After failing to navigate League Two side Exeter City in their first meeting at St. James Park, anything but a win in the replay at Anfield would have been a disgrace for Liverpool, but with the Kop roaring them on, the Reds eased past the Grecians and into the next round of the FA Cup.
Joe Allen got the hosts off to the perfect start when the tapped home a cutback from Brad Smith, but it was a familiar story up until Sheyi Ojo’s wonderful strike late in the second half with Jurgen Klopp’s men failing to open up a commanding lead despite controlling the match. With the match now looking well and truly outside of the reach of the visitors, Joao Carlos Teixeira combined with Christian Benteke to add a third and send the locals on their way with grins on their faces.
“I really have to say thank-you to the crowd because I could not have imagined tonight would be so loud, in a rematch against a League Two team with the information that we would play with young players,” enthused Klopp. “It was a special atmosphere, it was great and it was a really enjoyable night for football. The lads enjoyed it, I could see that, and I spoke to them after the game,” he continued before hailing his young side, “Everybody could see it. They worked hard, created chances and scored goals, wonderful goals.”
Which, of course, stands in sharp contrast to our recent outings. That the starting eleven was composed of players unlikely to feature when the Reds visit Carrow Road on the weekend is hardly worth noting — you can only beat the team that’s in front of you with the players that you have on the pitch and we did that quite handily to set up a meeting with West Ham United at the end of the month.
That the hosts were able to keep a clean-sheet was just as satisfying as the fact that they found the net more than once, though playing on a better surface than in the first leg, the opposition lacked the pace to really trouble the back-line too much with the likes of Tiago Ilori and Simon Mignolet spectators for the most part.
“It’s not so much frustrating, more disappointing. But also proud of what we’ve achieved. We had our chance in the first game, I think that’s the reality of it,” Grecians boss Paul Tisdale told BT Sport following the final whistle. “We’ve come here tonight and we wanted to enjoy it but also put on a performance with some intent and some purpose. It took us a while to get that into our game, to be honest,” explained the Exeter manager. “We lacked real purpose in the first half and it took us a while to get going, but we knew as soon as we put more attacking players on near the end it would open up, and it did.”
With the Hammers — who have beaten Liverpool quite easily twice already this season — waiting in the next round, it’s highly unlikely you’ll see a team this packed with youth and the occasional fringe player deployed again this season, but there’s a few of them that have given Klopp, as well as the rest of us, food for thought.