Bolt from the blue
Reporter: by MATTHEW CHAMBERS
Date published: 09 January 2012
Liverpool 5, Athletic 1
THERE was no loneliness for Robbie Simpson as Athletic’s long-distance runner, his team-mates and the club’s supporters did the town proud at Anfield.
After smashing a brilliant left-footed drive past a bewildered Pepe Reina to give the visitors a lead they could barely have dreamed of, the likeable striker set off on an epic journey along with a host of team-mates.
Powered purely by adrenaline, from Kop to Anfield Road end, the 26-year-old wore a grin as wide as the mouth of the Mersey.
Nobody could begrudge him, as he was finally pulled to the floor in celebration in front of over 6,000 incredulous fans.
Manager Paul Dickov spoke at length at a busy pre-match press conference of the imperative to feast on the occasion during this mammoth FA Cup third-round tie, played – remarkably - in front of a sell-out crowd.
Online videos will now be bookmarked, newspaper cuttings and action photographs saved away in scrapbooks.
Nobody present with Athletic at heart, least of all Simpson himself, will ever tire of chewing over that one magical moment.
In football as in life, it takes the depressions to put the good times into sharp focus.
Simpson, discarded by Huddersfield Town where he was forced to train with a select group of fellow outcasts, is an effervescent character.
Damaging innuendo was spread across the Pennines over his apparent reluctance to depart on loan to a club of Huddersfield’s choice and with match fitness also an issue due to injuries, it took the Poole-born player a while to rediscover his form at Boundary Park – and the joy of the game in general.
In the moment that he saw the ball bend in the air and land in the left-hand corner of Reina’s goal, Simpson has surely never loved football more.
Athletic were value for the lead which that magnificent strike gave them after 28 minutes.
Shefki Kuqi should already have scored by that time, as should Chris Taylor, while Tom Adeyemi could hardly have done more with his flying, glancing header from a Simpson right-wing corner than glance it merely inches over and wide.
As a character famed for his intensity, Kuqi will be
repeatedly playing over his missed opportunity just as often as Simpson turns over the one he successfully took.
Chasing down a punt forward, the 35-year-old rushed Liverpool centre-back Sebastian Coates into an error before prodding the ball past Jamie Carragher.
In on goal, the striker
proceeded to only hit the side-netting. A square pass to the unmarked Simpson was by some distance a better option.
Taylor’s chance fell midway through the opening period. The winger was very much on his mettle and after dancing past Fabio Aurelio with an ease that will have disturbed Reds boss Kenny Dalglish, he played a lovely one-two with Adeyemi before toe-poking off-target.
Dirk Kuyt’s near-post header, directed off-target, was the
closest a stifled, second-best Liverpool could manage in an opening half-hour that was remarkably one-sided in favour of the npower League One club.
It is, as they say, better to be lucky than good. And when you are both, goals like Craig Bellamy’s tend to fall into your lap.
The Wales international
doesn’t score many goals with his stomach, but did here to divert Jonjo Shelvey’s shot past a prone Alex Cisak less than two minutes after Simpson’s shell.
The goal shook a previously swaggering Athletic, though the second for Dalglish’s men arrived in controversial
Adeyemi was adjudged to have knocked over Maxi in the area as the pair challenged for a floated Steven Gerrard cross from the right which appeared to carry little danger.
Surrounding and pleading with referee Neil Swarbrick cut no ice. Gerrard took charge and struck an accurate penalty kick, which nicked the underside of the crossbar on its way in.
Athletic regrouped at half-time and came close to
equalising on two occasions.
First, Simpson’s shot flew over the crossbar after a deflection, then Adeyemi arrived on the end of a smart pull-back by
substitute Josh Parker without administering sufficient
control on his left-foot shot from the edge of the box to keep it down and on target.
With Bellamy, hugging the right touchline, now a constant thorn in Kieran Lee’s side, Liverpool manufactured plenty of their own opportunities.
Diamond fended off Kuyt with a terrific block, Adeyemi did likewise when Maxi threatened and Cisak made a brilliant save low to his right to push Martin Kelly’s header onto a post.
Athletic’s hopes of levelling the game vaporised after 68 minutes.
Dean Furman won’t want to watch footage of his being robbed in possession by Shelvey again, the ex-Charlton man
subsequently sweeping home Bellamy’s centre.
The unsavoury episode with Adeyemi saw the game held up for a short while and the on-loan Norwich player was booked soon for a mistimed challenge on Jon Flanagan.
Athletic made changes to the line-up and gamely pushed forward in search of a second goal.
Gaps appeared and two Reds substitutes in desperate need of goals plundered them to give the final score a lop-sided feel.
Andy Carroll’s first-time shot from 20 yards was a terrific effort, providing only a fourth goal of the season, while Stewart Downing managed to get on the end of a rebound after Cisak had palmed out Gerrard’s attempt.
As far as the FA Cup goes for this season, Athletic are out. The Anfield experience, though, has certainly not left the club or its supporters down in spirit.