NO competition divides opinion like the Emirates FA Cup.
For some, it is plainly no more than a task that has to be done; just do not expect it to be undertaken with any enthusiasm; a bit like loading the dishwasher or putting the vacuum cleaner round.
Firmly established in that camp is Cardiff and ex-Argyle boss, Neil Warnock, who stated quite openly that he could hardly be bothered to get out of bed for his side’s early kick-off against Fulham, a sentiment clearly shared by the bulk of the Welsh side’s regular attendance of around 16,000, since less than a third of that number were in attendance to see the Bluebirds’ exit at the first hurdle. That they suffered defeat is scarcely surprising if everyone from the manager downwards viewed the match as an irritation.
For others, it represents all that is good about the game, offering once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to players and fans in the lower echelons to experience a world that is far removed from their normal football experience.
Solidly in the latter camp is the latest of Warnock’s successors as Argyle manager. The pride on Derek Adams’ face after the game was there for all to see and said everything about what it meant to the club to have gone to Anfield and kept the home side at bay for 90 minutes, not to mention the agonising six added on for stoppages.
Despite all the brouhaha about theaverage age of his starting 11, Jurgen Klopp is much more on Adams’ side of the argument than Warnock’s.
The clear undertone of the criticism that has come the way of the Liverpool boss is an accusation of disrespect for the world’s oldest cup competition, as it is mandatory for all pundits to call it. However, before anyone rushes to judgement, they should note that the home team started the match with four full internationals on the pitch, and ended it with six. Klopp’s contention that he had picked a team to win the match deserves more credit.
They should also consider that even without the replay that they now face, Liverpool already had a further five matches to play before the end of January, including a two-leg semi-final in the EFL Cup. Against that backdrop, Klopp’s team selection was pragmatic and in no way disrespectful to either the competition or the opposition.
Meanwhile, Adams left both his full internationals, David Goodwillie and Nauris Bulvitis, on the bench throughout, but no-one has so far levelled an accusation of disrespect against him.
The way that the match unfolded also lends considerable weight to Klopp’s argument. Any team that achieves 77% possession and has 28 goal attempts can reasonably have been said to be well on top.
The Liverpool line-up may have contained some unfamiliar names, but even if they had all been called Madame Trixie and had gone onto the field with a whip tucked into their boots, they could hardly have been more dominant.
That they did not breach the green wall owed everything to the work ethic and spirit of an Argyle team that simply would not buckle. Twenty-eight shots sounds like an awful lot, but many were from long range and only four were on target. In truth, Luke McCormick was so well protected by his team-mates that he wasn’t really particularly stretched, apart from one typically defiant close-range block from Ben Woodburn, the youngest Liverpool player of them all.
In fact, the possession stats became slightly less one-sided as the game progressed, with the split being 73/27 in the last half hour. Leicester City won the Premier League on not much more than that.
For all that it was pretty much attack against defence from start to finish, it was a case of the end justifying the means, with the result being beyond the expectations of even the most green-tinted Pilgrim.
The general consensus in a non-scientific fans’ survey before the game was that the first objective was not to get humiliatedand the second was to enjoy the day.No-one mentioned the possibility of a clean sheet or a replay.
It goes without saying that a very large tick was placed in the box against the first objective, and possibly an even bigger one against the second.
The 8,600-strong Green Army was in full voice from before the first whistle until after the last, even having the temerity to offer to sing a song for the legendarily vocal Kop, which was strangely muted throughout. Perhaps, they were right when they suggested that the home fans really were only there for the Argyle.
It took the Pilgrims until the 55th minute to register a shot, and when they did, Jordan Slew’s effort was roughly 11 yards wide of the target. Even so, it was met with a rousing rendition of “We’ve had a shot”, quickly followed by “We’re just too good for you”.
Everyone at Argyle knows that promotion is all that counts this year, whether the Anfield jaunt had ended in glory or ignominy, but for an hour and a half yesterday, plus an awful lot of travelling hours either side, there was only one thing on the mind of anyone associated with the club.
Love it or hate it, only the FA Cup can do that.
Now there’s an idea... the FA Cup sponsored by Marmite. Has a certain ring, doesn’t it?