FA Cup fourth round – January 26th 2008 – Result
Liverpool 5 Havant and Waterlooville 2
From the beginning of this supposed David v Goliath tie got the non-league team didn’t look at all troubled or overwhelmed by the occasion, although that might have changed after just three minutes when Yossi Benayoun headed Liverpool’s first chance wide.
Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez had picked a side that were more than capable of making easy meat of a side five divisions below them, but in those opening minutes it would have been hard to tell which side was the big name. In fact that was much the case for the vast majority of the first half; Liverpool were poor, Havant and Waterlooville were excellent.
Shortly after Yossi’s missed header came a Havant corner following a slight scare when a Potter shot was blocked. The corner went straight to goalkeeper Itandje, who released Babel to run at Havant with his speed, but the opportunity was wasted. At this point in the game anyone watching would have expected Liverpool to start taking control, for Havant’s decent start to come to an end. But this is the FA Cup, and as clichéd as it is, these sorts of games are what the competition is all about.
Instead of taking control, within a couple more minutes Slovakian Martin Sktrel, making his first start for the Reds, nervously knocked the ball out for a needless corner. It’s hard to tell if it was a backpass that didn’t work or an attempt to concede a throw-in that didn’t work – but it didn’t work, whatever it was. The corner was taken and a season filled to the brim with off-field despair for Liverpool at the hands of owners most fans want out was now going even worse on the field.
Eight minutes gone; Liverpool 0, Havant and Waterlooville 1; Richard Pacquette the scorer.
Skrtel’s error set the pattern for the rest of the game in what, to be fair to him, was his first ninety minutes in a couple of months. In effect, he’s still in pre-season mode, the Russian league ending for winter rather than summer. His confidence was shot, not helped by being in a defence that seemed to be uncharacteristically out of sorts, and certainly not helped by having to play in front of a keeper that was reminding supporters of flapping and blundering goalkeepers of the past, the type of keeper we’ve had far too many of since the long reigns of Clemence and Grobellaar. But we thought we’d seen the last of those when Reina arrived.
The home fans were in shock, in silence, something the 6000 travelling supporters, almost ten times Havant’s normal home gate, revelled in mocking.
Crouch spent much of the game as the lone striker, but nobody was in the box when John Arne Riise provided what should have been a golden chance for the Reds on 12 minutes, his tempting cross finding its way across the front of goal with nobody in a red shirt gambling ready to knock it in.
Benayoun earned Liverpool their first corner of the game after thirteen minutes when his shot was deflected. But as seems to be the case a little too often with Liverpool corners this Pennant effort amounted to nothing. It was the first of fourteen corners for the Reds, pretty much all of which were poor.
A couple of minutes later and Riise came the closest so far for Liverpool. Spotting that Havant goalkeeper Scriven was off his line the Norwegian full-back attempted a chip from the corner of the box, which narrowly went over the bar.
Pennant next corner was after 17 minutes and was parried out by goalkeeper Scriven. It fell to Riise who tried one of his old specials – old because he doesn’t get them these days – but the shot was blocked. This allowed Havant to break, and although nothing came of it the underdogs were causing more concern. The Havant fans were loving it; the already heavily wounded Liverpool fans were stunned.
The amazing stats after 20 minutes showed the two sides were level on shots on target and level on corners, with Havant ahead on possession and, more worryingly, ahead on goals. The low confidence the Reds squad has been suffering from of late seemed to be blocking them from getting back out of this mess. Liverpool seemed flustered.
This was more so on the midway point of the first half. Charles Itandje made a meal of things after a Havant free-kick, with perhaps only nerves seeing Havant’s attempt on goal from outside the box fly over with Itandje lying hopelessly on the floor in the middle of the area. Itandje may not be first-choice keeper, rarely getting a game between the sticks and perhaps rustiness played a part. But most of the others on that pitch in a Red shirt would be expected to put in a decent fighting performance against Inter Milan, never mind Havant.
Another wasted corner from Pennant lead to another scare for Liverpool, Havant claiming the ball from the wasted corner and back up at the Kop end in seconds, with Skrtel again looking out of his depth.
Havant held their lead well but then, after 27 minutes, came the first touch of class from the Liverpool side, and it came from the youngest player in a Red shirt, Lucas. The Brazilian got the ball outside the box, made some room for himself and curled the ball in from around 25 yards, his first goal for the Reds. It would have been his second but for the goalkeeping skills of Phil Neville in the derby. The Reds were level again on the scoreboard, but Havant weren’t about to fold as a result of this. It’s this spirit that saw Havant get to the fourth round.
It wasn’t just Havant’s spirit that left Liverpool fans sensing more danger. With Charles Itandje in goal this game was never going to safe unless Liverpool scored a hatful of goals, and as we approached the half-hour mark another blunder from the Frenchman saw Havant win another corner, which Itandje flapped out of the box unconvincingly. Thankfully nothing came of it, but it was only delaying the inevitable.
The inevitable happened on thirty minutes, Liverpool had only stayed level for three minutes. Havant had kept possession from that corner, and Smith crossed to Wilkinson, who fed Potter, who in turn capitalised on a Finnan mistake to take a shot at goal. It clipped Martin Skrtel before hitting the net, to add to his nightmare, to make the bookies start to sweat and to leave Liverpool fans holding their heads in their hands, with visions of seeing this match replayed on TV every FA Cup weekend for eternity.
Liverpool were out of sorts, it was becoming embarrassing and even when the Reds got the ball in the box nobody seemed interested in getting near it. These were players who were getting a chance to show they deserved a place in the side on a more permanent basis. A chance to show they should be involved when the bigger games came round, against supposedly more difficult opponents. But instead of proving they were worth that chance they proved little more than Rafa’s point that the squad needs much more work and investment yet.
Ryan Babel is seen by some as the answer to all Liverpool’s problems, the argument being that if only he was allowed to start more often we’d win more games, yet he barely managed to control the ball properly, let alone show his qualities as saviour in this first half. But it was defence where the trouble was coming. Riise was showing some good signs going forward, but the rest of the defence were doing very little to earn their wages. Finnan looked rusty after a lot of time out of the starting line-up this season for various reasons, Skrtel looked frightened and Itandje looked like a comedy keeper. Sami Hyypia can only do so much on his own; he can’t do the job of nearly half the team by himself.
As the nightmare continued in that first half Mascherano’s passing was off target, Yossi Benayoun didn’t seem to know where he was supposed to be playing and Pennant’s most notable contributions were his wasted corners. Crouch just seemed to be somehow wearing a force-field that meant the ball never got anywhere near him. Only Lucas was showing any signs of deserving a place in the next match.
Fortunately for Liverpool, certainly in its timing, came a second equaliser. A minute from half-time, always referred to in the game as good time to score or a bad time to concede, it was hardly deserved. Yossi Benayoun got it; Jermaine Pennant got the assist, Benayoun smashing it in from the edge of the box. Havant were still trying to regroup after losing full-back Warner to injury and must have already been imagining the surely impossible scenario of going into the dressing room at half-time in the lead at Anfield. Just a couple more minutes and they’d have had that, and it could have been a very different second half.
Havant will still have been delighted to go in level, but Rafa will have been fuming, feeling let down by a team full of players unwilling to fight for the chance to get the season back on at least part of the right track again.
Whatever he said to the players did have a little impact. The second half got underway with Liverpool looking slightly better – but only a little. Rafa seemed to have told his players to show some patience, and so the build-up play was much improved. The end product was much the same of late though, just not really there, at least for the first ten minutes of the half.
In the 52nd minute Finnan crossed a wonderful ball into the box for Crouch, who chested it down before taking his first shot at goal all game, but it hit the full-back and went out for a corner. The corner was yet again wasted, and was yet again followed by a Havant counter. It was a relieved Liverpool side that saw the ball scrambled out for a throw as they once again looked stretched. Stretched against a team from five divisions below. They needed a goal, and badly.
That goal came ten minutes into the half and at long last Liverpool showed some good teamwork which saw Pennant get into position to cross from the right hand side of the area. His cross was met by Yossi Benayoun, who got his second of the game. After being behind twice, Liverpool were now in front for the first time in the game. Surely Liverpool would be able to build on this.
A minute later Crouch was set up by Pennant and his shot was tantalisingly close but went inches the wrong side of the Kop goal. Just after that Havant brought off their opening scorer Pacquette to some good applause.
After 59 minutes Yossi Benayoun got his second hat-trick of the season when Ryan Babel’s shot was parried by the keeper. Yossi had certainly started to improve on his first-half showing, and it was perhaps the first meaningful contribution of the game from Babel, the first time he’d shown the skill he was capable of. Yossi would have found it harder to miss than score when the rebound came his way.
4-2 to Liverpool, and a bit of a cushion at long last.
In fact the Israeli captain was getting the bit between his teeth and three minutes later he could have scored his fourth goal, which would have been the best of the lot. It wasn’t to be – his excellent volley was matched by an excellent save from Scriven. The Reds were starting to look truly confident for the first time in the game. It’s a huge credit to Havant that it had taken them an hour to show such confidence.
The confidence was less evident at the back. A free-kick was given away in the 65th minute and after Liverpool’s trouble with set-pieces against Villa on Monday there were concerns. The free-kick lead to a corner, which Liverpool failed to deal with, Itandje again looking lost and certainly looking the least useful of the two keepers on the pitch. Thankfully the danger ended when a Havant shot flew over bar for a goal kick.
Mascherano hadn’t been having a game of his usual high standards, which was bad timing if there is any truth in the rumours that Hicks is about to try and pacify the supporters by finally allowing Rafa to sign him permanently. But like the rest of the team he was starting to show his true quality.
For all their growing belief going forward, the team were terrible at the back and approaching the 70th minute the Slovakian Skrtel and the French Itandje seemed incapable of communicating with each other, almost letting Havant in from a back-pass. Havant weren’t planning to roll over and die, which combined with the shaky defence meant the tie was far from over.
It could have been over when a great run from Mascherano, tearing down the left-hand side like any decent winger, saw him unable to actually spot a colleague to pass it to. His teammates were on a different wavelength and in the end he was forced to run into the box before attempting to beat the keeper from a very tight angle. A goal was never likely from that position, but he won a corner. Which of course was wasted.
Yossi was withdrawn after 72 minutes, assured of the match ball for his hat-trick. In his place came Dirk Kuyt, hoping to finally get a goal after a season where despite all his hard work he has struggled in front of goal. The first time the Dutchman got the ball in the box he passed it back to Mascherano when a confident striker might have tried turning and the chance was gone. With ten minutes left he headed the ball into the ground, not the best effort but it still won a corner. This, again, went to waste, like the one did two minutes later. And the one earned from a deflected Riise shot a minute later still was also wasted.
Chances were coming more and more and Kuyt had another shot saved with seven minutes left, a decent effort and on target, Crouch knocking the rebound wide.
Martin Skrtel must have thought his game was over with six minutes left when Carra stood on the touchline waiting to come on, but it was Sami Hyypia who made way, no doubt Rafa deciding he needs him for the next game. Skrtel’s debut wasn’t helped by having such a poor goalkeeper behind him, and when he gets a start in front of Pepe Reina, perhaps with the ever-shouting and organising Carragher alongside him, we’ll see what the club scouts saw in the defender.
Steven Gerrard came on with just about four minutes left, to the delight of the Havant players who’d spoken before the game of their hopes of facing the Liverpool captain. He came on as the Reds were facing a set-piece, and from that came a shot at goal that forced Itandje into action, and finally the keeper made a good save.
Once again Kuyt showed how his unselfishness is his undoing. With two minutes left he dummied instead of shooting, leaving the ball for Crouch who just didn’t expect Kuyt to leave it. A shot at goal then and Kuyt would almost certainly have scored, and a goal is what he needs above all else right now.
Eventually a chance was put away when Crouch made the score sound a little more like predicted before the game. It was right at the end of the 90 minutes, tapping in from a couple of yards. It was typical of Crouch; even after a poor game he often still finds a way of getting a goal. 5-2 to the Reds.
As the stoppage time ticked down the Reds got another corner from a Gerrard shot saved well by Scriven, but of course the corner was wasted.
Havant were the team getting the applause from all around the ground at the end, they deserved their two goals, they deserve their place in the history books, and Liverpool were quite relieved in the end that they got into the fifth round draw without needing a replay. The applause turned into a standing ovation from the Kop and from the rest of the ground as the Havant team went to applaud both their own fans and the Kop.
The owners’ statement, or at least Hicks’ statement, yesterday, spoke of backing the manager, but it will take more than just words for that to even start to be believable. Rafa will feel the same, although he’ll be more aware of the transfers that are in the pipeline – or not – than anyone outside the club.
He was asked if he was relieved at the “backing”, and although his face didn’t suggest he was, his words did: “Yes, for sure. Hopefully we can talk about football in the next month and it will be very positive for the team. It is important now to talk about football so that everything is okay and hopefully it will be better.”
As poor as Liverpool were, Havant’s performance deserves a lot of praise, and the gap between the teams didn’t look as large on the pitch as it does in the league tables. Rafa said: “Credit to them, they did everything they could and when they scored early on it gave them a lot of hope.”
Rafa wasn’t going to hide behind excuses; he admitted that the Reds simply weren’t playing to the standards expected of them: “We were very disappointing in the first half, our defending was not good enough, but in the second period we believed they could not keep their high tempo, and that is how it turned out.”
It’s typical of this cup though, says the man who’s been accused – unjustly – in the past of not understanding the traditions of the competition: “The FA Cup is like this, it is a fantastic competition. When you see a club five divisions below us playing like that and giving everything it shows what a great competition this is.”
On Benayoun’s hat-trick he said: “It’s good for Yossi and for us. I think he was really good in front of goal. If you want to find positives there are not many, but the result was really good for some players – especially for Yossi but also for Crouch, getting a goal.”
He went into more detail about how disappointed he was with his team: “The first half was really disappointing. We did not defend well, that is clear. Defensively we were poor, starting with the strikers. When you play against a team with less quality then you, you just have to do your job in defence and it is simple to control. We did not do this, we were conceding the second balls and we gave them a chance.”
It was totally unexpected for Rafa to see his team go behind: “We were talking about scoring early, not conceding! It was a surprise and it’s something we need to learn from. You cannot say that any team is easy until you play the game. In football, when you think you must win, you don’t have anything to win. The anxiety this causes means sometimes the players make more mistakes.”
The team were clearly better after the break: “We needed to work really hard and the second half was much better. We played some good attacking football and played with more pace. We just needed to get the second equaliser and start the game again with a different mentality.”
He recognises the achievement and effort Havant’s appearance in Liverpool’s famous stadium represents: “It’s a fantastic competition where a team can progress through three rounds and then come to Anfield. That is how amazing the FA Cup is. The atmosphere was good and for them to score one and then two goals was really good. They will have some good memories.”
Rafa knows the defence was poor, but refused to criticise new signing Skrtel in public, insisting he’s going take time to settle: “It’s not easy to analyse a player after his first 90 minutes at Anfield. He was okay, he did a lot of good things but the understanding with the other players will take time.”
Liverpool: 30 Itandje, 3 Finnan, 37 Skrtel, 4 Hyypia (23 Carragher, 84), 6 Riise, 16 Pennant, 20 Mascherano (8 Gerrard, 87), 21 Lucas, 11 Benayoun (18 Kuyt, 72), 15 Crouch, 19 Babel
Subs: 40 Martin, 9 Torres
Goals: Lucas 27, Benayoun 44, 56, 59, Crouch 90
Havant and Waterlooville: 1 Scriven, 2 Smith, 5 Jordan, 6 Sharp, 3 Warner (15 Taggart, 40), 7 Harkin, 4 Wilkinson (14 Oatway, 74), 8 Collins, 11 Potter, 9 Pacquette (12 Slabber, 57), 10 Baptiste
Subs: 16 Gregory, 17 Taylor
Bookings: Wilkinson 32
Goals: Pacquette 8, Skrtel 31 (og)
BBC Stats: (Liverpool – H&W)
Possession: 57% – 43%
Shots on target: 19 – 3
Shots off target: 11 – 4
Corners: 14 – 5
Fouls: 8 – 14
Sky Stats: (Liverpool – H&W)
Possession: 51.7 – 48.3
Shots on Target: 10 – 2
Shots off Target: 10 – 3
Blocked Shots: 10 – 1
Corners: 14 – 5
Fouls: 8 – 15
Referee: Phil Dowd