When Liverpool square off against League Two opposition, a fightback to earn a replay isn’t exactly the headline you want to see, but with Reds boss Jurgen Klopp changing up every single position and naming one of the collectively youngest teams to don the famous shirt in the FA Cup amid the ongoing injury crisis at Anfield, what, exactly, did you expect?
Tom Nichols gave Exeter City a dream start when he got on the end of low cross to poke past Adam Bogdan less than 10-minutes after kick-off, but the visitors were straight back into it when Jerome Sinclair equalized with his first senior goal for the club less than 5-minutes later when he swept home past Bobby Olejnik. The hosts wouldn’t be denied though and they’d take a lead into the break when Lee Holmes scored directly from a corner kick to embarrass the Reds reserve ‘keeper and give the Grecians a shot at sliding through to the next round only to have Brad Smith spoil the party with a tidy finish late in the second half to send it to a replay.
To be fair, putting one more match on our plate is hardly the ideal situation, but when you’ve got eleven kids who have hardly played together — let alone know the system or the tactics — lined up against eleven men who play week in and week out in the same side, there’s going to be some mistakes. Some of them, like Bogdan’s blunder, could have been avoided and others were more on account of age and inexperience than anything else.
Oh, yeah, and that bog they call a football pitch.
“It’s obvious what we have to learn in the future,” said Klopp following the final whistle. “We have to be more robust. It was a difficult pitch. Exeter did really well. Maybe they know which part of the pitch you can play football,” joked the German manager. “It was really difficult for us today.”
The Liverpool boss handed debuts to midfielders Kevin Stewart and Ryan Kent while defender Tiago Ilori partnered Jose Enrique, who was making his first start in ages, in the center of defence. We’ve had problems forever with balls being played into the box and we did nothing to show that we’ve learned from that today with both of the Grecian’s goals coming from just that with Nichols toe-poke a finish you’d expect from a striker playing at a much higher level.
“I thought the boys were brilliant. We thoroughly enjoyed the draw and have a trip to Anfield,” the Exeter man told BBC Sport following the final whistle. “I was doing work with one of our coaches the day before. It was a great ball into the area and I got a foot on it,” he said of his goal. “The fans have been different class the last four of five games.”
Just what class that is might be debatable, but they’ll get a chance to take the show on the road when they visit Merseyside in what will be a big day for the League Two outfit. It goes without saying that the Reds don’t need another game, but it might be something to see these kids play on a surface that isn’t made of a pudding and with one or two first team players to add some age and experience in the starting eleven.
Of course, that’s if they don’t all have pulled hamstrings by then…