The sight of Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino entering as substitutes late in the second half really summed up Liverpool’s desperation in its FA Cup match against supposed pushovers from the third tieron Sunday.
Even the two superstar forwards couldn’t prevent the world, European and likely English champions slumping to their most embarrassing result in years in a quaint market town near the Welsh border.
Liverpool squandered a two-goal lead and was held to a 2-2 draw by Shrewsbury in a riveting fourth-round match between clubs separated by 59 places in the English soccer pyramid.
By the end, you wouldn’t know which team was the Premier League leader by 16 points.
“The 2-2 is the least Shrewsbury deserved,” said Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp, who fielded a weakened starting lineup featuring fringe players and youngsters.
Klopp said his lineup for the replay will be even weaker, with the game at Anfield next month coming in the middle of the first so-called “winter break” in the history of English soccer. The first-team squad will be having that break, Klopp vowed, so he’ll be playing the kids.
The team will be managed by under-23 coach Neil Critchley, Klopp added.
If that was another blow to the integrity of the tournament, the pitch invasion that followed one of the greatest results in Shrewsbury’s 134-year history demonstrated it still has that power to thrill.
It was an evening to remember , particularly for Jason Cummings, who scored a 65th-minute penalty to reduce Shrewsbury’s deficit and then turned Liverpool’s defense inside out before slotting home the equalizer in the 75th.
Liverpool went ahead through Curtis Jones, its 18-year-old matchwinner against Everton in the third round, in the 15th minute and looked comfortably through to the last 16 when former Manchester United defender Donald Love accidentally turned a cross into his own net for 2-0 a minute into the second half.
No team in the Premier League has managed to score two goals in one game against Liverpool this season and the Reds could have conceded more, with Shrewsbury – which had won just one of its previous seven games in all competitions – having Liverpool rattled at times.
Backup goalkeeper Adrian was arguably Liverpool’s best player, producing some great saves especially from Shaun Whalley in the first half.
“It is a dream come true against the best team in the world,” Cummings said. “Going to Anfield is what it’s all about.”
The two Manchester clubs had no such problems against lower-league opponents in the fourth round.
United won 6-0 at third-tier Tranmere, after City beat 10-man Fulham 4-0.
EASY FOR UNITED
It was billed as potentially the final stand for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, an awkward game his beleaguered Manchester United team just could not afford to lose.
In the end, the FA Cup match against Tranmere turned out to be a cruise.
“You can see everyone wanted us to fail but it doesn’t bother me,” said Solskjaer after United swept to a biggest win in its 13 months under the Norwegian.
It was ideal timing, with United and Solskjaer under massive scrutiny this week after chastening, back-to-back losses in the Premier League to Liverpool then Burnley that prompted fans to vent their anger at the club’s ownership.
Beating a team in the relegation zone in League One has hardly resolved United’s issues but the manner of the win – United was 5-0 ahead at halftime on the back of some unforgiving finishes – offered some source of encouragement, especially given the unsatisfactory standard of the heavily sanded pitch at Prenton Park.
United center back Harry Maguire set the tone for the game by carrying the ball upfield, cutting inside and smashing a fierce shot – albeit one that was slightly deflected – high into the net from outside the area in the 10th minute. It was Maguire’s first goal for United since his move from Leicester in the offseason.
Well-taken strikes by right back Diego Dalot and attacking midfielder Jesse Lingard, with his first goal in any competition in 366 days, made it 3-0, with Phil Jones and Anthony Martial adding further goals before halftime.
Teenage striker Mason Greenwood converted a penalty in the 56th for the sixth goal and Solskjaer took the opportunity to give some of his key players a rest, with Martial, Nemanja Matic and Maguire coming off early to save their legs ahead of the second leg of an English League Cup quarterfinal against Man City on Wednesday.
EARLY RED CARD
City leads United 3-1 from the first leg at Old Trafford and warmed up for the return game with what proved to be a non-contest against Fulham after U.S. defender Tim Ream, the captain of the visitors, was shown a straight red card in the sixth minute for bringing down Gabriel Jesus in the penalty area to deny a goalscoring opportunity.
City scored from the resulting spot kick, through Ilkay Gundogan, and a largely second-string team went on to dominate the game at Etihad Stadium.
However, despite monopolizing possession and creating chance after chance, the defending champions only added one goal – in the 19th minute through Bernardo Silva – before a late headed double from Jesus.
Silva’s strike from outside the area took City to 100 goals in all competitions this season – the first team in Europe’s top five leagues to get to that milestone.
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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80