Monday, 28 January 2013

Oldham 3 Liverpool 2 -

The mounds of snow at the side of the pitch emphasised the spade-work that had been undertaken, but it was asking something else completely for Dickov's players to give Liverpool the same treatment as the white stuff.

Oldham may still evoke memories of the club's run to two FA Cup semi-finals under Joe Royle in the 1990s, but those days are now a distant memory, with the class of 2013 battling against relegation to League Two having collected just one point from 24 prior to this tie.

Yet Dickov's team belied their poor form and lowly status by ignoring the gulf between the two clubs and daring to go on the front foot from the kick-off.

It was a bold tactic which was rewarded within two minutes when the hugely impressive Smith headed in from close range to give Oldham the lead.

Defensively, Liverpool were a shambles. Lee Croft was unchallenged as he switched the ball to Youssouf M'Changama and the winger's cross picked out Smith, whose far post header was diverted into the net by Martin Skrtel.

Smith, a doctor's son who holds a degree in business management, has clearly studied at the Kevin Davies school of forward play judging by his battering ram approach to centre-halves, but the 23-year-old rattled Liverpool's back four and they were troubled by the 6ft 6ins giant from start to finish.

Collectively, Liverpool appeared unnerved by their feisty opponents, who embodied the spirit of their manager, and Raheem Sterling was fortunate to earn only a booking for a crude challenge on M'Changama which ended the winger's game on nine minutes.

Oldham's confidence led to a lack of concentration, however, and Suarez hauled Liverpool level on 16 minutes when he was left to run from the halfway line before scoring his 21st goal of the season.

Luck also played a part for Suarez, with his attempted pass to Daniel Sturridge rebounding back into his path off the shins of defender Cliff Byrne, enabling the Uruguayan to shoot past goalkeeper Dean Bouzanis.

The goal merely intensified the spikeyness between the two sides, however. Sturridge and Byrne appeared to trade blows in the Oldham penalty area, prompting referee Lee Probert to call the captains together in an appeal for calmer heads.

The warning was noted, but Oldham continued to land blows in a football sense, with former Everton youngster shooting narrowly wide from 25 yards on 33 minutes.

Liverpool had no answer to Oldham's tactic of aiming for Smith and strike partner Robbie Simpson, with the pair dominating Skrtel and the hapless Sebastian Coates.

Another Smith header, tipped over the bar by Brad Jones, preceded Oldham's second on the stroke of half-time when more defensive uncertainty gifted the home side their goal.

Goalkeeper Jones failed to hold onto Reece Wabara's shot, but Simpson reacted quickest and his square ball gave Smith a tap-in from three yards.

It was no more than Oldham deserved, but a Liverpool fightback seemed inevitable in the second-half and it was clearly going to be a long 45 minutes.

That appeared to hold true when Fabio Borini shot over from Jack Robinson's cross less than 20 seconds into the second-half, but the miss summed up Liverpool's woeful performance.

And they were punished for their slack attitude when Wabara extended Oldham's lead two minutes later.

The full-back, on loan from Manchester City, gave Oldham a real platform for victory when his header from Carl Winchester's cross went in off the underside of the crossbar.

Liverpool now had a real problem and, just as the heavens opened to subject the pitch to a torrential downpour, Rodgers introduced Steven Gerrard and Stewart Downing in an effort to avoid an ignominious defeat.

Predictably, the Liverpool onslaught followed and Oldham resorted to throwing bodies at shots from Gerrard and Suarez.

Their resistance held until the 80th minute, but Joe Allen's volley, deflected off Baxter, reduced the deficit and gave Liverpool ten minutes to save their skin.

Liverpool toiled, though, and chances failed to materialise until Gerrard rattled the crossbar from 30 yards on 89 minutes.

Six minutes of nervy stoppage time followed, but Liverpool failed to equalise and Oldham held to secure a deserved giant-killing.


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