than feared with the flu bug. And I thought in the opening few minutes we showed signs of what was to come - passing the ball out and through the pitch brilliantly and bypassing Liverpool's high press. Evans, Barry, Greg, Gibbs, Brunt and Jrod in particular passed it so well that we cut right through them.
The first goal was comical, the ball did seem to stop rolling although Evans should have dealt with it. Great finish by their forward though who had it all to do. But we hit back straight away with fantastic aggression in a high press, with Brunt charging through and feeding JRod who smashed it home brilliantly.
5 mins later it was Greg leading the charge and he fed a great ball to Gibbs who crossed for JRod to hammer home again.
We wouldn't have scored either of those goals under Pulis. We'd have run away as soon as Liverpool got the ball and Gibbs would never have played so high.
There then followed a crazy period of VAR - a harsh pen, a goal that looked OK to me, another great goal supplied by Greg and Dawson. Breathless stuff and highly entertaining.
We saw the half out having played fantastically but with injuries looking like a problem.
Second half we continued to play well but I thought we gradually sat back and really missed Barry's quality on the ball when he went off. And fair to say at the end we were hanging on but there were heroics and we might have done better on the break.
I'm sure I'm not the only Albion fan massively proud of the players, the staff and the whole club, and it's a great credit that the players really had a go. Imagine being a player going away to Anfield in the FA Cup - there can't be many bigger games in football and the likes of JRod, Greg, Barry, Brunt absolutely revelled in it and played as if their lives depended on it.
Our in-game management impressed me too - the players sensed that Liverpool were ropey at the back and they fed off it in that first half. It was like we couldn't wait to get on the break and go at them.
Obviously the injuries are a blow, especially Gibbs who was outstanding again, but we have to keep the momentum going and I think this has proved what many of us have thought - there is a really decent team in this squad. I just hope we haven't left ourselves with too much to do in the league because it still looks like a really massive task to survive with little room for slip-ups.
City is a throw-away. A decent battling performance that keeps momentum going is all we need whatever the score is. Southampton is a massive game.
That was a spectacular performance. The BT commentary team were only talking about Liverpool playing badly and nothing about how we had played them off the park for 70 minutes. Only as the final whistle blew did they say how well we played.
I take it all back from my post last week about Krychowiak. Today he was magnificent and like he is the Polish Captain. His best performance for us by a mile. Hegazi - what can you say about this guy? He is absolutely sensational. If his mate is as good, let's get him in too.
A truly special night. We do not sometimes make our own luck, but tonight especially in the first half, we looked so, so good.
I worry about the injury to Gibbs, as he is a class act and we need him, Livermore, Robson-Kanu and Jonny. But you know IMO, it may be time to let Jonny go, as he is really injury prone. Get a good deal for him and bring in Hegazi's mate in to replace.
What a performance. Thank you Alan Pardew for bringing football back into our club.
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