FA Cup : Exeter City 2-2 Liverpool - Match Report
Exeter City were denied a memorable FA Cup triumph as an inexperienced Liverpool side came from behind to force a replay. Tom Nichols gave Exeter an early lead, but Liverpool responded minutes later with a Jerome Sinclair strike. A blunder from Adam Bogdan allowed Lee Holmes to give Exeter the lead going into the break, but Brad Smith scored for Liverpool with 15 minutes remaining to spare his side the blushes.
Jurgen Klopp made 11 changes to his side, as a host of injury problems meant that only 3 of Liverpool’s starting XI had played 4 or more games for the club. With Christian Benteke, Adam Bogdan and Jose Enrique being the only recognisable names in the starting lineup, Liverpool took to the field with an average age of 22.
In contrast, League Two outfit Exeter City had a settled look about their side, as the only two changes made were a result of first-team regulars returning from injury.
The Liverpool lineup’s lack of playing time together was immediately apparent as the half began, as the Reds lacked cohesion with many misplaced passes.
Jose Enrique’s lack of match fitness was immediately apparent as the left-back couldn’t match the run of Exeter right winger Jamie Reid who then proceeded to deliver an equisite cross that evaded three scrambling Liverpool defenders. Tom Nichols stretched every sinew as the ball came to him and the striker managed to toe poke the ball past a flailing Adam Bogdan to give ‘The Grecians’ a stunning 9th minute lead.
The joy at St. James Park was shortlived, as Liverpool equalised just minutes later. Christian Benteke almost managed to control a long-range shot from a teammate, but was debatably fouled in the penalty box. The ball squirmed through to Exeter defender Jordan Tillson who inexplicably knocked it towards Jerome Sinclair, allowing the Liverpool youngster to neatly side-foot the ball home and equalise for Liverpool in the 13th minute.
Exeter failed to let the equaliser deter them, as they continued with an attacking approach as the half wore on. They were rewarded for their endeavour in first half injury time, as Adam Bogdan inexplicably let Lee Holmes’ left-footed corner swing into the net, as the Hungarian failed to make contact with the ball as it headed his way.
Liverpool and Exeter are separated by 76 league places, the second largest gap of any of the FA Cup 3rd Round fixtures. However, it was hard to note any difference in quality between the two sides as the second half began, with Exeter continuing to go toe-to-toe with their illustrious opponents.
However, The Grecians witnessed a Greek tragedy in the 73rd minute, as Liverpool denied them a glorious victory with a goal completely against the run of play. Brad Smith’s driving run allowed Benteke to lay the ball off to the wing, where Sheyi Ojo supplied a bullet cross that could only be partially cleared. Smith profited from the uncertain clearance, reacting quickly to strike the ball home with his left foot and spare Liverpool the ignominy of an FA Cup shock exit.
As the match entered the final stages, both sets of players tired and barely managed to create clear chances. Exeter celebrated as the final whistle blew, as the replay means that the League Two side are reportedly set for an estimated £700,000 windfall, just reward for their efforts, while Liverpool breathed a huge sigh of relief, with Klopp’s gamble not proving costly.