Liverpool 0 Argyle 0 - Report
by Rob McNichol
THE City of Liverpool understands the word famous.
They produced the most famous band the world has ever known, and they possess one of the most famous football clubs on planet Earth.
A 0-0 draw, against a Sky Bet League Two side, will not be heralded as one of the most amazing days in Liverpool Football Club's existence.
For Plymouth Argyle, this was a famous, famous draw.
Derek Adams' Pilgrims went to Liverpool under no pressure, but under no illusions that any sort of result was expected of them. What they produced was a performance worthy of Argyle heroes that will always be remembered by a very proud Green Army.
Yes, it was a rearguard action. Yes, Argyle were dominated almost from first whistle to the oh-so-glorious last blast, but they defended like their lives depending on making sure no football entered a shining white net, at either end of this famous ground.
We have to do it all again now. Strewth.
Derek Adams brought in Gary Miller, for Craig Tanner, as the only change from the line-up from six days previous, at Barnet. Miller returned to his right-back slot, meaning Oscar Threlkeld joined Graham Carey and David Fox in a three-man central midfield unit designed to keep the ball away from the hosts for as much time as possible.
Liverpool, as expected, played plenty of fringe players, but even the Reds' fringe includes seasoned, quality internationals like Lucas, Emre Can and Divock Origi. Highly promising youngsters such as Kevin Stewart, Sheyi Ojo and Ben Woodburn were also included, while on the bench came an eyecatching stat. The seven Liverpool substitutes, internationals all, totaled 250 caps between them.
As one might expect, the home side monopolised the ball in the early stages; if Argyle did not know, before the game, they were in for an afternoon of running, they soon did. Liverpool played the ball confidently, and early sighters from Ovie Ejaria and Stewart, which rolled either side of Luke McCormick's goal, gave some warning signs.
The Reds began to get a little closer. A direct free-kick, 20 yards out and struck by Can, was well blocked by Sonny Bradley, but after being nodded back into the danger zone, Ojo really should have scored from close range.
Woodburn was next up, creating his own chance by dancing into the area, but McCormick did superbly to save at his feet, and maintain parity to that point.
At the half-hour point, there was an observation made that both teams looked a little frustrated. Liverpool, at having so much possession yet not being able to break down a very solid Argyle defensive line. The Pilgrims tactic seemed to be to force Liverpool to get the ball to their attacking full-backs, then stop the cross. For the most part, it was very successful.
The game was basically attack v defence, but Argyle's frustration was their inability to keep the ball once they had it. Long balls forward to Arnold Garita did not stick; he had a valid claim that not enough people were forward to support him. Then again, Argyle needed the manpower to stay back and fend off the flow of attacks.
Argyle managed a small spell of possession, for a matter of 30 seconds perhaps, which was met with cheers from the Green Army. It is a little difficult adjusting from watching - generally very competitive - Sky Bet League Two football to understanding that you are going to get dominated, but it seemed Argyle's 8,600-strong contingent understood their lads' plight, and joined in the fun.
One appreciates that the famous Kop end gets regular visits from the Premier League's greats, and European giants, so little old Plymouth from down in the Westcountry might not get the spines tingled and the voice boxes purring, but there was only one set of fans to be heard, and they roared their heroes as a superb piece of defending from Ben Purrington was the catalyst for an attack down the left in the only minute of first half stoppage time. Slew was fouled near the corner flag, and the award of a free-kick elicited a huge cheer.
The cross was cleared, and the half-time whistle sounded, ending any hopes of sneaking a lead at the interval. Still, the reception from the Anfield Road end, housing the Argyle fans, was one of appreciation. Others areas were not so chuffed at the prospect of another 45 minutes of trying to break down a well-constructed wall.
Argyle started the second half unchanged, and with a bit of verve. It was hardly one-way green traffic, but one or two forays down the left by Garita caused unease, and Jordan Slew managed to get away the Pilgrims' first shot. Yes, it was sliced, and well wide, but that was not really the point.
"We've had a shot," sung the Green Army. They soon had another one, as Slew was fouled, drawing a direct free-kick that Carey got on target, but was pouched by Loris Karius. At the other end, Woodburn sent a shot plenty wide. This was on 55 minutes; with every minute that ticked by, a feeling that Argyle might just do something incredible rose.
To shock us back to the point that trying to stop that was an extraordinarily good football team, Lucas ripped a shot from 20 yards that McCormick saved, diving to his right. He held on, too - that should make a nice picture. It should also be noted that the Kop's very fine tradition of applauding visiting goalkeepers did not halt for Luke's visit. That was very nice to see.
So, as the hour mark came and went, Liverpool considered their options - and decided to bring on an England striker. OK, then.
Wonderful player though Daniel Sturridge is, his first act was to give the ball away with a square pass. Threlkeld picked the loose ball up, and had to be cynically checked by Lucas to halt an attack.
Moments later, Sturridge's next input was nearly a lot more telling. His shot from the edge of the area was exceedingly close to McCormick's left-hand post.
Argyle countered Liverpool's change with the introduction of Craig Tanner for Garita. Tanner's opening salvo was nearly something special. Latching on to a very good Threlkeld pass, Tanner beat two men, cutting inside, then had a shot blocked. In truth, either Carey or Threlkeld, to Tanner's left, may have been a better option, but it is hard to blame someone for having the image of such a special goal in their eyes.
All change, on 75 minutes. Gary Miller went down with a serious looking injury, and after many minutes of treatment, had to be carried off on a stretcher. While he was getting treated, Liverpool brought on promising young players Adam Lallana and Roberto Firmino. Those lads could have a future, you know.
Connor Smith replaced Miller, with Threlkeld switching to right-back. Liverpool were surely going to throw everything they could at Argyle. One felt, though, at this late stage of the game, with the tie still level, that whatever happened, the boys in green could be proud. And so could we, of them.
Settle for a draw? Not Carey and Tanner. The former's volley forward found the latter, who skipped past one player, on the halfway line, with one to beat. That one was Stewart, who made a very fine interception. The Green Army did not appreciate the challenge, but in truth it was excellently timed, and fair.
Time ticked away, and not only were Argyle holding out, they were joining in. Yes, Sturridge hit one into the side netting with McCormick stretching, but Jervis stripped into the box and whistled one wide, before Carey's trickery earned Argyle another free-kick in a good area. It led to nothing, but it wasted time, raised the Green Army volume and increased belief to almost unbearable levels.
As a cross went into Argyle's box, which McCormick claimed, up went the fourth official's board. The 90 minutes was up, and had been dealt with. Another six were signaled.
Each that passed was agony, but every Argyle hero held on, worked as hard as they ever had, and got the result no-one dared dream of.
Whoever said 0-0 draws are boring, eh?
Liverpool (4-3-3): 1 Loris Karius; 66 Trent Alexander-Arnold, 12 Joe Gomez, 21 Lucas (capt), 18 Alberto Moreno; 23 Emre Can (15 Daniel Sturridge 63), 35 Kevin Stewart, 53 Ovie Ejaria (20 Adam Lallana 75); 58 Ben Woodburn (11 Roberto Firmino 75), 54 Sheyi Ojo, 27 Divock Origi. Substitutes (not used): 2 Nathaniel Clyne, 5 Georginio Wijnaldum, 17 Ragnar Klavan, 22 Simon Mignolet (gk).
Argyle (4-3-3): 23 Luke McCormick (capt); 2 Gary Miller (6 Connor Smith 76), 4 Yann Songo'o, 15 Sonny Bradley, 16 Ben Purrington; 18 Oscar Threlkeld, 24 David Fox, 10 Graham Carey; 14 Jake Jervis, 26 Arnold Garita (27 Craig Tanner 65), 8 Jordan Slew. Substitutes (not used): 5 Nauris Bulvitis, 19 Karleigh Osborne, 20 Louis Rooney, 21 Vincent Dorel (gk).
Referee: Paul Tierney.
Attendance: 52,692 (8,600 est away)