RAY HOUGHTON has branded Liverpool's FA Cup fourth-round exit at the hands of Oldham Athletic as "embarrassing" and questioned whether a number of Brendan Rodgers' players are good enough for the club.
The former Ireland midfielder, who won two league titles and two FA Cups at Anfield during a five-year spell from 1987-92, believes that the jury is still out on manager Rodgers, who is enduring a testing first season with the Reds.
Liverpool sit in seventh place in the league ahead of tomorrow night's meeting with sixth-placed Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium.
"It is a huge defeat and, for a club like Liverpool, it is a bit embarrassing," said Houghton.
"Two things come out of it when you play fringe players. Either they come out and show the manager what they're about, put down a marker to show why they should be in your team; or some of them feel at times, I take it, that it is a slight on their ability – that they are thought of as fringe players, and don't turn up and play the way they can.
"I was involved in a Liverpool team years ago and we went out to Peterborough (in the 1991-92 League Cup), who were in the same division as Oldham are now, and I remember Graeme Souness told us in no uncertain terms that it wasn't good enough, that if you are a Liverpool player you have a certain level that you have got to achieve, and losing to a team that far down the league is not acceptable.
"I hope Brendan has told the players exactly the same. You do get upsets in football, but you have got to be competitive."
However, Houghton believes that the side has more issues for Rogers to deal with than just in attack.
"There are a few problems," he said at an ESPN media launch in Dublin. "I have never been overly enamoured with the centre-halves.
" Martin Skrtel won Player of the Year last year, but I have seen a lot of deficiencies in his game: he is rash, goes into tackles that he shouldn't and he is not as comfortable as Daniel Agger on the ball.
"Liverpool want to play a passing game and you need somebody who can pass the ball.
"If you are going to be a top team, then you need better than that to compete."
Houghton says that Rodgers deserves time to stamp his authority on Liverpool but, while there have been some elements that the 73-times capped former Ireland midfielder is impressed with, he believes the jury is still out.
"You give the manager 38 games and see what he has done on three things," he explained. "Where has he finished in the league? How has he gone in the cups? And, in particular, how have his signings done?
"Well, at the minute, it looks like some of them have really struggled. Fabio Borini has really struggled; Joe Allen – they were calling him the new Xavi and I don't see where they were coming from with that. When you see Allen, he is in front of the back four passing sideways and backwards, while Xavi is up with the frontmen, where it really matters.
"I think Daniel Sturridge coming in, from what I have seen so far, is a positive move. I didn't think he would be up to speed with Luis Suarez so quickly, but he has done better than I thought. I will reserve judgment over a long time, as he has been to Chelsea and Manchester City and it hasn't worked.
"That is where Brendan will be judged, but it is tough. Manchester City spent a fortune to get up to the top. Liverpool haven't got that luxury – the people who run the club will give him some money but not as much as he might actually need."