League Two Plymouth hold Liverpool at Anfield
Hosts have the possession but not the quality as Pilgrims earn priceless FA Cup replay
Daniel Sturridge challenges Oscar Threlkeld during Liverpool’s 0-0 FA Cup draw with League Two Plymouth. Photograph: Reuters/Andrew Yates
Liverpool 0 Plymouth Argyle 0
It may not rank as a bonafide upset but try telling that to the thousands who descended on Anfield from Devon to see Plymouth Argyle secure a goalless draw at Liverpool and a valuable replay. The celebrations in the away end started long before the final whistle as Derek Adams’s League Two side got the result they came for and added to the fixture congestion for Jürgen Klopp.
Klopp rang the changes but even with a full strength team – and Liverpool finished the third round tie with a forward line of Divock Origi, Roberto Firmino, Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana – it would have been difficult to pick a hole in a well-drilled Plymouth defence that contained 10 men for most of the 90 minutes. The rueful smile on the Liverpool manager’s face as he shook Adams’s hand at full-time said it all. One of those days.
Moments before kick off the entire Plymouth team walked towards the Anfield Road end to applaud the 8,600 away fans who had made the early morning, 300-mile journey north. They never ventured much further for the next 45 minutes as Liverpool dominated totally against opponents who may be riding high in League Two but whose over-riding ambition at Anfield appeared a goalless draw. It made for a hugely satisfying half-time for the stubborn visitors and their vociferous support but also a grim spectacle.
Klopp made 10 changes to the Liverpool team that drew at Sunderland on Monday and in the process fielded the youngest starting XI in the club’s history, with a forward line comprising Ben Woodburn, Ovie Ejaria and Sheyi Ojo bringing the average age to 21 years and 296 days. All three impressed – particularly 17-year-old Woodburn with his awareness, movement and touch – and all saw plenty of the ball in a first half that resembled a training ground exercise of attack versus defence.
Liverpool’s problem was it was a defence containing 10 green shirts, one prepared to throw itself in the way of every cross, every shot and every attempted through ball. Sonny Bradley typified their commitment with a commanding display in central defence but took the spoiling tactics too far with a series of pinches on the ear, armpit and side of Emre Can. The Germany international had every right to bring his complaints to the match officials.
The rearguard action succeeded to the extent goalkeeper Luke McCormick had more touches than any other Plymouth player in the first half but no serious save to make. Ojo should have worked the goalkeeper better, indeed scored, with a free header from close range after Can’s blocked free-kick was sent back into the penalty area, but the winger’s effort was tame and straight into McCormick’s grasp. Divock Origi did beat the keeper with a low finish from six yards but only after being penalised for a pull on Gary Miller.
Plymouth’s defensive ploy may not have been entirely by design – as a slightly more adventurous second half display suggested. Liverpool were simply so much quicker to the ball and on the ball than Adams’s players, ensuring the visitors’ midfield were easily caught in possession or closed down on the few occasions they did venture forward. The men in green showed greater urgency and ambition but their cause was not helped by the loss of striker Paul-Arnold Garita and right-back Miller to what appeared serious injury in rapid succession. Miller was given oxygen as he was stretchered off with his right knee strapped up and to a sporting ovation from the Anfield crowd.
Yet Argyle continued to dig in and resist. The finest compliment to Plymouth’s performance was the introduction of Sturridge, Firmino and Lallana from the substitutes’ bench as Klopp sought to avoid an unwanted replay. The crosses rained in from right and left, Sturridge twice went close with low, rasping shots and McCormick gratefully pounced on the ball when Trent Alexander-Arnold’s free-kick deflected off Connor Smith during six minutes of stoppage time.
Plymouth had their moments to relieve the pressure too but Jake Jervis shot well wide of Loris Karius’s goal with substitute Craig Tanner well-placed inside and a free-kick from an inviting position was wasted. Not that the massed ranks from Devon had any cause for complaint when the final whistle sounded. Job done. All to play for at Home Park.