Downing seals semi spot for Liverpool
Liverpool Suarez 23 Downing 57 Stoke City Crouch 26 Attendance: 43,962 2 1
SOME FA Cup traditions can be tiresome. This match lived up to the expectation that a quarterfinal will be hard-fought, but there is only so much enjoyment to be extracted from a prolonged struggle. Even so, Liverpool undoubtedly deserved a win that leads them to a semi-final with the victors of the replay between Sunderland and Everton.
That encounter, according to manager Kenny Dalglish, will go ahead at Wembley on Saturday April 14th, since a match the following day would fall on the anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster of 1989 when Liverpool faced Nottingham Forest in an FA Cup tie. “We have never played on the 15th,” he said. “The FA and Uefa have always been exemplary.”
There was a tone of happy anticipation when Dalglish’s thoughts turned instead to the possibility of a derby match at Wembley, should Everton prosper in that replay at the Stadium of Light. “Merseyside will be hoping Everton get through and we can all have a day out,” said the Liverpool manager.
There was a need for doggedness to ensure that Dalglish’s men would be at the national stadium again, following their success in winning the Carling Cup there this season. “If you don’t put in a decent performance against Stoke,” the manager said, “you don’t get a decent result”.
The losers were far from devastated by the outcome. Tony Pulis, the manager, recognised a “ground-breaking” season in which they had appeared in the Europa League and appeared in the FA Cup sixth round for the third consecutive campaign.
Liverpool’s opener had a refinement that was seldom on view in this contest. Luis Suarez worked a one-two with Maxi Rodriguez and sent a low, bending drive beyond the left hand of Thomas Sorensen in the 23rd minute. It would have heartened the home support that the Uruguayan is now minded to stay in this country despite the eight-match ban he served for racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra.
Despite being a newcomer Suarez has even spoken of hoping to sign a new contract even though the existing one runs to 2016.
“I want to stay, despite everything that happened,” he told a Uruguayan website. All the same, the move for his opener contrasted with much of the action and Anfield was not the scene of a wholly commanding performance.
Former Liverpool striker Peter Crouch levelled in the 26th minute by heading in from a Matthew Etherington corner while Pepe Reina complained that his path had been blocked by Ryan Shotton.
“The goalkeeper is fouled,” Dalglish said flatly and, by contemporary standards, accurately. Perhaps the rough and tumble sanctioned by the referee, Kevin Friend, was a nod to the heritage of what has sometimes been a rough old tournament.
The hosts had much of the play until the move that re-established the lead. With 57 minutes gone, Stewart Downing came off the right wing and cut across the edge of the penalty area to exchange passes with Gerrard and shoot low past the left hand of Sorensen.
There were more flourishes to follow, with Suarez again testing Sorensen, yet this had been an untidy win in which Liverpool spent part of stoppage time defending Stoke corners.
Dalglish rightly preferred to think of Downing’s contribution. He notched only his second goal for the club and it was the first to carry true significance.
This tournament and the Carling Cup have been important to Liverpool. A sustained bid for, say, the Premier League title does not look probable in the near future. While the side did not impress greatly, they took another step towards the prestige of yesteryear as they set course for Wembley.
Liverpool’s Stewart Downing skips past Andy Wilkinson of Stoke City during yesterday's FA Cup sixth round match at Anfield.