Hodgson apologises to fans and hails underdogs who 'deserved to win'

Liverpool 2 Northampton Town 2 <i>(Northampton win 4-2 on penalties)</i>
Click to follow
The Independent Football

As Abdul Osman, a Manchester United fan no less, stepped forward to score the penalty that sent Liverpool out of the Carling Cup against League Two side Northampton Town last night, the rain at Anfield continued to fall in the most biblical manner possible. How very apt. David was about to slay Goliath.

And more worryingly for Liverpool, it was no less than Northampton deserved and entirely in keeping with an evening of stupendous drama in this third-round tie.

The visitors did not arrive on Merseyside and somehow conjure a victory from nowhere, they did not score fortunate goals and then profit from Liverpudlian profligacy, or at least not too much; this was an encounter which might well underline that class can be found in English football's lower divisions.

Alternatively, and perhaps more precisely, it could also suggest that not much class can be found at Anfield at the moment, particularly when Roy Hodgson, the club's manager, changed all 11 starting players from those who lost at Old Trafford at the weekend.

The thinking was clear; blood some youngsters against inferior opposition. It backfired badly. Very, very badly.

"I can only apologise to the fans who expected to see us win," the aghast and sodden Hodgson said afterwards. "The fact is the players have to accept responsibility. I accept the responsibility for changing a lot of players in the team. I thought they were good enough to wine but they weren't. You must give credit to Northampton, who are an experienced side.

"They will feel they have stolen nothing here and they will believe they deserve their victory. I've got to say I'm not in the mood for talking about positives. We want to do well in the Carling Cup – we haven't done well in the Carling Cup.

"We have been given a kind draw when you look at the possible sides you could draw. When you play a team from three leagues below then you expect to win. When you don't win you have to take criticism from the top downward. We must all take our responsibility. It's a major setback for the club as a whole, of course it is.

"The Carling Cup is a cup we are capable of doing well in and we are playing against lower league opponents. So if it doesn't result in a victory it is a very negative thing and a setback for the club and one of several setbacks."

When Milan Jovanovic scored the first goal and his maiden Liverpool effort after just nine minutes, the Kop relaxed and expected a cricket score. What they got instead was a sublime example of a side not being overawed by venue, history or reputation.

Not that there were many Liverpool reputations on display, as the likes of Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher were eschewed in favour of Jay Spearing and Sotirios Kyrgiakos.

To Northampton's credit, they were not bothered who they were facing. It was still Liverpool, it was still Anfield, they would still give their all and proved that in fine manner.

Billy McKay found the equaliser after 56 minutes as he ghosted away from Daniel Agger to thrash the ball past the debutant goalkeeper Brad Jones before Michael Jacobs also benefited from loose Liverpool defending during extra time as Northampton went 2-1 up.

Northampton's dominance had been such that they had an incredible seven corners to Liverpool's two going into the second period of extra time. However, the nagging perception that they couldn't and wouldn't do it refused to go away. After all, they had lost to Shrewsbury Town at the weekend in the league.

That feeling seemed to be set in concrete when David Ngog headed Liverpool level in the 116th minute and Liverpool then flooded forward looking to win the match before it came down to the 12-yard lottery.

That did not happen as attempt after attempt was deflected away from danger by the Northampton side, who by now were out on their feet.

They clambered back up, though, during the penalty shoot-out, facing the Kop End. Steve Guinan missed the first for the visitors before Liverpool's Ngog missed their first attempt as well and, although 69 league positions separated the two sides, the tension in this famous old stadium was as genuine and as heartfelt as for any of the engrossing evenings it has hosted in the past.

It came down to who would break first and the answer was Nathan Eccleston, the Liverpool substitute who hit the crossbar.

Cue Osman's finest hour. Cue the blackest of nights for Hodgson and Co and the heaviest of nights for the Liverpool manager's opposite number, Ian Sampson.

"I was delighted with the way we played and how we passed the ball around," he understandably grinned. "I'm over the moon; to play like that is fantastic. It is starting to sink in and we'll have a few beers on the bus. You're all more than welcome. We will make it a party bus. This is up there as one of the highlights of my career," Sampson declared.

"To win at Anfield as a manager after just one year is absolutely delightful and certainly a highlight. The way we played was great. Full credit to the players, they are a young team and they followed their instructions very well."

Liverpool were also a young team. Yet that was where the comparisons ended. It was where the Northampton celebrations began.

Liverpool (4-5-1): Jones ; Kelly, Kyrgiakos, Agger, Wilson; Pacheco (Ince, 105), Lucas, Spearing, Jovanovic (Eccleston, 90), Babel (Shelvey, 100); Ngog. Substitutes not used Hansen (gk), Amoo, Wisdom, Robinson.

Northampton (4-5-1): Dunn; Johnson (Wedderburn, 88), Holt, Tozer, Davis; Rodgers (Herbert, 80), Gilligan, Thornton, Osman, Jacobs; McKay 7 (Guinan, 83). Substitutes not used Walker (gk), Harris, Slowe, Kaziboni.

Man of the match Osman.

Referee A Taylor (Cheshire).

Attendance 22,577.

Match rating 9/10.