Rafa’s declaration of intent regarding the FA Cup was immediately evident on the announcement of the team sheet with the likes of Carragher, Gerrard and Torres all included.
At the Madejski Stadium, Liverpool presented a diamond formation from the midfield upwards with Reina in goal, Darby, Carra, Skrtel and Insua as the back four, Lucas and Gerrard in midfield, Kuyt and Aurelio on the flanks, and Torres and Ngog in attack. Benayoun and Aquilani started on the bench. Gerrard was asked to play in a deeper position for this game….many think he should always play there! This may give the impression of Rafa converting to 4-4-2, but believe me, it was not the case.
Once the game was underway and the teams started settling in, it seemed Reading had more of the ball and the initiative, even having a goal disallowed on the 14th minute for an infringement. This incident was a wake up call for the Reds who started creating more attacking chances.
Apart from Yossi and Alberto, the Reds also had Cavalieri, Kyrgiacos, Degen, Spearing and Babel on the bench.
The game got livelier by the minute, and almost inevitably Reading went in front on minute 24 through Church after dubious defending from yet another set piece. This was a minute after Insua was shown the first yellow of the evening. Bad start yet again!
Good reaction from the Reds capitalized with a 36th minute equalizer from Stevie G to make it 1-1 and all to play for. The goal had its negative effect on Reading who now looked under pressure as Liverpool tried to make the most of the favorable run of play, giving the Royals’ defense a hard time until the half-time whistle was blown on the 48th minute. We shared the spoils and headed to the dressing rooms to have a nice warm cuppa.
Second half got underway in the hope it would not be dramatic or traumatic for us. The Reds started the second 45 minutes in progression and Torres had a good chance on the 52nd but the ball glided just over the bar. Reading however, with only 1 win in 12 at home in the Championship, seemed up to the challenge and responded with resolve and character. By the 60th minute, everyone started to wonder who Rafa would insert to give the team some more impetus, with Benayoun being a clear favorite. With Insua running a yellow and the way he was tackling the opponents, perhaps Benayoun in for him with Aurelio falling into fullback would have been ideal.
By the 65th minute we were really threading a fine line and we seemed due for a time-out and a change. The change did not happen but the time-out came about with Reading goalie Federici going down injured. The ever unpredictable Rafa brought in Aquilani for an uninspired Ngog with the intent of pushing Stevie G up near El Nino. The idea of having a replay at Anfield and raise some gate money (the Americans would love that) was not that awful, but in such cup-ties things could go sour in an instant. Federici, by the way, had to be substituted. On came Hamer.
The 72nd minute came and passed and we were still level. The 73rd saw a Liverpool ghost figure come onto the field in the form of Brian Howard who we all remember scored the goal that knocked us out of the competition….against Barnsley, some years back! Goal disallowed for the Reds on 77th which made that equal for both goals scored and those disallowed. Then, the much aspired change with Benayoun coming on for the one-legged Aurelio (no disrespect Fabio, but your right foot is only to keep your balance).
The final ten minutes of the game saw the Reds having a few attempts but the cardio vascular charts looked like top marks on the Richter scale as we went through scare after scare with the Royals giving their heart and soul to edge us out of the competition. The officials allowed 4 minutes of stoppage time. Liverpool applied the pressure to come close with Gerrard, and closer still with Torres, to no avail. Game over, 1-1 and a replay at Anfield.
I quite honestly don’t comprehend if this is good or bad news. Good news is we are not out of it; the bad news is we’ve added another game to our fixtures.
My respected friends, again no joy ride, and again we complicate matters. For those who predicted a comfy win they are reminded that this is not our year and whatever we achieve (that is, if we do achieve) is going to be obtained with sweat and blood.
Have a good evening!