EXETER 2-2 LIVERPOOL
Liverpool’s youngsters have earned themselves and the club we love a FA Cup replay. Impressive.
I call us “youngsters” because we basically fielded a squad of Academy players. Footballers who had little to no experience in the first team.
It was a risk by Klopp, but in the end the manager was right to have chosen as he did. There was no defeat for Liverpool. We held our own in the knockout competition that could possibly have seen us not continuing any further, but this was not the case.
You’re likely to spot three familiar names in the starting 11 here. Benteke, Enrique and Bogdan. From the substitute bench, you’d probably also know Lallana and Lucas at least. Other players Liverpool had listed were far less well known. Exeter City fans must have been looking at the teamsheets and wondering where all the regular Liverpool players were.
The rest were Academy players, young stars for the future. Unproven at this level, until now. They all proved that despite being inexperienced, they wouldn’t be beaten.
Exeter would be playing in a confident, attacking style despite being the “underdogs” from a lower football division, going up against the Premier League club. Shockingly, Exeter would even open up the scoring as within ten minutes, a goal was conceded by Liverpool.
Around 9 minutes in, Liverpool were on the defensive. Exeter had run down towards our right wing and Jamie Reid crossed low into our penalty area, managing to place the ball past Tiago Ilori and Jose Enrique both before finding Tom Nichols who slid in to poke the ball past Adam Bogdan from close range. Exeter 1-0 Liverpool.
Liverpool didn’t dwell on this event. We just made sure to fight for every ball and kept our chins up, continuing with the game. It would also not be long before Liverpool also had a goal of their own.
Less than 5 minutes later, the score would be level once more. Liverpool had been inside of Exeter’s penalty box. What could easily have been a penalty kick as Christian Benteke was pushed down to the ground led to Jerome Sinclair collecting the ball as Benteke was dispossessed and Sinclair took his opportunity well while under pressure to calmly place the ball past the Exeter goalkeeper from close range.
Exeter 1-1 Liverpool.
Liverpool did not stop there. We would seem more confident at having a goal of our own now, it seemed to motivate us to try for more. Jerome Sinclair would press up the pitch again and again, taking every chance he could to go get himself another goal.
It was exciting to watch our youngsters play with such passion. Very few of these players had been alongside each other on a pitch in a professional fixture before, but it did not seem to stop them from showing their talents off, one by one for the Liverpool fans.
There was end to end football, where Exeter had just as many attacks as Liverpool did in the first half. We were not dominating or overwhelming our opposition, it seemed rather even to be honest.
Liverpool could easily have been drawing 1-1 at half time, though this would not happen as nearing the final minute of the first half, Exeter won a corner. What happened next was just amazing. Lee Holmes would step up to take the corner kick, bending it from the far right corner of the pitch and curling it past Adam Bogdan and directly into the net. Yes, Exeter would score directly from a corner kick.
Nobody touched the ball even once before it made it’s way into the net. Exeter 2-1 Liverpool. Had Liverpool cleared this threat and maybe gone in at the break drawing, they may have even won this fixture. But Exeter had taken a lead and now the referee would blow up for half time.
Liverpool’s half time team talk by their manager must have included one simple thing for the next half: SCORE. This is the FA Cup, a knockout competition and trailing by a goal was likely to see you get knocked out. We had to equalise again or Liverpool would not play any further part in the FA Cup.
The second half began and seemed to go by rather fast, with an increasing feeling of nervousness at our situation. More attacks came. More shots would be blocked or saved. Still Liverpool trailed by a goal and the chance that we’d lose 2-1 grew higher and higher with every passing minute that went by as we closed in on the final whistle of the game.
We’d create chances. There was a very nice header by Benteke that could have been an impressive goal, though ended up being an impressive save. The Exeter goalkeeper would deny the Belgian.
One extra thing that we were battling against was the pitch we played upon. Exeter’s ground offered more mud than grass, it seemed. The rain did come down at times on this dark and partially wet evening in England. This affected the surface the teams were running about. A few times, Liverpool’s players slipped and fell down to the ground with very little assistance to do so from Exeter’s defenders. It was the pitch which was to blame. It’s one of the reasons that I’m glad Liverpool will travel back to our home stadium to replay this FA Cup fixture now. The pitch at Anfield is simply better and will make for a better performance from the players.
The minutes went by and by the 70th minute, Klopp would decide to make a change to our lineup. Lucas and Lallana were sitting on the substitute bench but surprisingly, our manager would not use either of them as he remained rather dedicated to the use of young Academy players in this fixture. What would happen is Jerome Sinclair (our goalscorer) would be replaced by Sheyi Ojo.
Ojo is a talented young midfielder who has spent some of this season on loan at Wolverhampton, even scoring twice in the 17 appearances he’d make for them. He’s kept fit and that surely is one of the reasons his loan spell is over and he’s once more a part of the Liverpool team again. It’s no secret that our current injury crisis is giving opportunities to new players who haven’t had much first team experience. Now it’s possible they’ll replace an injured player.
Ojo made an almost immediate impact on the game. At first he’d throw a cross that would find nobody into the box, but he certainly wouldn’t give up there. After that, he’d make his way down the left wing and then smash a ball right into the heart of the penalty area. An Exeter defender (Aaron Davies) attempted a clearance of the ball, but it went directly to Brad Smith. Smith didn’t take long after collecting the ball before taking his shot and smashing it into the net from about ten yards away.
Smith had been the one who cleared the ball out for the corner that Lee Holmes would score from in the first half. I’d say he made up for that by scoring Liverpool’s second goal and at least allowing us to take the FA Cup fixture back to Anfield for a replay.
I’m tempted to name Brad Smith as Man Of The Match for his goal, though I was slightly more impressed by another player who also scored for us. Jerome Sinclair.
Sinclair battled hard for all balls that were in his area of the pitch, never giving up and showing a determined attitude from the moment the game started to when he would be replaced by Sheyi Ojo in the 70th minute. He was calm under pressure when he scored his goal and I would like to see him gain more opportunities to play for Liverpool’s first team in the future. If we continue in the cup after our replay with Exeter at Anfield, I’d like to see him keep making more and more appearances in this competition at least. All the way to the Final! He’s a player who could work well, keeping calm and collected even in a big game atmosphere like a FA Cup Final. That’s what I like about him mostly. Well done, Jerome Sinclair.
As I said earlier it was exciting to watch these youngsters play, but also rather scary too. The risk our manager had taken to include so many inexperienced players at one time was great and not guaranteed to pay off with an acceptable result, though it would eventually. A little faith in the manager is now restored as we saw his plan put into action and work well enough to achieve a draw in the FA Cup.
I’m happy enough with this result and will look forward to the replay at Anfield. The youngsters have all proven themselves in front of the new manager and I’m very proud that they were not beaten in their FA Cup match. This moment may be spoken about for years… “remember when we had a team full of youngsters for our FA Cup game and we didn’t even lose?”. They’re all a part of the history of Liverpool FC now.
Liverpool will continue to a Premier League fixture against Arsenal within the next week. They’ve made it to the top of the Premier League Table in recent weeks, going above Leicester who have also been considered a title contender. We’ll just see how Arsenal handle us at Anfield before deciding which one of those teams are better, I think. We’ve beaten Leicester this season. We could beat Arsenal too.
Just walk on with hope in your heart, Anfield Family. You’ll Never Walk Alone.
[written by] Stuart Drewery.
I’m an Englishman (born and raised in Liverpool in the 80s). My whole family including my parents and grandparents were Liverpool fans so I was born into being a red.
I’ve seen Liverpool win the league (about 25 years ago) and I’ve been 100% loyal and committed while supporting the Reds through all the good times AND the bad times since the 80s.