Frazier Campbell had given the hosts the lead against the run of play in the first half thanks to a defensive mishap, but in the second period the Merseysiders added lethalness in front of goal to their dominance of possession and therefore ran out deserved winners, suffering surprisingly few nervy moments in the closing stages as Crystal Palace failed to put up a fight and Liverpool progressed to the last eight.
Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling both missed out through injury, but Brendan Rodgers, who sees the FA Cup as a priority this season, still named a strong starting line-up, with Lallana replacing the cup-tied Ibe and Allen coming in for Gerrard the only two changes to the team that beat Tottenham 3-2 in a thrilling game at Anfield on Tuesday night.
This cup tie unfortunately did not provide the same sort of thrills and high octane action as the Spurs match, but Liverpool did dominate throughout, enjoying a remarkable 78% of possession during the opening ten minutes as Alan Pardew’s men decided to play like the away team, sitting deep and absorbing pressure.
However, their negative tactics couldn’t quieten the noisy home fans, who were given something to shout about after quarter of an hour. For all their possession, the best the visitors could produce was a miscued volley from Sturridge and a penalty appeal following suspicions of handball from Pape Souare in the box.
All their good play was undone, though, when defensive ineptitude, conspicuous by its absence in recent weeks, cost Liverpool dear. Skrtel, Mignolet and Can were all at fault as Frazier Campbell gave Palace the lead. The Slovakian centre back dithered with a high ball in behind and his header was weak, allowing Gayle to compete for it with Mignolet, who could have done better with his punch clear. The ball fell straight to
Campbell, who Can had left unmarked, and he swept home from six yards.
|It was not nice to watch the return of defensive ineptitude|
Thankfully, that wasn’t the case, as Liverpool maintained their dominance and started creating chances as well, Lallana driving wide after some exquisite one touch football, Allen firing inches off target from 20 yards and Markovic striking over following an impressive run from left to right.
Palace’s Joel Ward also somehow managed to avoid handling in the box when Scott Dann blocked Coutinho’s blaster and the ball bounced back out. It looked like Ward had handled, but on closer inspection referee Robert Madley made the right call as the 25-year old remarkably kept the ball between his chest and the floor.
Madley made an error, however, when he somehow failed to award a spot kick following a blatant foul by Souare on Sturridge in the box. It was the sort of tackle that is classified as a foul outside of the box, but never inside the box for some strange reason.
The Eagles’ main threat was Dwight Gayle, who scored twice to end Liverpool’s title hopes last season. Palace’s number 16 was getting underneath the skin of his opponents, diving twice to get Henderson, and almost Sturridge as well, booked.
Additionally, in what was, with hindsight, one of the most important moments of the match, Gayle was denied by a brilliant save by Mignolet with his left ankle when clean through just before half time. Had he scored then, the game would have taken a very different course.
As it was, Liverpool went in at the interval only a goal behind and, after going two up front as Balotelli replaced Markovic at the break, the Reds instantly reaped the rewards, quickly levelling and then taking the lead.
First, Sturridge ran on to a cute chip over the top by Henderson and rifled home a wonderful left footed volley on 49 minutes.
The pre-match practice...
|...clearly paid off!|
The slowly improving Mario Balotelli was involved, crashing a 20-yard free kick through the wall after being fouled following clever link up play on the edge of the box. Speroni couldn’t hold the Italian’s strike and Lallana was first to react, steering home superbly from close range to put the Merseysiders in the driving seat.
Perhaps the most pleasing thing to see was Balotelli with a smile as wide as the Mersey as he celebrated with his teammates. It was a sign that Mario is beginning to enjoy his football a bit more, and a happy Mario is much more likely to make me and most other Liverpool supporters eat humble pie than a miserable Mario.
|A happy Mario is a super Mario!|
All Palace could produce was a free kick in injury time, which Gayle blasted well over the bar from a promising position on the left wing. Apart from that, Mignolet was unthreatened, and Liverpool’s progress to the quarter-finals was never really in doubt.
With Arsenal and Manchester United the only big names left in the competition, Liverpool have every chance of reaching Wembley. In fact, I’m starting to believe that our name is on the trophy.