League One minnows Oldham Athletic scored one of the biggest upsets of the FA Cup weekend when they beat illustrious Merseyside giants Liverpool 3-2 at Boundary Park on Sunday. Oldham, win-less in their last seven league games, and having lost their last four league games on the trot, put up a remarkably spirited and brave performance to oust last season’s beaten finalists. A brace from Matt Smith and a header from on-loan Manchester City player Reece Wabara won the game for the giant-killers, while Suarez and Joe Allen scored for the Reds.
A comfortable stroll in the park was expected for the visitors, especially on the heels of their annihilation of Oldham in last season’s FA Cup. However, Matt Smith had other ideas, shockingly putting the hosts ahead with an excellent header with just two minutes on the clock, finishing off a fine cross by Youssuf M’Changama. Unfortunately, M’Changama was soon forced off the field with less than ten minutes played, and was replaced by Carl Winchester.
Surprisingly, the Latics were the team setting the pace, attacking their superior (at least on paper) opponents with determination and vigour. The Merseysiders were unable to take the game by the scruff of their neck and implement their style of play on it, with Oldham regularly breaking them up. After Liverpool ‘keeper Brad Jones spilled a long range shot from Oldham in the early exchanges, striker Robbie Simpson went in with a late boot on the keeper, provoking angry reactions from Jones and Skrtel. Simpson was booked for the mistimed boot, but Oldham’s intent was clear.
However, as usual, Luis Suarez had other ideas. Literally running through the Oldham defence from the halfway line, Suarez tried setting up Borini, only for the ball to be deflected back to the Uruguayan, who skipped past the last defender and calmly placed the ball into the near post to draw the apathetic Reds level. The tension was building up as Daniel Sturridge was treated to a couple of wrestling shots from centre-back Cliff Bryne, after he and Bryne went tumbling down to the ground. Surprisingly, neither man was booked, and the Latics were slowly getting more physical in their approach.
Almost immediately after that, Suarez had a goal, a header from a Henderson free-kick, disallowed. The decision looked to be a bit contentious, but replays showed that the referee may have made the right call. The ball seemed to be heading into the goal without Suarez’s tap in, and a second goal for the Reds there would have greatly impacted the final score. The game moved at an even pace after that, with both sides making regular attacking forays, and Raheem Sterling in particular fluffing a great opportunity after being set-up by a Borini back-heel.
It was Oldham who scored next, right at the death of the first period, when Smith scored one of the easiest goals he would ever score after Jones spilled an easy low shot. Simpson grabbed the opportunity, and snatched the ball away from Jones, who had quite a forgettable outing, to whack it inside the six-yard box, where Smith calmly dispatched it inside the net. It was interesting to note that Sturridge had been fouled at the centre circle; only then did Oldham’s goal-scoring attack start.
The Reds began the second period on a cracking note, nearly equalizing within 30 seconds, only for Fabio Borini to sky a golden chance well over the crossbar. Instantly afterwards, an excellent cross from the wings was met by Wabara, who towered over Jack Robinson to unleash a sumptuous header into the net, and Jones could only stand there and watch. It was poor defending from Robinson, who should have done a better job aerially.
Rodgers was obviously irate with the scoreline and immediately changed things up, bringing in Steven Gerrard and Stewart Downing for Andre Wisdom and the near-anonymous Borini. The complexion of the game changed in a split-second, and within five minutes, the Reds were having their best spell of the game.
It had taken Liverpool nearly an hour to finally dominate a team hovering dangerously above the relegation zone in League One, and needed their Captain Fantastic for it. Sterling was truly awful throughout the game, as he, for some arcane reason, kept cutting into the crowded central area filled with the likes of Gerrard, Sturridge and Suarez, and failed to provide the Reds with the width they badly needed, which could have easily stretched the home defence.
The introduction of Gerrard served to increase the energy, determination and resourcefulness of the midfield, which was sorely lacking Gerrard’s combative spirit and the penetrative width of the much-maligned Downing. Chances started falling instantly for the likes of Suarez and Allen, which only served to increase the dogged spirit of the home team. Despite their 3-1 lead, everybody expected the Reds to claw their way back in. This nearly happened in the 66th minute, when Gerrard’s goal-bound shot was bravely blocked by Cliff Bryne, who just flung his body for his team on a heavily waterlogged pitch.
The weather heavily dictated the terms of play, as the Reds were struggling to string a few passes together. Jonjo Shelvey was brought on for Sterling, but little changed for the Reds. The Latics nearly had a fourth goal as well, only for Simpson to fluff his chance with his last shot. Joe Allen would soon score for Liverpool, after his shot deflected off Jose Baxter to fly into the corner netting to reduce the deficit to one goal and instil some belief into the visiting players.
Gerrard had a late shot ricochet off the crossbar, but ultimately Liverpool were only able to attack in vain, as Oldham picked up a famous 3-2 victory at Boundary Park. In an excellent weekend for the underdogs; where Luton Town, MK Dons, and Leeds United picked up famous victories, it was Oldham’s victory that will capture the morning headlines.
Oldham will face a daunting challenge in the fifth round, as Everton will come to Boundary Park. But for now, they have earned the right to bask in their glory!