By Arun Nair – (@Nair_39)
A controversial goal from talismanic Liverpool striker Luis Suarez secured his side a 2-1 over battling Mansfield at the One Call Stadium. After Daniel Sturridge had put his new side ahead with a debut goal early on, Suarez struck despite the ball having struck his hand when his initial shot came back off goalkeeper Alan Marriott. Matt Green gave the Stags hope with a well-taken volley, but the Reds held on to seal a 4th round tie at Oldham.
Liverpool handed an immediate debut to new signing Daniel Sturridge, and the £12million purchase from Chelsea took just seven minutes to open his account for his new side, applying a composed finish to Jonjo Shelvey’s inch-perfect through ball.
The Reds were dominant in the opening half hour and the same pair combined to cut the Mansfield defence open once more but Sturridge delayed his finish allowing Marriott to make a stop.
The non-leaguers were not at all lacking in endevour, and the giant throws of Stags centre back Exodus Geohaghon were constant threat, but the away side were able to deal with the aerial bombardment, whilst their pace and quality was often too much for Mansfield, Stewart Downing twice having shots blocked before Shelvey drove wide from range.
While the deficit remained just one the home side were by no means out of the game, and the levels of optimism were lifted when Green’s powerful strike drew a decent save from Brad Jones.
Sturridge was enjoying his first Liverpool appearance, afforded ample time and space, and forced Marriott into a fine fingertip save with angled effort, the Stags keeper diving to his right to keep the scoreline as it was heading into the break.
The home side rallied early after the interval, Anthony Howell and Louis Briscoe both denied by Jones, the start of a busy second period for the Australlian stopper.
Mansfield were fast growing in confidence and Briscoe was once again thwarted by Jones, before the keeper was forced to claw away John Dempster’s effort as the Stags pressed for an equaliser, while at the other end Sturridge dragged a shot wide.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers’ response was to send on Suarez in place of the tiring Sturridge and the substitution paid immediate, if fortuitous dividends. Despite an inadvertent handball, Suarez’ goal was allowed to stand, doubling the Reds lead and seemingly ending Mansfield’s hopes of a revival.
Shelvey twice fired wide as the away side looked to put the game beyond the plucky Stags, but Mansfield came again, and substitute Colin Daniel’s cross allowed Green to rifle in to set up a frantic finale.
Green tested Jones as his side applied late pressure as the home side searched for an equaliser to earn a replay, but Liverpool stood firm to ensure a place in the 4th round.