Exeter hold firm to force FA Cup replay against Liverpool
The minnows from Exeter City twice took the lead against Liverpool only to see the Reds answer back, as the third round of the FA Cup opened with a 2-2 draw Friday -- in a night that recalled some of the attraction of the world's oldest club competition.
Exeter, carrying a four-match losing streak into the tie, is currently 16th in League Two, the fourth level of English football. They are 78 places below their visitors who stand eighth in the Premier League. Though, on this night, against a young visiting side bereft of most its regulars, Exeter wound up on level terms.
"The first game is always very difficult and in our situation as well," Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said after the third-round tie. "We tried to create a common plan and idea. It was not too good, not too bad. But it showed in football that you must work together and and train together, and that's not what we could do with this team."
Founded in 1904 as a member of the East Devon League, Exeter's best previous Cup result came in 2004-5 when, as a non-league club, they went to Old Trafford in the fifth round and played a 0-0 draw against mighty Manchester United before losing the replay 2-0 at home. They had reached the sixth round of the competition back in 1931 before losing a replay to Sunderland.
Now they'll add this night to their honor roll and await a trip to Anfield for the replay week after next.
Gambling that he could survive the night without his normal lineup, Klopp had only one regular in his side, captain Christian Benteke, relying mainly on the club's youth talent. He gave deubts to Tiago Ilori, called back from a loan to Aston Villa, Ryan Kent, and Kevin Stewart in his starting XI. Adam Lallana and Lucas were the only big names on the bench, but neither appeared as a substitute.
The Liverpool side was a sign of the times and the fact that the FA Cup no longer holds the center stage it once did. Klopp was dealing not only with an extensive injury list but also with the fact -- one much decried by unhappy managers -- that the Cup tie was to be followed immediately by a full midweek Barclays Premier League program. Liverpool is home to Arsenal on Wednesday.
Exeter grabbed their first lead in the ninth minute when Jose Enrique was beaten by a long ball over the top, Josh Read chased it down on the right and crossed perfectly for the sliding Tom Nichols to beat Adam Bogdan. It was exactly the kind of start that the Cup is famous for, the rank outsider putting one of England's most famous teams on notice in front of an international television audience -- to say nothing of thrilling the St. James Park home crowd.
It took only three minutes for Liverpool to respond, Benteke seeming to be brought down in the box, but able to direct the ball into the path of Jerome Sinclair, who slid the equalizer to the low right corner from high on the left.
That did not prevent Exeter from having the better of the play in the remainder of opening half as they looked to attack wide whenever possible on a well-used pitch that was cutting up as early as the half-hour mark. They had made the best chance, too, Christian Ribeiro coming free to head a Lee Holmes cross past the open left post corner in the 41st minute until Bogdan was embarassed by the go-ahead goal in stoppage time.
The Liverpool keeper tried to touch Holmes' inswinging corner over his bar, but he failed to make contact and the ball flew into the far right top corner to put Exeter back on top.
Robert Olejnik prevented Benteke from answering that goal five minutes into the second half, producing a fine reaction save to keep a header out at his left post, but the visitors were having trouble building their attacks on the sloppy surface against a side which chased everything.
They did get their equalizer with 17 minutes of normal time remaining, substitute Oluwaseyi Ojo free on the left to deliver a cross, that forced Jordan Moore-Taylor to clear only for the ball to go directly to Brad Smith to snap it home at the near post. Ojo, recalled from a loan to Wolverhampton Wanderers, had been on the pitch just three minutes before creating the goal.
"We didn't defend too well and we lost a lot of one-on-one situations," Klopp said. "The pitch was difficult for both teams, they scored from their first attack and then from a corner. The second goal was something like a miracle, it wasn't too easy for the young boys.
"We had a few moments, but not enough, and it didn't work 100 percent. But the draw was the logical result, we deserved it.
Information from FOXSoccer.com's newswire services contributed to this report.