Wimbledon 1 v Liverpool 2
Wimbledon went out of the FA Cup in gallant fashion as they narrowly lost 2-1 to mighty Liverpool at Kingsmeadow on Monday (5 January), with Steven Gerrard getting both Reds’ goals.
For a long period either side of the half-time break Neal Ardley’s men had their Premier League opponents on the back foot, but it was Gerrard who broke their hearts with a trademark free-kick midway through the second period to put Liverpool through.
But Wimbledon can hold their heads high after putting on an impressive performance in front of a capacity Kingsmeadow crowd with millions more watching around the globe live on TV.
It was a sign of just how close Wimbledon came to pulling off a cup upset that afterwards Ardley felt able to tell Dons Player: ‘I’m really disappointed and I think the players should be, too.
‘They should be proud of their performance but this was a chance for us. If we had that bit more quality and nous we could have got something out of the game.’
The Dons certainly looked nervous in the opening exchanges against their illustrious opponents as they sat back, content to see Liverpool passing square in their own half.
And with Wimbledon ‘tucking in’ their full-backs to deny Liverpool space through the middle, there was plenty of opportunity for the Reds to attack down the flanks.
But despite Liverpool’s dominant possession, it was the Dons who forged the first real opening as Matt Tubbs – playing his last game for the Dons before being recalled by Bournemouth – flicked on to release Sean Rigg but the winger, who had a particularly impressive night, on this occasion dragged his shot across the face of the goal.
Three minutes later, the Dons were behind. A patient Liverpool passing move was rewarded when they found Javier Manquillo on the right flank. He capitalised on the time allowed before the scampering Callum Kennedy closed him down to deliver a dangerous cross into the box that a fully committed Gerrard stooped to head home to put the visitors 1-0 ahead.
Some in the crowd might at that point have expected Liverpool to push on to a comfortable victory, but slowly but surely Wimbledon came back into it and assumed the ascendancy.
First George Francomb delivered a teasing low cross that Martin Skrtel had to be alert to turn behind for a corner with Tubbs lying in wait behind him.
Liverpool failed to clear the subsequent corner, and when Francomb’s follow-up was blocked the ball fell kindly for Rigg who unleashed a blistering effort from close range that drew an impressive reflex save from Simon Mignolet, turning it over the bar.
Although Jake Goodman headed the corner high, the flurry of opportunities had changed the mood inside Kingsmeadow and Wimbledon suddenly had belief.
Minutes later, when a long James Shea kick was flicked on in turns by Adebayo Akinfenwa and Rigg, the bounce in the box caught Manquillo in two minds and Tubbs nipped in, only to screw his shot wide as he twisted to hook the ball home.
But the Dons finally got their reward in the 36th minute as Kingsmeadow erupted in ecstasy. A typical Rigg surge down the left won a corner which, when delivered by Francomb, Mignolet completely missed. With the keeper stranded, a combination of Mamadou Sakho and Barry Fuller forced the ball onto the bar, from where it fell loose in the box and Akinfenwa reacted quickest to prod home the equaliser.
And Wimbledon didn’t let up at the start of the second period. Sammy Moore saw his effort from the edge of the box deflected wide for a corner, from which Gerrard had to be in the right place at the right time to clear an Adam Barrett header off the line
But as Wimbledon pressed, Liverpool were increasingly able to exploit the spaces left at the back. Phillippe Coutinho had already curled one effort just off target before Fuller launched a reckless challenge on the same player just after the hour. From the subsequent free-kick, Gerrard curled a magnificent free kick up and over the wall and into the top corner of the net, with Shea unable to do more than get fingertips to it.
But still Wimbledon refused to buckle, and Rigg showed real intelligence from Francomb’s cross to the far post by nodding it back to the lurking Dannie Bulman, whose flashed half-volley was only inches over the bar.
With Shea pulling off a good save from Rickie Lambert, the Dons were still in it with 15 minutes remaining as Adebayo Azeez was introduced to replace the tiring Rigg, with the Dons going with three attackers up front.
And although Shea also had to be alert to deny Coutinho, Gerrard and Lazar Markovic, Azeez had chances to snatch a draw and a lucrative replay at Anfield, with one cannonball effort blocked and then Mignolet block tackling him in injury time at the expense of a corner.
There was still time for Shea to save from substitute Mario Balotelli, with Kennedy blocking Gerrard’s follow-up on the line, but eventually time ran out for the Dons.
They return to League Two action on Saturday (10 January) as they travel to Stevenage, looking to push on towards touching distance of the play-off positions, before hosting Carlisle United the following weekend.
Wimbledon: Shea, Fuller, Goodman, Barrett, Kennedy, Francomb (Sutherland 86), Moore (Pell 86), Bulman, Rigg (Azeez 79), Tubbs, Akinfenwa. Subs not used: Bennett, Oakley, McDonnell, Harrison.
Goalscorer: Akinfenwa 36.
Booked: Akinfenwa 39, Fuller 61, Goodman 70.
Liverpool: Mignolet, Can, Skrtel, Sakho, Manquillo (Jose Enrique 71), Henderson, Lucas, Markovic (K. Touré 86), Gerrard, Lambert (Balotelli 79), Coutinho. Subs not used: Moreno, Borini, Williams, Ward.
Goalscorer: Gerrard 12, 62.
Booked: Coutinho 77.
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January 8, 2014