Mansfield make for a nervy finish at Field Mill, where a controversial goal from Luis Suarez proved to be enough to send Liverpool into the fourth round of the FA Cup.
Mansfield 1: Green 79'
Liverpool 2: Sturridge 7', Suarez 58'
As promised, Brendan Rodgers rang in the changes, with only Andre Wisdom remaining from the defensive unit that kept a clean sheet against Sunderland on Wednesday. Brad Jones replaced Pepe Reina in goal, and Jamie Carragher, Sebastian Coates, and Jack Robinson started as well, and while Jonjo Shelvey and Joe Allen came into the midfield, they did so alongside Lucas, a surprise starter after playing 90 minutes midweek. New boy Daniel Sturridge got the nod in attack, flanked by Stewart Downing and Suso, and Rodgers picked a strong bench, with Luis Suarez, Raheem Sterling, and Jordan Henderson all included.
Liverpool bullied the opening minutes, holding possession and rarely conceding it. Mansfield couldn't scrape anything together other than a few hopeful balls over the top, and in the seventh minute they fell behind on a Sturridge opener. Shelvey sliced through a nice little through-ball as the recently-signed striker found a seam, and he opened himself nicely and finished on the first touch with his right foot.
He should have had another a few minutes later, again after being played in by Shelvey, but he lingered too long on the ball and outsmarted himself, giving Alan Marriott enough time to make a good save. Some smart defending from the hosts and carelessness from Liverpool left things a bit more balanced from there, and Matt Green had the chance of the half for Mansfield, blasting on Liverpool's goal only for Brad Jones to parry away well.
Mansfield continued their improvements straightaway after the break, with two quick chances within the first two minutes, and were it not for a flurry of saves from Brad Jones and blocks from Jamie Carragher and Joe Allen, they'd have had an equalizer. The introduction of Luis Suarez tilted the match back in Liverpool's favor, though, and minutes after coming on the Uruguayan put Liverpool 2-0 up.
It was, intentional or not, a blatant handball. I'm prone to blame the linesman for completely blowing it rather than Suarez using his magic wand of evil and foreign badness, but whatever, we're due for another round of he's ruining our beautiful game articles anyway. Mansfield deservedly clawed one back with just over twenty minutes to play, with Matt Green blasting through Coates and Jones to score.
Liverpool were dismal the rest of the way, and the least Mansfield should have gotten was a replay at Anfield. Ignoring the linesman's failure to call the Suarez handball, the home side had a number of chances saved extraordinarily well by Brad Jones or cleared at the last possible second by a Liverpool defender. Nothing happened in the Mansfield half over the final minutes, with the guests scrambling to salvage a victory rather than imposing themselves on the match. Thankfully they did escape, and now it's on to face Oldham in the fourth round.
I'm glad Daniel Sturridge got a goal in his first Liverpool match, and it was nice to see Sebastian Coates and Jack Robinson on the team sheet. Those things, and the efforts of Brad Jones and Jamie Carragher, aside, it was a miserable output from Liverpool and a match that created few positives. I suppose the magic of the FA Cup and all that, but few positives emerged for Liverpool other than the previously mentioned.
The only thing anyone's going to be talking about post-match is the evil that is Luis Suarez; Jon Champion apparently did well to excoriate the striker for kissing his wrist after the goal, which he's done for every goal ever since having a daughter and getting her name tattooed there, but it's another reason for everyone to hate Luis Suarez because they're so virtuous and he's just not. It was something the linesman should have whistled, and it almost looked as though Suarez expected it to be whistled off as he blasted it into the side netting. However you look at it, the most important takeaway is that everyone's back to full-on Suarez hatred mode, and the timing's perfect. On to Old Trafford!
More low than high after today despite the win, and if there's anything resembling this type of performance or application next weekend it's going to be a long ninety minutes (INSERT FERGIE TIME JOKE HERE). Shaky at the back, lost in the midfield, and little moving forward other than the link-up play early from Sturridge and Jonjo Shelvey.
Moving on in the Cup, and time to move on from the performance.