Plymouth Argyle 0 Liverpool 1
It was one of those nights that reminded us why the FA Cup third round is so special, even if Liverpool ended up surviving the sort of giant-killing that would have troubled Jürgen Klopp for years to come. Plymouth Argyle, 66 places below Liverpool on the league ladder, played with courage and spirit throughout and came within the width of the upright of taking this replay into extra time.
Instead the Premier League club prevailed and can now look forward to a fourth-round tie at home against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday week courtesy of a collector's item from Lucas Leiva. Now in the twilight of his Liverpool career, the 30-year-old chose an opportune moment to rediscover his touch in front of goal with a first-half header that saw him score for the first time since September 2010.
Plymouth, however, pushed Liverpool right to the end and came agonisingly close to an equaliser in the closing stages when Jake Jervis met Sonny Bradley's knock down with a wonderful scissor- kick that clipped the post. For Jervis and Plymouth it was a case of what might have been.
As for Liverpool, relief was the over-riding emotion for a team that squandered an opportunity to put the game to bed three minutes from time when Yann Songo'o brought down Alberto Moreno and Divock Origi, in a moment that summed up his night, saw his penalty kick saved by Luke McCormick.
It was quite an occasion at Home Park, where the carnival atmosphere was a throwback to better times for a club that reached the FA Cup semi-finals in 1984 but has spent much of the past three decades knocking around in the bottom two divisions. The installation of 1,800 temporary seats along the Mayflower Terrace at the front of the stadium's creaking grandstand lifted capacity to more than 17,000, the majority of whom roared their approval when Loris Karius, the Liverpool goalkeeper, made a pig's ear of an early clearance.
For Klopp, who fielded Liverpool’s youngest ever starting line-up in the first meeting between the two clubs, the scene was set for what many imagined would be another game of attack against defence.
A key difference this time, though, was that Liverpool had a much more menacing look about them up front through the inclusion of not only Daniel Sturridge but also Philippe Coutinho, who started his first game since suffering ankle ligament damage in November. That Coutinho was involved in Liverpool's opening goal was no surprise. The same cannot be said, however, for the identity of the scorer.
To put Lucas's goal drought into context, Roy Hodgson was in charge at Anfield when the Brazilian last scored for the club. This time the pleasure was all Klopp's as Lucas got away from Paul-Arnold Garita, his marker, to meet Coutinho's corner with a near post header that McCormick got a hand to but was unable to keep out.
Plymouth could have been forgiven for fearing the worst at that point, yet they responded well and produced some decent passages of football in a first half that ended with the home supporters greeting a prolonged period of possession with chants of olé as the League Two club grew in confidence.
From Plymouth's point of view the only thing that was missing was a goal. They came close on a couple of occasions, no more so than when Oscar Threlkeld, their impressive right back, scampered down the flank, skipped past one challenge and delivered a dangerous low centre that Garita seemed destined to turn home. Only a superbly-timed challenge from Trent Alexander-Arnold prevented the striker from scoring.
The Liverpool right back, who was one of only two players to retain their place in the starting XI from the side that drew against Manchester United on Sunday, was also causing problems at the other end and could possibly have gone for goal, rather than trying to cut the ball back when Coutinho picked him out with a raking diagonal pass.
Plymouth, though, were proving to be awkward opponents and played with much more ambition than they showed at Anfield. Jordan Slew produced some nice touches, including a driving run that ended with Joe Gomez bringing him down on the edge of the Liverpool area. Moments earlier Karius had to be alert to repel a 25-yard shot from Irish midfielder Graham Carey.
The pattern of the game remained the same in the second half as the hosts, working tirelessly, continued to make life difficult for Liverpool, who badly needed a second goal. Ben Woodburn, showing a nice turn of pace, stood up a far post cross that eluded everyone, while Sturridge, running on to a pass from Lucas, ought to have done better with a close-range volley.
With the game just past the hour mark, Klopp withdrew Coutinho and gave 19-year-old Harry Wilson his Liverpool debut. Plymouth, though, kept pressing and it was a brilliant volley from Jervis that came so close to levelling the scores. Origi then passed up the chance to give Liverpool some breathing space from the spot.