Steven Gerrard showed just why he will be hard to replace when he leaves Liverpool this summer as he scored both goals in their 2-1 win at AFC Wimbledon.
Like they have done on so many occasions, the talismanic captain’s strikes – one in either half – gave the Reds victory, sending them into The FA Cup Fourth Round.
Gerrard’s first, a header, and his second, a sublime free-kick, took his FA Cup tally to 14 and saved Liverpool’s blushes against a tenacious Dons team 72 places below them in the Football League and playing in their first ever Third Round game.
AFC Wimbledon 1-2 Liverpool
The FA Cup
Third Round Proper
Monday 5 January 2015
Winners receive £67,500 from FA Prize Fund
Wimbledon made one change from their last outing – a 4-1 win over Exeter – striker Ade Akinfenwa coming in to start in place of Harry Pell and he netted in the first half to cancel out Gerrard’s opener.
And it gave the tremendous home support something to take away from this memorable night in south London.
With the draw taking place in the Dons clubhouse just before kick-off, the winners knew they’d be facing a home tie with Bolton Wanderers in the next round.
And it was no surprise that Liverpool dominated the possession early on, though it was the home side who had a terrific chance to stun their Premier League guests inside ten minutes.
Despite seeing the ball largely in their half, a throw-in in Liverpool territory allowed Akinfenwa to bully Javier Manquillo and flick on into the space behind the back-three.
Sean Rigg latched onto the ball inside the left channel, but he could only drag his shot wide.
They were made to pay just two minutes later when Gerrard struck the opener, punishing the League Two side in brutal fashion.
Manquillo delivered a ball in from the right as the Reds skipper arrived to head home past James Shea from ten yards.
With Liverpool not creating too many chances, however, the Dons began to relax into the game. Rigg was again presented with an opportunity with the half-hour mark approaching, but his powerful hit from close-range was well-saved by Simon Mignolet.
When another ball in behind Liverpool’s defence fell to top scorer Matt Tubbs, he seemed a little surprised to be presented with the chance. With his back to goal he had time to steady himself before swivelling to shoot at goal. The ball narrowly missed the far post.
But the momentum was clearly with the home side and their endeavour paid off when Akinfenwa levelled. A dangerous corner from the left was headed onto the bar and fell kindly for the striker inside a crowded six yard box. He wasn’t going to let this opportunity go begging and smashed into the net to send Kingsmeadow crazy.
The half-time break did little to quell Wimbledon’s desire and Sammy Moore’s strike looked to be heading on target until a deflection sent it wide. From the corner Gerrard was forced into a goal-line clearance from Adam Barrett’s header.
Yet again, however, with Liverpool regaining control of the game, Gerrard struck to restore the lead.
When Dons skipper Barry Fuller chopped Philippe Coutinho down on the edge of the area with an hour played, Gerrard did not need a second invitation to curl a perfect free-kick into the top corner beyond Shea’s reach.
Liverpool continued to search for goals, while Wimbledon had to make to with attacks on the counter.
Martin Skrtel, Lazar Markovic, Coutinho and Gerrard were all denied by saves from Shea.
Both sides made attacking changes in the final ten minutes – Adebayo Azeez coming on for the Dons, while Mario Balotelli was introduced by Brendan Rodgers.
It was Azeez who was close to becoming the hero with two chances; a powerful drive deflected away and another close-range effort saved by Mignolet. Balotelli also looked odds on to score, too, but Jake Goodman snuffed out the opening three yards out.
Gerrard was then denied his hat-trick by a last-ditch goal-line block in additional time, but he’d done enough to secure Liverpool a meeting with Bolton at Anfield in three weeks.
AFC Wimbledon (4-4-2): 20 James Shea, 2 Barry Fuller (c), 17 Callum Kennedy, 8 Sammy Moore, 27 Adam Barrett, 33 Jake Goodman, 11 Sean Rigg, 4 Dannie Bulman, 10 Adebayo Akinfenwa, 9 Matt Tubbs, 7 George Francomb.
Subs: 11 Adebayo Azeez on for Rigg 79, 31 Frankie Sutherland on for Francomb 86, 12 Harry Pell on for Moore 86.
Subs not used: 26 Joe McDonnell, 6 Alan Bennett, 29 Ben Harrison, 23 George Oakley.
Goal: Akinfenwa 36.
Manager: Neal Ardley.
Liverpool (3-4-2-1): 22 Simon Mignolet; 17 Mamadou Sakho, 23 Emre Can, 37 Martin Skrtel; 50 Lazar Markovic, 14 Jordan Henderson, 31 Lucas Leiva, 19 Javier Manquillo; 8 Steven Gerrard (c), 10 Philippe Coutinho; 9 Rickie Lambert.
Subs: 3 Jose Enrique on for Manquillo 71, 45 Mario Balotelli on for Lambert 79, 4 Kolo Toure on for Markovic 86.
Subs not used: 52 Danny Ward, 18 Alberto Moreno, 29 Fabio Borini, 49 Jordan Williamson
Goals: Gerrard 12, 62.
Manager: Brendan Rodgers
Referee Jonathan Moss
Watch highlights from the Third Round Proper tie at Cherry Red Records Stadium