LUTON TOWN 3-5 LIVERPOOL
FA CUP 3RD ROUND
7th January 2006 (17:30) at Kenilworth Road
Liverpool were forced to pull off a comeback of almost Istanbul proportions to stay in the FA Cup after a wonderfully entertaining FA Cup tie at Kenilworth Road.
There were eight goals, two penalties - one scored by Luton, one missed by Liverpool - in a match which proved the romance of the most famous cup competition in the world is alive and well.
But spare a thought for brave Luton, urged on by their Liverpudlian manager Mike Newell and who showed that the gap between the Barclays Premiership and the Coca Cola Championship is perhaps not as wide as some people insist.
The Hatters were brilliant, taking a 3-1 lead with football which was intelligent and inspired and played at a frenetic pace.
It was so frantic that Liverpool's midfield - including Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso - at times was overrun as goals came from Steve Howard, Steve Robinson and Kevin Nicholls' penalty.
Many Premiership sides would have surrendered there and then.
But Liverpool are European champions, courtesy of that fantastic comeback against AC Milan last May.
They never give in - and with Gerrard driving them forward and two-goal Florent Sinama Pongolle giving them a cutting edge, they fought back to take their place in the fourth round after a game which will live long in the memory. Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez certainly knows what the FA Cup is all about now.
Last season he selected an Anfield youth side for the third-round trip to Burnley and came away fielding accusations of disrespect amid the ignominy of a 1-0 defeat.
This time, apart from handing an FA Cup debut to goalkeeper Scott Carson, his side was packed with experience and the star talent which had taken the club to third in the Premiership with a run of 10 wins and one draw in their last 11 matches.
But they could not have reckoned with a Luton side which matched and often eclipsed them in every department.
That was all the more commendable, considering Liverpool had taken the lead in such decisive fashion.
The game was just 15 minutes old when a smart piece of possession in the penalty area by Peter Crouch saw him neatly elude three defenders before rolling the ball back to Djibril Cisse who in turn eased a pass into the path of Steven Gerrard.
The Liverpool captain struck the ball first time from the edge of the area with his right foot, and it swerved wickedly past Luton goalkeeper Marlon Beresford into the net.
Immediately, Luton began playing the sort of football which has seen them march from League One to the upper reaches of the Championship - intelligent, controlled play but at a tempo which stunned Liverpool.
They might have equalised when Rowan Vine found space down the left and fired in a cross for the unmarked Howard, but the Hatters striker snatched at the chance and bundled the ball past the wrong side of the post.
If that was a poor miss then Howard quickly made amends after half an hour when he latched on to a penetrating through ball from Paul Underwood and kept his nerve to take the ball wide of Carson and lash a right-foot shot into the net.
It was no more than Luton had earned with their spirited response to Liverpool's goal, hustling and harrying in midfield and playing the ball out of defence with precision.
But if the delight began cascading down the stands then Kenilworth Road fairly erupted in the 42nd minute when Robinson spun in the penalty area, evaded Carragher and blasted his 15-yard shot home to give Luton a deserved lead.
It would have been even better if Steve Finnan had not headed Markus Heikkinen's header off the line.
As it was, one can only imagine the adrenalin coursing through the Luton veins as they sipped their half-time tea.
But the drama was only just beginning.
Liverpool should have equalised after 48 minutes when they were awarded a spot kick after Gerrard was bundled over in the penalty area.
Djibril Cisse's kick was too close to keeper Beresford, who barely had to stretch his 6ft 6in frame to save.
It got even worse for Liverpool three minutes later when a Sami Hyypia mistake let in Vine, who bore down on Carson. Vine appeared to stand on the goalkeeper's foot just outside the area as the players collided, but the referee adjudged it was a penalty kick and handed Carson a yellow card.
Kevin Nicholls made Liverpool pay, drilling the spot-kick past Carson to give Luton a 3-1 lead.
Liverpool, however, responded after an hour when a strong run from substitute Sinama Pongolle ended with the striker blasting a 15-yard drive past Beresford to get the Reds back into the game.
It was breathtaking stuff - which moved up another gear when Xabi Alonso took a chance from fully 30 yards out only to see his shot dip wickedly over Beresford and nestle in the Luton net.
It was 3-3, and again Liverpool were masterminding yet another amazing comeback.
Still there was more as Luton tired, and in the 73rd minute it was Sinama Pongolle again - this time rising to send a powerful header past Beresford.
That was three goals in 11 minutes; yet still Luton had the energy for a thrilling finale, goalkeeper Beresford joining the attack in the last frantic moments.
His adventure only allowed Alonso to score Liverpool's fifth with a shot from all of 60 yards which trickled over the line.
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|Match Report filed: 8 January 2006|