NOT for the first time, Luis Suarez lent Liverpool a helping hand yesterday.
But the controversy that has become as prevalent in the Uruguayan’s career as his outrageous talents meant Conference side Mansfield Town were left up in arms as Brendan Rodgers’ men side-stepped a potential FA Cup banana skin.
Suarez’s hotly-disputed 59th-minute strike ultimately earned Liverpool passage to the fourth round after an unnecessarily difficult afternoon against a team 93 places below them in the league ladder.
It wasn’t quite the handball that infamously helped Uruguay through to the semi-finals of the last World Cup. But, whether intentional or not, the ball struck Suarez on the hand after his initial shot rebounded off Alan Marriott.
The striker’s subsequent sheepish celebrations as he tapped home into the unguarded goal suggested he knew as much.
Cue another tiresome debate over Suarez, the perennial pantomime villain. Yet it was referee Andre Marriner and his assistants who were at fault by failing to spot the clear infringement.
So much for the Stag party after the wedding. Rather than freshly-hitched Mansfield manager Paul Cox, it was Daniel Sturridge who savoured his honeymoon period.
Sturridge took only seven minutes to announce his arrival by scoring the quickest goal by a full Liverpool debutant since Bob Glassey in 1935.
A surprise starter having not played in almost two months, Sturridge demonstrated enough during a 55-minute appearance to indicate his
purchase will provide Liverpool a sharper cutting edge and Suarez some much-needed support.
While Sturridge could cite rustiness for his failure to net a possible first-half hat-trick, there was no such excuse for Liverpool’s collective wasteful finishing that allowed Mansfield’s Matt Green to set up a grandstand finish by pulling a goal back 11 minutes from time.
This, of course, is nothing new, Liverpool’s inability to press home an advantage a recurring theme this campaign and one Rodgers must keep
working to address in the January transfer window.
It meant the Anfield outfit, eliminated at this stage of the competition three times in the last six seasons, were made to fight all the way by a Mansfield side who admirably refused to throw in the towel and, for a spell immediately after the interval, gave a much-changed Liverpool a real fright.
Step forward, for the umpteenth time, Jamie Carragher. The 34-year-old may no longer be a first-team regular but he still possesses in abundance the character required to negotiate such afternoons.
This was the Stags' biggest home game in a generation, with some resourceful fans, unable to purchase a ticket, peering over the fence surrounding the unoccupied section of the three-sided Field Mill.
Only Stewart Downing, Andre Wisdom and Lucas Leiva survived the cut from Liverpool’s midweek swatting of Sunderland, with Suarez benched
and skipper Steven Gerrard, Pepe Reina, Daniel Agger and Glen Johnson among those who didn’t travel.
They missed Sturridge announcing himself to his new club in the best manner possible, sent clear by Jonjo Shelvey’s precise throughball and
converting first-time beyond Mansfield goalkeeper Marriott.