January was a difficult month for Liverpool, from the frustrating draws to the distracting court hearings, and, though February began in encouraging fashion with the defeat of Chelsea, things continue to be miserable for Rafael Benitez and his men, with fierce rivals Everton this time inflicting the pain.
Dan Gosling scored the winning goal at Goodison Park last night, but his extra-time strike sparked only one of the four occasions in which the Everton fans celebrated euphorically. When Steven Gerrard limped off, when Lucas was sent off and when Fernando Torres was taken off, the roar from the Goodison faithful was just as loud as when Gosling curled home.
The series of unfortunate events made for a torrid night for Liverpool. There were no bright sparks at all in the attacking areas, no moments of class and nothing that ever suggested that Tim Howard was going to be beaten in the Everton goal. Anfield’s quest for the FA Cup ended rather meekly.
Without Gerrard, who faces three weeks on the sidelines after tearing his hamstring, Liverpool were toothless, offering nothing in attack. Torres was well below his best, and after he seemed to get back into full swing against Chelsea on Sunday, his lack of energy and purpose will have worried Benitez. He will hope that tiredness is the only reason for the Spaniard’s absent application.
In midfield, Xabi Alonso seemed the only one who could pass the ball accurately, with Albert Riera and Yossi Benayoun struggling on the wings. Lucas was his normal self, careless and clumsy in equal measure, before he removed himself from proceedings by getting sent off. His first booking was admittedly very harsh though.
Liverpool were poor, but if there was one player who would not have looked out of place with the man-of-the-match award at the end it would have been Jamie Carragher. He was as rock solid as ever, denying Everton’s attacking threats time and time again with last-minute interceptions and tackles. His centre-back partner Martin Skrtel was excellent as well.
Everton were camped in Liverpool’s half for most of the second half and all of extra-time, but they still struggled to create many clear openings in front of goal. So with such a formidable record in penalty shoot-outs, it was a real sickener for Liverpool to concede only two minutes before the end of extra-time. No-one would have betted against Liverpool marching on to the fifth-round if Gosling hadn’t stuck.
Such a bad performance was never expected for Liverpool after Sunday’s win over title rivals Chelsea, but so much conspired against them last night that Everton were always going to be favourites to snatch a goal. Gerrard injured, Lucas sent off, Torres ambling about. It did not make for pleasant viewing for Liverpool fans, but at least ITV’s horrendous cock-up meant that they did not have to watch Gosling’s winning goal live.
Liverpool can comfort themselves with the thought of still being in with a chance of winning the Premier League and Champions League, but their recent FA Cup record is quite atrocious, and needs amending next season. Since their triumph against West Ham in 2006, they have been knocked out in the third round, then the fifth round, and now the fourth round.
So even with thoughts turning to Real Madrid and the Premier League title race, Liverpool will feel a heavy blow after being dumped out of the FA Cup by their bitter rivals. It was just one of those horrible nights for them.