Suarez the pantomime villain

Mansfield 1 Liverpool 2

Suarez the pantomime villain

Luis Suarez required just four minutes to incur the wrath of the home hordes with his controversial goal, which came courtesy of a clear handball, ultimately separating the sides in an FA Cup third-round clash which could lay reasonable claim to being the tie of the round.

A match in which Liverpool looked capable of running riot early on following Daniel Sturridge’s debut goal, ended with Brendan Rodgers’ side breathing an almighty sigh of relief at the final whistle as they edged past the Blue Square Bet Premier League side.

But, once again, it was Suarez who dominated discussions afterwards.

“It hit his hand,” Rodgers said. “There’s no question about that, but it wasn’t deliberate. It was unfortunate for Mansfield because it ended up being the winning goal.

“I’m not sure what people want him to do in that situation. The ball has just hit him. It’s up to the officials to make the decision.

“Luis has a thick skin. That’s part of his life and he deals with it very well. I think what people are starting to realise is just what a talent he is.”

Initially at least, the gulf in class looked painfully apparent and by the seventh minute Daniel Sturridge, the £12m signing from Chelsea, was celebrating a debut goal.

Jonjo Shelvey threaded the England international through and, after outpacing the exotically named Exodus Geohaghon, he kept his cool with a clinical finish low into the bottom-right corner.

Twice more the ex-Chelsea man was presented with one-on-one opportunities, yet on both occasions the Stags goalkeeper Alan Marriott was equal to it.

“I thought he was excellent,” Rodgers said of his new signing. “He’s nowhere near fit yet but I think you saw in that little cameo he has pace and power.

“He scored one but he could have had three. That goal will give him good confidence for the future.”

Whatever Paul Cox, the Stags manager, said at half time, it had the desired impact because they were an altogether different side after the break.

They laid siege to Brad Jones’s goal, with the Australian doing well to turn a fierce Louis Briscoe strike around his post.

He was less convincing with his attempts to deny Lindon Meikle following a goalmouth scramble before Briscoe called him into action again with a fiercely-struck shot.

The momentum was firmly with Mansfield and Rodgers responded by withdrawing Sturridge — as he had vowed to do before kick-off — and introducing Suarez in the 55th minute.

It was not long before he found himself at the centre of controversy.

After seeing an initial effort was blocked by Marriott, he then clearly used his hand to control the ball before rifling the ball into the empty net from close range.

The Stags players were furious, while the celebrations of his Reds team-mates were visibly muted.

“When you see Luis Suarez laughing as he kicks the ball across the line, he knows himself what happened,” Marriott said.

“Even Stewart Downing said to us that he couldn’t believe professional officials missed that.

“When it turns out to be the decisive goal, then it’s a sickener for everyone.”

His manager, who got married on Friday and even held his reception in a marquee at Mansfield’s One Call Stadium, was in more forgiving mood. “It was instinctive and he didn’t do anything wrong,” he said.

“I don’t want to be too critical and if the boot was on the other foot I would have accepted it.”

Not even that could quell the Stags’ spirit, however. With 11 minutes left, the superb Matt Green got the goal his efforts deserved with a strike from 15 yards which beat Jones.

Cue a frantic finish. The best chance came courtesy of Green in added time with a fierce strike from 20 yards which Jones did well to beat away.

For the Stags, it was a case of so near yet so far.

Rodgers added: “It takes character to get through these games, at times they can be more difficult than Premier League games.

“You have to give credit to Mansfield, they kept the game alive. There were two totally different ways of playing but two competitive teams.”

MANSFIELD (4-5-1): Marriott 8; Thompson 7, Dempster 7, Geohaghon 7, Beevers 7; Briscoe 8 (Daniel 64, 6), Howell 7, Clements 7 (Rhead 81), Murray 7, Meikle 7; Green 8.

LIVERPOOL (4-4-1-1): Jones 6; Wisdom 7 (Flanagan 79), Coates 6, Carragher 6, Robinson 6; Suso 6 (Henderson 55, 6), Lucas 6, Allen 6, Downing 7; Shelvey 7; Sturridge 7 (Suarez 55, 6)

Referee: Andre Marriner.

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