It’s 33 years since the Pilgrims last beat a top division side, when a Tommy Tynan goal saw them overcome West Bromwich Albion in their famous 1984 FA Cup run, but there was to be no such fairytale last night. Klopp kept faith in nine of his 11 selections from the first leg, while adding reinforcements in Phillipe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge, although neither of them completed the 90 minutes as Liverpool held out for a 1-0 win with a team even younger than their record breaking lineup from 10 days ago.
Despite sharing similar league form, with both sides having lost one in their last nine, Liverpool’s dominance had carried over from the first outing at Anfield 10 days ago. On their returns to the starting lineup, both Daniel Sturridge and Phillipe Coutinho missed good opportunities early on, with the England striker firing well over before the Brazilian mishit a bouncing ball inside the box.
The last time a former Brazil international was on the scoresheet at Home Park, Pelé had just converted from the penalty spot on a visit with Santos during their 1973 European tour. 44 years later, it was Lucas Leiva meeting compatriot Coutinho’s ball in to the box to head home for his first goal in seven years. Falling behind looked to do Plymouth the world of good though, as they began to come out of their shell and look for an equaliser. Lifelong Liverpool fan Graham Carey stung the palms of Loris Karius from range, before Paul Garita went agonisingly close only for the teenaged Trent Alexander-Arnold to block.
Wednesday’s edition of the Plymouth Herald had called for locals to put their faith in “super Luke” (McCormack), who was forced to get low and collect Moreno’s cross late in the first half. Other than picking the ball out of the back of his net, it was the first time Liverpool had threatened the ‘keeper in an uneventful first period. Winger Carey had the home fans worried, however, as he hobbled in to the dressing rooms at the interval after getting a knock earlier in the half.
Carey returned unscathed, and seemed to have shaken off any apprehension he had taken in at the break. Whatever it was that Argyle manager Derek Adams said at half-time, it looked to have added fuel to the fire in the bellies of his players. Their first chance after the break saw David Fox’s low drive met by the Liverpool goalkeeper, followed by Garita and Jordan Slew linking up a moment later, met by assured defending from Joe Gomez.
Liverpool, as expected, grew back in to the encounter but to no avail. Sturridge fluffed his lines when meeting a floated cross in to the box, miscuing his volley entirely, before failing once again from distance. Plymouth’s next delivery in to the area did nothing to help the recovering confidence of Liverpool’s Karius of late, as Garita challenged him in the air knocking the ball from his hands, only for Graham Scott to blow for the foul before he could pounce on the loose ball.
Such was the strength of Liverpool squad that even when Coutinho was withdrawn an international came on in his place, albeit 19-year-old Harry Wilson making his first team debut. The teenager was given his senior international debut by Wales boss Chris Coleman at the age of 16 years and 207 days. Wilson was threatening the Plymouth goal within minutes of coming on, having scored 19 at under-23 level this season, and went close when he blocked McCormick’s clearance inside the six-yard box only to see it fly over.
Plymouth repeatedly hit set pieces to the back post for Sonny Bradley to guide back across, and it continued to create difficulties for Klopp’s defence. Jake Jervis’ acrobatic effort ricocheting off the upright was the closest the home side came to equalising. Songo’o looked to have sent his side packing when he clattered in to Alberto Moreno in the box, but with regular spot-kick taker James Milner being rested, Divock Origi stepped up to see his effort saved by McCormick.
But Liverpool’s youngsters held out, seeing them through to the fourth round to set up a home clash with Wolves. For the hosts, their FA Cup campaign comes to end and they return to focussing on their bid for League 2 promotion.
Plymouth (4-5-1): McCormick; Threlkeld, Songo’o, Bradley, Purrington; Jervis, Fox, Carey, Donaldson (Tanner, 67), Slew (Bulvitis, 80); Garita (Rooney, 72)
Unused subs: Dorel, Sawyer, Fletcher, Rose
Liverpool (4-3-3-): Karius; Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Lucas, Moreno; Stewart, Ejaria, Coutinho (Wilson, 65) ; Sturridge (Ojo, 76), Origi, Woodburn
Unused subs: Mignolet, Klavan, Williams, Alves, Randall
Ref: Graham Scott
This is a Guardian style match report written as a runner while on work placement on the sports desk. Header image credit: Liverpool Echo.