A makeshift Liverpool side knocked out Championship fodder Cardiff City in what may really have been Robbie Fowler’s last appearance at Anfield.
Rafa Benitez made a multitude of changes from the weekend – some forced due to injuries but the fresh faced side eventually coasted past a Cardiff team who had brought a decent number of fans up from the south of Wales.
Charles Itandje was in goal – youngster Jack Hobbs was Carragher’s centre-back partner, Lucas Leiva partnered Gerrard in central midfielder and left and right wings were covered by two of the reds reserves – Sebastian Leto and Nabil El Zhar. Up front Ryan Babel made a rare appearance as a striker, partnering another player who hasn’t seen much football this season – Peter Crouch.
After some poor performances the first half was were the competition between the two sides was most closely matched. The Liverpool XI spent most of the first half trying to gel, and cope with their new positions. Nabil El Zhar was lively, Leto was less so. Up front Babel was clearly determined to make an impression but a combination of a well managed Cardiff defence and some indecisiveness hindered the player. Jack Hobbs had an excellent game partnering Jamie Carragher in defence.
It was returning hero Robbie Fowler who had the earliest chance to score with a free kick in front of the Kop. Itandje however saved the ball which looked bound for the top corner of the net.
The first half’s best chances fell to Liverpool but Cardiff also had their moments to take the lead.
In the second half the reds, kicking towards the Kop, looked a markedly improved side. Only 3 minutes in to the half it was Nabil El Zhar, playing in Jermaine Pennant’s usual position, who scored a fine goal from outside the box. Gerrard created the chance before the Moroccan smashed home his 25 yard effort.
Liverpool’s passing was brighter and the confidence improved and as Cardiff pressed for an equaliser the reds appeared to have more time on the ball. However it was Welsh side who got the next goal. With 25 minutes remaining the reds conceded a free kick which when crossed in was met by the head of Darren Purse who headed home.
Queue some jubilation amongst the Cardiff supporters in the away end, and some of the clowns in the Liverpool sections of the crowd. However, before tempers could flare up, Liverpool were back in the lead within 45 seconds when Gerrard smashed home to restore the correct result. By this point Benayoun had replaced the lack-lustre Leto and it was Yossi who combined with Stevie G for the goal.
The reds had a couple of scares in injury time with a corner and free kick going Cardiff’s way but the reds deserved the win – especially for the second half domination. On to the quarter finals is an achievement, but perhaps of greater importance were the performances of Jack Hobbs in defence, and the return of Harry Kewell who had a bright 20 minutes of first team football.
Eight Premiership teams complete the Quarter Final draw which will be made on Saturday.
“I would have wanted really to leave Steven out of the match.
“But we have too many injuries and Mohamed Sissoko was sick again, so Steven had to play and in the end he was the one who scored the vital goal.
“Cardiff worked very hard and were always dangerous, but then Steven got through to score a typical goal.”
Cardiff manager Dave Jones:
“We’ve come to Anfield and given them a bit of a fright.
“You’re at your most vulnerable when you’re in possession and unfortunately we lost the ball on the halfway line.
“But of all the players for the ball to break to, who can do that damage, it had to fall to the player I consider the best in that position – Gerrard.”
Liverpool: Itandje, Arbeloa, Hobbs, Carragher, Aurelio, El Zhar (Kewell 71), Lucas (Mascherano 87), Gerrard, Leto (Benayoun 63), Crouch, Babel.
ubs Not Used: Martin, Riise.
Booked: Lucas, Babel.
Goals: El Zhar 48, Gerrard 66.
Cardiff: Oakes, McNaughton (Gunter 84), Purse, Johnson, Capaldi, Ledley, Rae, McPhail (Whittingham 89), Parry, Fowler, Hasselbaink (Thompson 75).
ubs Not Used: Magennis, Loovens.
Goals: Purse 65.
Ref: Peter Walton (Northamptonshire).