It was nervy at times, but Liverpool snagged two goals early in the second half to secure passage through to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup on a day when giant-killing was de rigeur.
A poor header from Martin Skrtel allowed Crystal Palace attacker Dwight Gayle to get the the hosts first real chance of the evening, and though Simon Mignolet was equal to his effort, the Belgian was powerless to stop Frazier Campbell from tapping in the re-bound. Liverpool saw more than their fair share of the ball for the rest of the first half, but they’d have to wait until after the break to restore parity when Jordan Henderson’s cross was finished with aplomb by Daniel Sturridge. Adam Lallana, lively throughout, would bag the winner not too long after when he followed up Mario Balotelli’s well struck free-kick to make sure the travelling Kop left Selhurst Park with a smile on their faces.
That, of course, is the first time that’s happened in awhile.
Last years three goal capitulation and the shambolic loss earlier in the season provided a the main talking points in the build-up to the fifth round showdown between these two Premier League sides and in the early stages it looked like it could turn into a running narrative when Gayle — ever the tormentor for Liverpool — forced Skrtel into an error against the run of play.
The Reds had enjoyed much of the ball in the early going, but Joe Ledley’s lofted ball towards goal saw the Slovakian head tamely back towards his own ‘keeper giving the Eagles winger more than enough time to show just how pacey his is. On form, Mignolet batted his header away and very nearly got hands to the follow-up, but Campbell was on the ball far too quickly for the Belgian to get there in time. With something to hold on to, Palace were keen to let the visitors play as they amassed numbers at the back with the Reds more than happy to oblige.
Lallana had a shot palmed away by Julian Speroni after some good interplay between him, Alberto Moreno Henderson on the edge of the area created an opening and there were many more to follow.
Philippe Coutinho’s long range effort and Joe Allen’s volley spinning just wide of the post was sandwiched between Gayle — on the counter-attack — breaking through on goal before being denied by the foot of Mignolet. Liverpool always looked like finding an equalizer and they did just that only four minutes into the first half when Sturridge’s beautiful take from Henderson’s cross saw the 25-year old finish calmly through the legs of the Palace ‘keeper.
Pegged back and looking short of ideas, there was little surprise when the hosts conceded again. Balotelli, who scored his first Premier League goal against Tottenham Hotspur midweek, replaced Lazar Markovic at half-time and he looked full of confidence standing over a free-kick at the edge of the area. Despite the Italian finding the net with a hard, low effort, Speroni was equal to it, but could do nothing to keep the rebound from finding the back of the net when Lallana was quick off the line to tap home what would eventually be the winner.
Both sides would have their chances as the second half ticked away, but it was ultimately Liverpool that came out on top with their bad memories of Selhurst Park put to bed — for now at least. The 3-1 loss in November has been more than a bit of a turning point for Brendan Rodgers side with only 2 losses in all competitions since that point blighting their record. The focus will quickly turn to the Europa League with Turkish side Besiktas visiting Anfield on Thursday night before a trip to Southampton at the weekend heats the race for Champions League football back up, but by the time that happens we’ll know who we’ll be facing in the quarter-finals with the slow march to the finals putting the bright lights of Wembley in our sights.