Suarez's helping hand guides wasteful Liverpool into the next round
Mansfield town 1 Liverpool 2:For one match only there was a “This is Mansfield” sign in the tunnel at the ground traditionalists would prefer to remember as Field Mill.
The idea was to see if it could have the same debilitating effects as its famous counterpart at Anfield and, at times, there was the distinct sense that Liverpool were not entirely comfortable in this “three-sided” ground, with its throwback pitch, up-and-at-them opponents and the broken windows in the dugout in which Brendan Rodgers was looking a little uneasy during the second half.
It had looked as if it might be a cakewalk when Daniel Sturridge marked his Liverpool debut by confidently scoring his first goal for the club but they had started to look decidedly vulnerable before Luis Suarez soothed their nerves with the second.
The Uruguayan now has 19 goals for the season but this one should never have been allowed. There was a blatant handball to put himself into the position to score and Mansfield, who themselves had three justifiable penalty claims for handball turned down, can be aggrieved, bearing in mind it was the point of the match at which they were threatening to bridge the gap between the side 93 places higher in the order of English football.
At the final whistle one of the Mansfield directors could be seen complaining they had been “cheated”. Suarez had used his hand to make sure he could squeeze the ball past Marriott but the referee, Andre Marriner, missed it.
Mansfield manager Paul Cox refused to condemn Suarez as a cheat, however, saying: “I don’t think he (Suarez) did anything wrong. It was instinctive centre forward play.”
His Liverpool counterpart Brenda Rodgers said: “I’m not sure what anybody wants him to do in that situation. It (the ball) hit his hand, there’s no question about that, but it wasn’t deliberate.”
As it was, there were still some anxious moments for Rodgers’ team after Matt Green scored with 11 minutes remaining. Green, a bustling striker full of hard running, deserved his goal and almost produced an equaliser with a 25-yard effort in the final moments.
The prize for Liverpool is a fourth-round assignment against Oldham Athletic. Mansfield will return to the business of trying to get back into the Football League and the ninth-placed team in the Blue Square Bet Premier can be encouraged by those moments when they enlivened their supporters in a sell-out crowd.
Liverpool, however, could also reflect on more missed chances than they will care to remember, particularly in the first half when Mansfield were in danger of being overwhelmed.
Sturridge was bright, lively and eager to impress even if, with a touch better finishing in the first half, he probably ought to have spared his new employers a difficult second half. Jonjo Shelvey stood out in particular, passing the ball at times as though he were playing on a bowling green rather than a pitch that looked as if it had been used for grazing cattle.
Shelvey’s pass for the Sturridge goal was the outstanding moment of the match, weighted beautifully and containing enough disguise and subtlety to dissect the entire defence. Sturridge ran on to the ball, shaped his body and side-footed his shot home.
For the rest of the first half, as the Mansfield goal led a charmed life, it had seemed perfectly reasonable that Rodgers had not only restricted Suarez to the role of substitute but had given several others, including Steven Gerrard and Pepe Reina, the day off.
This was a new, experimental team and that perhaps explains why they lost their way in the second half. Green was a constant menace and, though Brad Jones, deputising for Reina, made at least half a dozen saves, he also gave the impression at times of being vulnerable.
FA CUP FOURTH ROUND DRAW
Norwich v Luton
Oldham v Liverpool
Macclesfield v Wigan or Bournemouth
Derby v Blackburn
Hull or Leyton Orient v Barnsley
Middlesbrough v Aldershot
Millwall v Aston Villa
Leeds or Birmingham v Tottenham
Brighton v Swansea or Arsenal
Crystal Palace or Stoke v Manchester City
West Ham or Man United v Fulham or Blackpool
Southend or Brentford v Chelsea
Reading v Sheffield United
Huddersfield v Leicester
QPR or West Brom v Sheffield Wed or MK Dons
Bolton or Sunderland v Cheltenham or Everton
Ties to be played on the weekend of January 26th-27th.