Gerrard firing the parting shots

FA Cup Third Round:

Gerrard firing the parting shots

The Crazy Gang may have beaten the Culture Club 27 years ago but the ghosts of the 1988 FA Cup final briefly haunted Liverpool last night.

AFC Wimbledon rose from the ashes of the decision to relocate the original club to Milton Keynes in 2002, and they gave a performance that their celebrated predecessors would have been proud of against a team 72 places above them.

And it took two moments of quality Steven Gerrard, the one player on the pitch at his peak who would have made it into those illustrious Liverpool sides of the 80s, to engineer this victory for the Reds.

Almost inevitably in the game that followed Gerrard’s announcement that he would leave his boyhood club for Major League Soccer at the end of the season he would play such a pivotal role.

Indeed it will have raised questions again as to whether Liverpool should have done more to hang on to such an iconic and inspirational figure.

America awaits for Gerrard in the summer, but the total professional that he is the focus will not stretch much further than Bolton Wanderers in the next round of the FA Cup.

Gerrard, who as fate would have it turns 35 on the day of the FA Cup final, was named in Liverpool’s starting line-up as Reds boss Brendan Rodgers selected a strong side for the tie at the Kingsmeadow Stadium.

The Liverpool captain was used an advanced role alongside Philippe Coutinho behind striker Rickie Lambert and quickly profited to open the scoring in the 12th minute after a slick move.

Gerrard received the ball from Lambert before he swept play out wide for Javier Manquillo and the Spanish wing-back’s cross was met by the Reds skipper, who nodded in from near the penalty spot.

It was, in many ways, a trademark Gerrard goal — that expertly timed burst into the box, the desire to beat Wimbledon defender Jake Goodman to the cross, and the fearlessness to put his head where it hurts to get the telling touch.

Wimbledon, who initially seemed in awe of a team three leagues above them in the football pyramid, eventually created a couple of chances of their own just after the half-hour which seemed to inject belief into the League Two club.

A dangerous cross from George Francomb was cut out by the sliding Martin Skrtel and after a scramble from the resulting corner the ball dropped to Wimbledon’s Sean Grigg who forced Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet to make a smart save to tip the ball over.

Adebayo Akinfenwa, Wimbledon’s 16-stone journeyman striker nicknamed ‘Beast’ seemed destined to have some sort of influence on this contest.

He certainly caused Liverpool’s defence plenty of headaches using his immense frame to good effect and, as supporter as a boy will have cherished the goal which got the Dons back on level terms.

It was a goal which exposed Mignolet’s vulnerability, not for the first time this season, from corner kicks. The Belgium international came off his line in attempt to claim the high delivery, but missed the ball and it bounced off Mamadou Sakho’s head on to the bar and then dropped for Akinfenwa to stab home.

Mignolet conceded in the build up to the game of his need to deal with the physicality of Wimbledon’s approach at set-pieces. With the transfer window now open it seems inevitable Rodgers will make an experienced replacement for Mignolet his number one priority.

The threat reappeared early in the second half when Adam Barrett jostled inside the box to direct a header at goal from a corner and to Liverpool’s relief Gerrard was stationed on the post to head off the line.

It was impossible to keep Gerrard away from the key moments of the game and he helped Liverpool regain the lead with an expertly taken free-kick.

Gerrard curled the dead ball over the Wimbledon wall from 25 yards and even though Dons goalkeeper James Shea got half a hand on the ball he could not prevent it from nestling into the top-left corner of the net.

Liverpool had ample opportunity to finish off the tie in the remainder of the game and Shea did well to save from Rickie Lambert at his near post when he was set up by Gerrard.

And there was one last fright for Liverpool when Wimbledon substitute Adebayo Azeez forced Mignolet to save with his legs in injury-time. But there was to be no fairytale ending for the Dons this time.

AFC WIMBLEDON (4-4-2): Shea 7; Fuller 6, Barrett 7, Goodman 5, Kennedy 7; Francomb 7 (Sutherland 86; 6), Moore 6 (Pell 86; 6), Bulman 6, Rigg 8 (Azeez 80; 6); Akinfenwa 8, Tubbs 6

LIVERPOOL (3-4-2-1): Mignolet 4; Can 5, Skrtel 7, Sakho 6; Manquillo 7 (Enrique 71; 6), Lucas 6, Henderson 7, Markovic 6 (Toure 87; 6); Gerrard 8, Coutinho 7; Lambert 5 (Balotelli 79; 6)

Referee: Jonathan Moss.

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