Brendan Rodgers bridled when it was suggested that Bournemouth were “too nice” to worry his Liverpool team. Real courage, he asserted, “was being a team that wants to play football”. It is, he added, “easy to coach a team to sit back, not want the ball, defend, then hump it up the pitch”.
Referring to his Bournemouth counterpart, Rodgers said: “Coaches like Eddie Howe are the ones who will take this country forward. In this country we say ‘that’s too nice’, then we cry when we go to World Cups that we are not good enough technically.”
This is all very true, and Rodgers and Howe are to be applauded for their approach to the game, but it is also true that Liverpool’s players looked far more comfortable playing a team that tried to match them pass for pass, on a decent pitch, with sunshine on their backs, than they did at Boundary Park this stage last year.
Then, on a wet and windy night, on a gluepot pitch, a callow defence were terrorised by Oldham’s giant striker, Matt Smith, the former university student who secured a move to Leeds United off the back of his performance.
This time Rodgers, despite the looming presence of Tuesday’s Merseyside derby, successfully insulated himself against a repeat humbling by naming a near full-strength XI that prompted a buzz of fear and anticipation when it was announced.
The citizens of Bournemouth would get the chance to gawp at, admire and jeer Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge, but their club’s players would have to compete with them.
They did their best but Liverpool’s class told in the end. With Gerrard patrolling midfield and Suarez supplying the ammunition, the seven-time winners eased to victory through goals by Victor Moses mid-way through the first half and Sturridge on the hour.
“We have a very thin squad, but the tradition in the FA Cup for Liverpool is huge,” said Rodgers. “We want to pay respect to that, get to the final and win if we can. That’s why we came with a strong side.”
Howe said: “It was a chance to go toe-to-toe with one of the best football teams in the country and see if we could beat them football-wise.
“We wanted a result, but also a performance where everyone thought ‘what a good team Bournemouth are’. We didn’t get the result, but I think we did that.”
Bournemouth are mid-table in the Championship, a position reached by dint of Howe’s expertise and the crucial financial input of Max Demin, the publicity-shy Russian petrol mogul who backs the club.
They have a group of promising young players, most of whom have significantly improved under Howe and a few wiser, older, heads.
Pre-match the memory of 1984 was invoked, when a young-and-promising manager by the name of Harry Redknapp masterminded the demise of then holders Manchester United. For all Bournemouth’s neat passing there was never any real likelihood of a repeat as Brad Jones, one of the few irregulars in the Liverpool team, was only seriously tested from crosses as opposed to clear chances.
Andrew Surman headed over from Marc Pugh’s cross early on and Jones had to tip over a swirling over-hit free-kick by Simon Francis, but there was always a sense that at some point Liverpool would bring their superior attacking quality to bear.
So it proved after 26 minutes when Suarez’s deep cross from the right found Moses on the edge of the box and the on-loan Chelsea winger drilled a shot inside the near post. Moses’s loan has not worked out as hoped so far but the goal should provide a fillip. “He was much better today, at times he was very bright,” said Rodgers. Howe said: “They showed a cutting edge we didn’t. It was their first real attack.”
Bournemouth made a spirited response. Lewis Grabban could have levelled almost immediately but shot weakly at Jones.
Harry Arter, a player with an eye for the spectacular, had several ambitious efforts to no avail, In between Kolo Touré blocked Surman’s shot after a clever cut-back by Charlie Daniels, Tommy Elphick heading powerfully over from the resulting corner. It was not, though, a siege on Liverpool’s goal, and Jordan Henderson should have scored at the other end after Daniels’s error.
Instead it was Sturridge who settled the tie. Suarez won a cheap free-kick, duping Elliott Ward into going over his back. The ball was worked to Suarez who released Sturridge with a superb pass. The finish was clinical. As Bournemouth pressed, Sturridge chipped onto the bar from Henderson’s sublime long pass, Suarez chipped over, and both were denied by Lee Camp.
Grabban finally brought an athletic save from Jones with a rasping drive, but by then the game was up for Bournemouth. “The football is improved and the character in the team; there have been lots of games recently which we might have lost a year ago,” said Rodgers. “Now we go into Tuesday’s game on the back of a good win.”
Bournemouth (4-4-1-1): Camp; Francis, Elphick, Ward, Daniels; Ritchie (Fraser, 72), Arter (Pitman, 77), O’Kane, Pugh (Rantie, 72); Surman; Grabban.
Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Jones; Kelly (Flanagan, 72), Skrtel, Touré, Sissoko; Gerrard, Henderson; Sturridge, Coutinho (Alberto, 84), Moses (Sterling, 84); Suarez.
Referee: Lee Probert.
Man of the match: Suarez (Liverpool)
Match rating: 7/10