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Saturday, January 07, 2006

Luton Town v Liverpool - Excellent FA Cup Saturday finish

The best FA Cup tie on Saturday saved to last. From the start, Luton Town had little fear and much more courage than anticipated. They have won more at home this season and have emerged from the lower leagues to the Championship and at the moment are settled three places from the play-offs in 9th place. But on paper their form seemed impressive, while on the BBC cameras, they came out to scalp. These two last met in the competition in January 1987, where I recall two matches beginning with Kenilworth Road and 0-0, a fortnight later it was Anfield and again 0-0, back to Kenilworth Road again, possibly astro-turf (QPR and Luton were renowned for their astro-turf in those days), and we were humbled 3-0, by Brian Stein, Mick Harford and Mike Newell. Newell is the current manager with Stein his assistant at Luton now.

Liverpool settled into the Kenilworth Road stadium, good link play with Djibril Cisse and Peter Crouch to find Steven Gerrard for our 1st, and then after that we seemed laid back, to be polite. Luton aimed to be first to the ball, good, firm accurate passing and we seemed somewhat lethargic. Our defence duo of Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypia were at times chasing around as Luton's forwards kept them busy, and we were opened by Luton's own Steves', Howard and Robinson, the latter touching a great through ball to the former, Howard rounding Steve Carson to equalise.

But Liverpool couldn't keep shape to attack with any ability to pressure Luton, almost every ball was met by a Luton Town player and they made a number of head-ons too, despite the height of Hyypia. But height wasn't needed for their 2nd, Carlos Edwards fed Robinson from the right and Robinson touched the ball skillfully round Carragher first time, which teed him to strike past Carson. This was a big shock for me, as Liverpool looked painfully abject in form. This wasn't Ataturk but we needed another big comeback, 2-1 to the home side at half-time.

Come the 2nd half, Liverpool looked lively as Harry Kewell, who seems to be getting better in form, came down the left and passed for the advancing Gerrard, the ball was too hard and it rolled past, yet Gerrard came down in the area under Paul Underwood's touch and a penalty was given, which was a good decision. Cisse stepped up but Marlon Beresford guessed right and held onto the effort too. And to make it worse for Liverpool, a pass back to Hyypia was miscontrolled, leaving Rowan Vine one-on-one with the keeper and then judged to have been fouled by Carson in the box, which produced a booking for the keeper. Replays showed it was actually Vine who stamped on Carson's right foot, which incidentally happened outside the box and the Luton man certainly didn't step forward to admit to the error, making more dispute of the challenge that could have had Carson sent off. Carragher and John Arne Riise recovering probably persuaded the ref to produce the yellow anyway. Skipper Kevin Nicholls put it away, despite Carson going the right way. It seemed we would be out again at an early stage.

So, a penalty that was but not scored for Liverpool, and then one that wasn't and scored for Luton Town. But Liverpool are of a resolve now where they may not play well but they do not give up. They came back against Bolton and now they aimed to do so against Luton. Rafael Benitez changed Mohamed Sissoko for Florent Sinama-Pongolle, another Frenchman at the club clubs were seeking to obtain, and he made an excellent contribution almost immediately. Five minutes on and he raced onto a Gerrard through ball to fire past Beresford. Then seven minutes later Xabi Alonso picked onto a loose ball some 35-40 yards out in the Luton half and sent a looping effort high and completely over Beresford with acute accuracy. This is how I expected Liverpool to answer, how they should answer.

This was better from Liverpool, coming alive when the chips are down. We sensed we could get something, having equalised, and came forward with more lethal intent. Steve Finnan is looking better at right back and in coming forward. Five minutes after Alonso's goal, Finnan crossed from the right for FSP to jump and head his 2nd and Liverpool's 4th. And even then Luton were still coming at us. Benitez introduced new signing Jan Kromkamp, for Crouch, 10mins from time, leaving Cisse and FSP upfront. The Dutchman went on the right wing and got into stride, creating an attack to square for FSP, who dummied for Gerrard but his shot went wide. Finally, Cisse made way for Stephen Warnock, and was booked for taking too long. Warnock allowed Riise to float down the left, Kewell up with FSP.

But in the dying moments of injury time Luton attacked and Finnan cleared a dangerously loose ball in the box for a corner after it came off Riise's foot. Beresford came up but the ball was headed out. As it came back towards goal Gerrard headed it away, it went high and came down outside the box and was met by Riise with a high foot, from which a Luton Town player seemed to have been injured but the ref waved play to continue. Alonso picked the ball up in the middle of our half, Gerrard to his left eager to tear towards goal if passed through quick enough, Beresford remained up and challenged Alonso but was evaded, leaving the Luton goal open. Instead of finding Gerrard, the Spaniard aimed a curling left-foot effort towards goal from within his own half, and it bobbled and bobbled in the Luton half nearer the goal and went in. Gerrard exclaimed annoyance and then congratulations as the aim was achieved. Funny moment.

In summary, Liverpool started well and could have looked to add to Gerrard's goal but Luton Town have great courage and vigour and had settled well into a routine of battling for the ball, creating runs and opening up the Liverpool defence to be 3-1 ahead. This was another FA Cup classic for the archives, for me, and could have been another early exit at the hands of another Championship side. The Liverpool players showed excellent spirit to not let their heads down and to get more effort into their game, and Luton Town showed that they have spirit themselves to ascend into the Premiership.

"If we do not keep progressing, there will come a time when players move on. Premiership clubs and big Championship teams will be aware of our better players. It might be something that concerns me in the long run, but we have a great opportunity in the second half of this season, and we have to grasp it....and we are in a position where we can go and claim the big prize." - Mike Newell in December.

After this tie, clubs will be aware and Luton almost got that big prize. But they also showed they have a good claim to be there come May in contention for promotion.



Blogger SKG said...

if anyone thought the fa cup had lost any of its magic, then please rewind to last evening's sensational match. it had eveything you could ask for. as a liverpool fan i am over the moon that we got through. but hands off to luton who were simply remarkable. and a special mention must go to alonso who scored from 40 yards and then 60 yards!

1/08/2006 12:07 pm

Blogger RedsMan said...

Being the current European Champions made little bones with Luton, certainly hats off to them indeed. The sour note for me was Vine, who stepped on Carson's foot and then dropped easily when he could have gone on, and even went on after as if he wanted justice for it all. In contrast was Newell's response after each goal, didn't celebrate as most would, understandably, as if he felt it wouldn't be over until the final whistle and therefore waited until then to celebrate. Benitez is equally as calm, because anyone knows that a goal can come from anywhere at anytime, anyhow.


1/08/2006 12:54 pm

Blogger T said...

I enjoyed the match but was disappointed at the way Luton failed to show discipline once they had earned the two goal lead. They kept pushing loads of players forward which aided Liverpool's attempt at a fightback.

This match was interesting for me for seeing the recently excellent Liverpool defence concede three goals, and it could have been more.

Pongolle is rated highly by Skippy here at EFT, and as he is a great judge of a striker I was not surprised to see FSP expertly finish with a powerful shot and header. Alonso's first goal was a beauty!

Benitez is very harsh to have wanted the Luton defender to be sent-off when the ball was going out of play.... but I didn't see him similarly appealing when Carson was let off the hook!

I differ with you Redsman - and for that matter Ian Wright - Re Luton's pen. For me the fact the ankle of Carson was where Vine placed his foot means that it is a foul if the attacking player than loses balance and goes down.

1/08/2006 1:21 pm

Blogger RedsMan said...

Benitez had applied the technical law to the incident, in that the referee judged the contact on Gerrard by Underwood in the box as a foul, the ball hadn't gone out and there was a chance of Gerrard making to the ball before it could have gone out of play. From his point of view, Benitez may have considered it a goal scoring opportunity. I would say it would be harsh as it was not a clear-cut goal scoring opportunity.

For Luton's penalty, Carson made the decision to use his right foot to thwart the path of the ball. He cannot envisage pre-hand where Vine would place his foot to avoid making contact. The contact which was judged to have fouled Vine was made by Vine himself onto Carson, not the other way round to award the decision in Vine's favour. In open play with such a circumstance, play would be waved on. Also note that when the contact, by Vine, onto Carson, was made, Carson did not pull his foot away, therefore no intent to unbalance Vine. If a player is to be penalised for having his foot in the immeidate area where another player with the ball steps on it, then there'll be a lot of freekicks.

I recall the uproar when Robert Pires was running into the Portsmouth box at Highbury and replays showed his foot made contact with Stefanovic, intentionally or otherwise, instead of the other way round (the defender hadn't even apporached Pires to make a tackle), and Arsenal were awarded and scored from the penalty.

To have conceded a penalty from that incident was bad enough but to have Carson sent off as well would have been an immense travesty. Replay clearly shows this.

At least Benitez saw the incident! On the evidence of the replay, it would be equally harsh to ask for Carson to leave, even if it was requested by his manager!


1/09/2006 1:00 am


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