League Two Plymouth take Liverpool to replay

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The youngest Liverpool starting line-up in the club’s history were held to a frustrating draw by resolute League Two side Plymouth Argyle in their FA Cup third-round tie at Anfield.

The hosts, whose side had an average age of 21 years and 296 days, had 80.3% possession in the first half but struggled to break down their gritty opponents, with Sheyi Ojo failing to take their best chance when he missed a header from close range.

Divock Origi also had a goal disallowed for a foul on Gary Miller before Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp brought on first-team regulars Daniel Sturridge, Adam Lallana and Roberto Firmino in search of a breakthrough.

Sturridge sent a 25-yard shot just wide, looped a header over and fired into the side-netting – but the Reds could not find the cutting edge to break down an organised and disciplined Plymouth.

Craig Tanner would have been clean through on the Liverpool goal but for a Kevin Stewart challenge as the Pilgrims earned a replay at Home Park.

Both sides now go into the fourth round draw, which will be made live on BBC Two and online from 19:00 GMT on Monday.

Klopp team selection backfires

Liverpool boss Klopp made 10 changes for the game – including defender Joe Gomez returning to first-team action for the first time since 1 October, 2015 following a knee ligament injury, and 17-year-old forward Ben Woodburn making his first start for the club.

And, despite his side enjoying plenty of possession – 87.2% after the first 15 minutes – they could not find the creativity to pierce the banked masses of Plymouth players.

Ojo failed to make proper contact with a header from five yards and Woodburn – showing some neat footwork at times – had a shot saved, but chances were few and far between for the youthful Reds, who managed just four efforts on target from 28 overall.

German Klopp said before the game he could be criticised if his team selection backfired and, even with the introduction of Sturridge, Lallana and Firmino, his much-changed side could not find a winner.

Liverpool's heatmap shows their dominance of the ball compared with Plymouth's

Plymouth ‘bus’ stops Reds in their tracks

Such was the effort and application put in by Plymouth, who are second in League Two, Klopp congratulated their players on the pitch after the final whistle.

The visitors set up in a 4-5-1 formation and their focus on containment rather than posing any attacking threat resulted in keeper Luke McCormick having the most touches – 52 – of any Pilgrims player.

It was a team effort, but centre-backs Sonny Bradley and Yann Songo’o epitomised the dogged spirit and endeavour of their side and were key to the result.

Plymouth took nearly 9,000 fans to Anfield and, although they had little to cheer from an attacking point of view with their team managing just three touches in the Liverpool box, they were celebrating at the end and have a replay to look forward to at Home Park.

“The character and work rate we showed was unbelievable,” said Plymouth midfielder Graham Carey.

“The atmosphere has been brilliant and it will be the same when they come to our place. I’ve come here as a fan before – the hairs are standing up on the back of my neck.”

Man of the match – Sonny Bradley (Plymouth)

Sonny Bradley

What they said:

Liverpool manager Klopp: “They created small spaces and we made our own problems. A game like this is not easy to make exciting.

“We had a young side so that’s difficult. We can do better and if we do better then we have a good chance of making the next round.

“With our other line-up it could be possible that the result was still the same – not likely, but possible. It was a good experience for the boys.”

Plymouth boss Derek Adams: “We had a very good defensive display. We allowed Liverpool the ball. When we had the ball we still created a couple of opportunities.

“We had gone in at half-time at 0-0 and that was important. We knew Liverpool might start the second half at a better tempo and we coped with that well. We knew we would get a bit of belief as well.

“We’ve had a couple of opportunities in the game that we might have done better with, but that would be asking too much.”

On an injury to Gary Miller: “He’s either got a broken ankle or ankle ligament damage. We’ll see what happens. It’s disappointing for him and the team.”

Analysis

Former Wales and Arsenal striker John Hartson on BBC Radio 5 live

“Plymouth gave everything. They have left everything out there on the Anfield pitch.

“Liverpool paid the price for too many changes. They never really created enough opportunities for their strikers. It’s a day to give Plymouth the credit.”

Plymouth end long wait – the stats

  • The Reds have drawn four of their past five FA Cup matches at Anfield 0-0.
  • Liverpool had 76.7% on Sunday. Only against Burnley and Sunderland in the Premier League this season have they had more in a game.
  • The last fourth-tier side to claim a draw in an FA Cup game at Anfield were Doncaster Rovers in January 1974.
  • The Pilgrims avoided defeat in an FA Cup game against a top-flight team for the first time since drawing against Everton in the fourth round in 1989 (before losing the replay).
  • Liverpool midfielder Kevin Stewart made the same amount of successful passes (53) as the whole Plymouth team during the first half.

What next?

Liverpool go to Southampton on Wednesday for the first leg of their EFL Cup semi-final (19:45 GMT kick-off), while Plymouth continue their League Two promotion challenge when they host Stevenage on Saturday at 15:00.

Line-ups

Liverpool

  • 1Karius
  • 66Alexander-Arnold
  • 12Gomez
  • 21Lucas
  • 18Moreno
  • 23Can