Monday 22 January 2018

Aspas breaks his duck to set toiling Reds on course

Liverpool 2 Oldham 0

Liverpool's Iago Aspas celebrates his goal with teammate Raheem Sterling during their FA Cup third round soccer match against Oldham Athletic at Anfield. Photo: Reuters
Liverpool's Iago Aspas celebrates his goal with teammate Raheem Sterling during their FA Cup third round soccer match against Oldham Athletic at Anfield. Photo: Reuters
Oldham Athletic's Genseric Kusunga challenges Liverpool's Luis Suarez during their FA Cup third round clash. Photo: Reuters/Phil Noble
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers kisses his son Oldham's Anton Rodgers after the FA Cup Third Round match at Anfield. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Wire.
Martin Kelly of Liverpool puts in a strong challenge

Tim Rich

A VERY good quiz question will not, after all, have to be amended. It is "who is the only Liverpool No 9 to go through an entire season without scoring?"

The answer is El Hadji Diouf. For most of this season, it had looked as if it would also be Iago Aspas.

The name of the side he scored against will not resonate on Spain's Atlantic coast, where Aspas grew up -- Oldham are being kept out of the League One relegation zone only on goal difference.

However, it was a goal that displayed considerable technique, as he leant back to hook home a low cross from Raheem Sterling. Moments later, in an almost identical move, he struck the post.

Oldham were far better than their league position suggests, but, had he not scored in this fixture, you would have to ask what the point of him was.

At 26, Aspas (below) is too old to be filed under "young and promising" and the £7.7m Liverpool paid Celta Vigo for him will have to be justified fairly swiftly.

MEMORABLE

This was the third successive season these sides had met in the FA Cup and it was by a distance the least memorable game.

Kenny Dalglish's team won the first 5-1 on their way to the 2012 final, while Oldham's 3-2 victory at Boundary Park last year was not enough to prevent Paul Dickov's dismissal as their manager.

Here, Liverpool, who will travel to either Bournemouth or Burton Albion in the fourth round, got through three captains and finished the match with 10 men after Daniel Agger, who had been given the armband by the departing Steven Gerrard, limped off with cramp in his calf.

Brendan Rodgers had by then used all his substitutes.

Two of the changes were made during the interval after a dreadful first half, with the Liverpool manager replacing two others he had brought to Anfield in the summer -- Luis Alberto and Victor Moses. Rodgers must also have thought long and hard about replacing Aspas.

"We needed to do better, we needed to have more speed and intensity in our game," said Rodgers.

"I didn't want to make the substitutions, but the last thing you want is for the game to go to a replay. As a manager, you learn you just can't wait for it to happen; you have to create that momentum yourself.

For back-up players, who have had limited opportunities, it was a sign patience is wearing thin, with Moses especially disappointing.

"Coutinho and Lucas added intensity and purpose to our play. It was a difficult game and you have to give Oldham a lot of credit for making it that way.

"We were nowhere near the speed of our game, but in the second half we were a lot better."

Luis Suarez played for the last 13 minutes, Rodgers saying it was essential he had a break.

"You hope to rest some players and give them a recovery period because they've had hard games."

The evidence of this tie and much of the season is that, unless Rodgers is allowed to spend some money in the transfer window, Liverpool will be relying on 11 to 12 players in general and the talents of Suarez in particular.

Their play did not merit a second goal, but they got one when a wild shot from Sterling struck James Tarkowski and ricocheted horribly past Mark Oxley in the Oldham goal.

While Oldham were only a goal down, they continued to fight and, but for a fine one-handed save from Brad Jones, Michael Petrasso would have earned them an equaliser.

It was then that Rodgers decided to drag on Luis Suarez, which for Oldham was a victory of sorts.

"We tried to go toe-to-toe with one of the best sides in the country," said their manager, Lee Johnson.

"We need that attitude for the rest of the season."

The tie had begun with a tribute to Wayne Harrison, who, when he moved from Oldham to Liverpool in 1985, became the most expensive teenager in the country.

INJURY

But for an irreparable injury, he might have become one of the great footballers of his generation rather than ending up as a brewery driver who died tragically young from pancreatic disease at 46.

Harrison was never bitter about his fate and what was meant to be a minute's silence became a sustained round of applause.

It was a fitting tribute, if not a fitting match to remember him by.

For Rodgers, it was a particularly satisfying afternoon on a personal note because his son, Anton, made an appearance as an 84th-minute substitute.

"It was a bit surreal to see him out there," said the Liverpool manager.

"We're very proud of him and it was nice for him to get a big round of applause from the Liverpool supporters." (©Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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