Liverpool’s FA Cup dream continues, despite all the odds, hopes of an improbable treble are very much alive.
It was one of those Anfield performances that will live long in club folklore. It may not have been Barcelona or Dortmund or St Etienne, but the fans cherished the victory’s significance all the same.
In the face of adversity, with the doubters waiting for the ultimate banana skin to send the Premier League leaders crashing back down to earth, Liverpool produced something truly special.
On a night where the Reds selected their youngest ever starting line-up, where their senior players were sunning it up on their holidays and where Jurgen Klopp watched from behind the screen of his laptop from afar, Neil Critchley and his under-23 side stepped up to the mark.
Klopp’s latest leap of faith was vindicated and some. Talk about making a statement to the FA Cup organisers. Disrespecting the competition? This was the kind of night which injected a much-needed revival to the world’s oldest cup competition.
It’s testament once again to the project Klopp has created for this frankly ridiculous team: ‘From doubters to believers’ were the words the German manager first used to describe what he hoped to create at the club following his arrival four years ago.
I don’t think Klopp knew at the time that this mentality would have been absorbed across all parts of the club in such quick-time. Whether it’s the senior players, the youngsters or even the groundsman everyone associated with Liverpool Football Club have bought into the FIFA Coach of the Year’s philosophy.
“What he does is give you total clarity, belief. He told them to play the Liverpool way and go for it”, Critchley revealed after the game following a conversation on the phone with the Liverpool boss.
“That’s how the first team plays, so he said this is us, this is what we do what we stand for and what we believe in, and you’d better go for it. And from the first whistle, we did that.”
There were talks of an upset when the League One outfit came to the home of the European champions but not the one we all expected. To say this was a second-string Liverpool outfit would be far from an understatement. Seven of Critchley’s team were teenagers, and three – Liam Millar, Adam Lewis and Jake Cain – were debutants. The average age of the starting XI was 19 years and 102 days.
It was a night where boys became men. Despite the only goal of the game paying plenty to fortune, it was an outcome that was more than deserved.
Shrewsbury’s Shaun Whalley, a boyhood Red, had a goal chalked off for offside courtesy of VAR before, with 15 minutes remaining, Neco Williams, as he had in the initial tie at New Meadow, forced an own goal with a cross from the right.
Former Manchester Unite defender Ro-Shaun Williams was the man who headed the ball past Max O’Leary in front of a jubilant Kop. As the defender fell to the Anfield turf with his hands on his heads he knew this was one of those evenings where destiny was with the boys in the red.
This club is special, this club means more. Time and again, you think you’ve seen it all. But this is Anfield, the impenetrable fortress that produces moments that last a lifetime, that leaves you scratching your head questioning your own very existence with the wonder did I really just witness that?
From first-team to the academy the outcome is the same; the Jurgen Klopp winning-machine rolls on.