Date: 17 December 2014
Having missed a number of memorable Cherries’ matches recently, I felt I couldn’t risk it happening again. This could prove to be a match that would be talked about for years – especially given Liverpool’s poor form of late – so I didn’t want to miss it, despite the fact that the possibility of extra time and penalties ruled out going by train.
The route from the centre of Boscombe to the ground was lined with souvenir sellers flogging special souvenir scarves for this match. No-one was sure – yet – that this was a match they’d want to remember (and it was in any case an unseasonably mild night for scarves) so no-one paid the £5. (The same vendors could be seen after the match, still holding the same number of unsold and unsalable scarves, and shouting that the “last few” were now available for £3!)
The crowd was over 11,000 but for most of the match it was the Liverpool fan-base that made the most noise, a rendition of “You’ll never walk alone” greeting the final whistle. Their fans were polite, though, and there was none of the heckling we’ve come to expect whenever our attendance figures are announced! Liverpool played pretty much a first XI, but Eddie mixed half his best team with half of the team that got us through the previous round. It’s hard to say whether the choice was right. The unflappable Cargill, the energetic Smith and regular cup-hero Gosling all excelled. But O’Kane and especially Stanislas struggled.
A driving run from Smith led to a scoring opportunity for Wilson within the first four minutes: one of those occasions when it looks easier to hit than to miss the target. But miss he did, shooting to the right of the post. Nerves perhaps? Liverpool then took hold of the game and utterly dominated the rest of the first half. At times it seemed that our tactic was to let them have all the possession but block their path forward and tire them out, and this worked for some time. But on 20 minutes they strung together what someone has calculated were 52 passes, and then Henderson crossed from the left to Sterling on the right and the latter headed the ball home. 0-1. And seven minutes later it seemed like game over when a clearance only reached Markovic and he banged the ball back into goal for 0-2. An opportunity for Kermorgant to narrow Liverpool’s advantage, which he wasted by skying it much like the shot I’d seen Pitman take in the previous game, was our only good scoring chance before we reached half-time thoroughly outplayed and two goals down.
If Eddie had made at half time the changes he’d eventually make ten minutes later who knows what might have happened. Strengthening the midfield with Fraser and notably Arter was exactly what we needed, because this was the area which Liverpool were dominating. But Eddie waited till we were three goals down following another effort by Sterling, the indirect consequence of a miscalculated pass by Cargill, and now it was really too late. The Cherries’ revised line-up, with Gosling playing further forward and O’Kane protecting the back four, looked good – and resulted in a consolation goal for Gosling after he’d received a perfect cross from Ritchie. (Gosling has scored in every round of this competition this season!) We then went through a purple patch before Liverpool gradually took control again and showed how the best Premier League teams play – with quicker, slicker passes – and how far short of that standard we currently fall.
So I didn’t get to see a giant-killing. Maybe the game could have been different if Wilson’s or Kermorgant’s shots in the first half had gone in, but I doubt it as Sterling had some missed shots too and Liverpool looked as though they still had more fuel in their tank at the end. And speaking of fuel in tanks, I realised as I drove home why I don’t normally attend weeknight matches! Illuminated signs on the M27 told me the M3 was closed. No problem, I had a plan B: the A3(M). Until I reached the point where that too was closed – on the same night as the M3! Diversions took everyone around the back streets of Farnham: residential roads that are so minor they have speed bumps installed! I finally got home, tired out and wondering if the trip had really been worth it, at quarter past midnight.
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
Francis (7), Elphick (6), Cargill (8), Smith (9);
Ritchie (7), Gosling (8), O'Kane (5), Stanislas (5);
Wilson (6), Kermorgant (6)