Liverpool's dire season drifted into the realms of the apocalyptic last night when Reading, a side four places and five points off the bottom of the Championship, exposed their desperately brittle defence and left them clutching to Europa League ambitions as their last hope of silverware.
Liverpool's dismal FA Cup record against lower league opposition – five exits in 11 years – seemed destined to be rectified when they entered second-half injury time 1-0 ahead but a defence that had looked vulnerable all night conceded on 91 minutes and again after 100. Reading left with their first ever win at Anfield; one that plunges Rafael Benitez's future back into uncertainty.
His misery was compounded by a twisted knee and hamstring pull sustained by Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard respectively. "We have to wait until tomorrow to see what the doctor says," a grave Benitez said last night. Yossi Benayoun, probably his best player on the night, has sustained a rib injury.
The sense of crisis and drift was compounded by Benitez's refusal to specify what he had found displeasing. "There were a lot of things I didn't like. We made mistakes," the manager said. But pressed on what they were he replied: "I don't want to say too much. I prefer not to say anything. We know it's a massive competition and we wanted to progress. I'm really disappointed."
Brian McDermott, Reading's caretaker manager, justifiably felt the win was warranted, with Jobi McAnuff having an opportunity, minutes before referee Phil Dowd justifiably adjudged Benayoun to have fouled Shane Long in the area, to slide in an equaliser after a 70-yard run through the Liverpool midfield. "I had feared coming here and not playing," said McDermott, who in the mayhem forgot to ask Reading chairman John Madjeski if the job is his permanently. "We created decent chances and we might have been in front at half time. The whole thing [worked for us]. [It was] resilience. A lot of people can come to Anfield, feel the history of the place and not respond. Freeze basically." Before extra time he told the players: "The last thing you want is an honourable defeat."
Irishman Long, whose career contours have dipped at the same rate as Reading's, saw Gylfi Sigurdsson's right foot dispatch the penalty he had won. Then he got in ahead of Daniel Agger to head in Reading's winner from Bryn Gunnarsson's cross.
Benitez did not reject the suggestion that his position will be questioned. "The last three months, I think a lot of people are talking about me but we have to move forward," he said. "It's not the best. Sometimes you have bad moments. Sometimes you have to carry on."