THE expectation and the reality there. Billed as a cup cracker, in theory it seemed at the very least intriguing. Even more so given the Frankenstein’s monster of a Liverpool team, thrown together from a pool of recent loanees, kids and a forgotten man that should have remained so.
A 14-strong unit that had never previously existed as one until this evening deployed to take something from a televised match on a bog of pitch in the name of Liverpool Football Club. Get the popcorn, this could be interesting.
The match had echoes of a competition called the Liverpool Senior Cup. When all the local Liverpool area sides across the levels go head to head. When young Liverpool sides take on gnarly old non-league sides — one team with the touch to die for and the guile to raise eyebrows, the other with the cynical physicality and the nous of a hundred battles on a slop of a surface.
It’s not a head to head you normally see. A change from the norm. Something different. Part of the remaining charm of a cup struggling to remain relevant.
How would Liverpool fare against the toil and trouble of a team playing one of the games of their lives?
And perhaps we’d learn something. Perhaps this collection of waifs and strays just needed this stage. This big chance. They’re all professionals. All paid by Liverpool. Someone, somewhere saw something sometime. Perhaps we’d see it now.
That was the expectation. In truth, despite the outpouring of superlatives on the final whistle, what’s the reality? Liverpool have drawn with a team 16th in League Two. It’s great for Exeter, and you’d have to have a heart of stone to not feel for their players, who squeezed out everything they had to secure a rematch at Anfield.
For us, though. What did we find out? That Adam Bogdan isn’t good enough. That those who screamed “you’re shit ahhh” on every kick from the Hungarian don’t look far wrong. That Liverpool desperately need a goalkeeper (or two). Now.
That Jose Enrique hasn’t been unlucky, mistreated, frozen out or anything else. He just isn’t any good. The pass delivered into the stand under no pressure on 87 minutes his night in a nutshell, the ease with which he was bypassed for the first a sign that it’s time to cut our losses and wave goodbye.
That failing to stop crosses isn’t exclusive to the first-team regulars and that even a different set of players can’t work out how to get something out of Christian Benteke (great save yes, he should score though, no?).
That staying in the hat is a positive. A defeat to an old money Fourth Division side isn’t a blot Liverpool should accept in the history books, no matter what the circumstances. Some might shrug about a cup, not something I can understand, but the club has a name and reputation to respect and honour. When you lose to the little clubs people remember. Northampton. Roy Hodgson. Exactly.
Liverpool showed *some* fight tonight — and it was just enough. Tiago Ilori isn’t the worst footballer in the world after all but he was pulling no trees down, just his socks. £7million? Worrying the first teamers? Nope. Capable of “doing a job” sometime soon. Maybe.
Brad Smith has got something about him and took his goal well. Ryan Kent is bright, Joao Teixeira can be clever, Cameron Brannagan has some nous and desire and did some good things in both boxes while Ojo looked exciting — all put some plus points on their football CV but it was hardly kicking down the manager’s door stuff.
Jerome Sinclair scored and transformed Aidy Ward’s eyes into dollar signs. It’s unlikely to be Liverpool coughing up on that performance though. Sorry, mate.
As a team, was there enough collective hunger? Enough hunting in packs? Enough will to make it happen over the 90? It’s hard to judge one way or another given the context, but it did seem too easy for Exeter at times.
It’s not entirely clear how Jürgen Klopp feels about it all, either. Lucas Leiva and Adam Lallana seemed like the break glass and win game options. And yet they remained watching from the bench as the Reds emerged from the mud to fight another day with Klopp sporting an expression that said “arsed”.
Perhaps he was was desperate to tick a few more boxes on his watch list as he formulates a long-term plan. Perhaps he’s just completely bamboozled by English football and needs a week off.
Now we must do it again. And he didn’t look too thrilled by that prospect.
At least then, an escape from the embarrassment. A solid foot placed down on the screaming banana skin. One finger in the eye for the schedulers desperate to screen an upset and two fingers to the blerts in the stand singing about Steven Gerrard.
So what now? Liverpool sweep them aside at Anfield? Class shines through in the end and we move on to the next round? That’s likely the expectation.
Well that remains to be seen.
Pics: Propaganda-Photo–David Rawcliffe