Goals in extra-time from Daniel Sturridge and Jordan Henderson saves Liverpool blushes at Anfield
So much for learning their lesson. Whether it be a second-string or a strong starting line-up, Brendan Rodgers’ side continue to make life difficult in domestic cup competition.
A surprisingly strong Liverpool line-up made it three wins out of three by eventually dismissing Notts County to progress to the third round of the Capital One Cup last night.
But boy, were they made to work for it.
Rodgers admitted to making mistakes after his side infamously slumped to League One opposition in the form of Oldham Athletic in last season’s FA Cup, having earlier been undone in the campaign at home to Swansea City in the League Cup.
And they were close to a repeat here as an alarming second-half collapse threatened to add County to the hall of shame.
First-half goals from Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge had seemingly ensured a smooth passage while maintaining the early momentum going into Sunday’s Premier League visit of champions Manchester United.
But, as in their previous two games this season, Liverpool fell away noticeably after the interval.
And County, in the League One drop zone with only one point from their first four games, succeeded where Stoke City and Aston Villa failed by fighting back through goals from Yoann Arquin and substitute Adam Coombes.
Throw in injuries to debutant Aly Cissokho, Joe Allen and Kolo Toure, and what at one point appeared a straightforward confidence-building exercise for Liverpool was transformed into a potentially damaging evening.
But extra-time goals from Sturridge – taking his tally to 15 in 19 appearances – and substitute Jordan Henderson settled a nervy Anfield.
Toure’s departure on a stretcher early in extra time meant Liverpool, with all their substitutions made, were forced to play out the final 20 minutes of a draining extra time with 10 men.
It was hardly the best preparation for United’s imminent visit, with Rodgers now facing a selection headache at centre-back with Martin Skrtel still unfit.
Mindful of last season’s chastening cup experience, Rodgers fielded a line-up that included Simon Mignolet, Steven Gerrard and Sturridge.
Nevertheless, there were six changes with youngster Jordon Ibe and new signing Cissokho given first starts for the club while Luis Alberto was handed a debut.
Cissokho’s evening, however, didn’t last long. Requiring treatment on his ankle after a hefty challenge from County winger Jamal Campbell-Ryce, the Frenchman eventually had to concede defeat by limping off after only 10 minutes.
Liverpool had already wrested the initiative. Sterling, making his first start since the Europa League defeat at Zenit St Petersburg in February, epitomised
Liverpool’s lively start as part of an attacking midfield triumvirate alongside fellow youngsters Ibe and Alberto.
And Sterling took only four minutes to open the scoring, receiving the ball 35 yards out and dancing beyond County centre-back Manny Smith before smashing a shot beyond goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski.
Liverpool almost doubled their advantage on 19 minutes. Gerrard floated in a free-kick from the right and Daniel Agger, on for the stricken Cissokho, glanced a header against the inside of Bialkowski’s far post.
With Sterling effervescent down the left and Ibe causing problems with his close control on the opposite flank, Rodgers’ men were vibrant going forward.
And the second duly arrived just before the half-hour. An exquisite throughball from Gerrard found Sturridge in space inside the area, the striker taking one touch before firing a finish across Bialkowski into the bottom corner.
Apart from beating out one free-kick by Arquin, Mignolet was a spectator. At the other end, Bialkowski produced a fine stop to deny Agger’s header from a Gerrard corner before Gary Liddle was fortunate not to concede a penalty when felling Ibe inside the area.
The post came to County’s rescue again four minutes before half-time, Gerrard striking the woodwork from Sterling’s pass after a fine Sturridge ball had released the winger.
But Liverpoolthen criminally took their foot off the gas after the interval and County capitalised.
After Callum McGregor fired a shot that was saved by Mignolet on the hour, the visitors were back in the game two minutes later.
Mark Fotheringham’s deep free-kick was nodded back across goal by Smith and Arquin reached the ball before Toure to power home a header from eight yards.
Liverpool responded. A Gerrard cross was headed against the base of the post by Toure, while another fine pass from skipper was headed wide by Sturridge on the run.
But with Liverpool’s defence worryingly stretched, the visitors were level six minutes from time, goalscorer Arquin crossing from the right to the far post where Adam Coombes, with his first touch since coming on as substitute, sidefooted home.
Extra time was made more tiring for Liverpool by Toure’s exit. But after makeshift right-back Sterling survived a penalty claim on Enda Stevens, substitute Philippe Coutinho broke down the other end and released Sturridge, whose angled drive went through a weak attempted save by Bialkowski and trickled over the line.
Victory was secured when Henderson, lively on replacing the injured Allen, literally ran straight through the County defence and finished with aplomb.
Liverpool breathed a sigh of relief. But there remain plenty of lessons to be learned for Rodgers and his players.
LIVERPOOL (4-2-3-1): Mignolet; Johnson, Wisdom, Toure, Cissokho (Agger 10); Gerrard, Allen (Henderson 65); Sterling, Alberto (Coutinho 72), Ibe; Sturridge. Subs: Jones, Aspas, Lucas, Borini. BOOKINGS: Wisdom and Sterling (both fouls).
NOTTS COUNTY (4-4-2): Bialkowski; Dumbuya, Liddle, Smith, Stevens; Campbell-Ryce (Thompson 70), Labadie, Fotheringham (Boucaud 77), Bell (Coombes 82); McGregor, Arquin. Subs: Spiess, Tempest, Murray, Nangle. BOOKINGS: Campbell-Ryce and Arquin (both fouls).
REFEREE: Stuart Atwell.