When they led for a second time, the football world seemed to be lurching on its axis. In reality, however briefly, Havant & Waterlooville were simply nudging it closer towards some kind of equilibrium. For they were demanding respect not only for their own, marvellously spirited approach to what would prove an impossible task, but also for some of the game's endangered values.
Nowadays, after all, it is hard to put a price on so many things. The FA Cup, for one, has arguably been debased. Then there is the heritage of Anfield itself – increasingly, according to those who mistrust its latest custodians, held ransom to a global culture of reckless debt. And what about the men contesting this game, where the five-times champions of Europe were sporadically outplayed by a team who achieved their previous pinnacle in the Southern Counties Floodlit Trophy? How do you assess their worth? Some "earn" £10,000 a day; others will be back at work this morning, emptying bins or heaving breeze blocks.
Shaun Gale, the dazed Havant manager, recognised that their adventure had resonated far beyond the Blue Square South. "It's fantastic for football as a whole," he said. "People moan about English football, but I think English football – and the FA Cup – have been well and truly reignited by this."
The BBC, by overlooking the game for live TV coverage, revealed stale values of its own, but otherwise this was the best of stages to reiterate where football finds its true bearings. At a time when the Kop is especially protective of its peculiar brand of proletarian dignity, here was a day when the grass roots flourished defiantly. Both sets of fans judged the occasion perfectly, sensing a common interest beyond the scoreline.
They rose as one to salute the part-timers at the end, but the joyous tone had been set from the moment the Havant team was announced. In between there was also an ovation for each substitution, and even for the first goal – albeit this was initially absorbed, on all sides, by a moment of mute stupefaction.
The Kop seemed less impressed when their guests had the impudence to renew their lead, instead bellowing for succour from Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher, who had promptly started warming up. Be in no doubt, the sense of astonishment owed nothing to the general pattern of play. Everybody knew that one team might freeze, but not that it would be Liverpool.
Their tactics seemed simple enough. Pass to Mascherano, and hope that ivy doesn't grow up your ankles. Having rested the spine of his team, Rafael Benitez must have been aghast at the invertebrate quality of what remained.
Emboldened, the minnows became piranhas. Composed build-up had already furnished Alfie Potter with one fine chance when, from a corner, Richard Pacquette headed the 6,000 travelling fans into delirium in the eighth minute. He did not tarry to ask his markers to explain their absence.
"I was almost in tears coming out onto the pitch," Pacquette said. "There was so much emotion for me and the rest of the lads, it meant so much to everyone. Then to score in front of the Kop, it was hard to believe it was happening."
The corner had resulted from one of several excruciating errors by Martin Skrtel, the £6.5m defender making his first start. His performance betrayed the fear that might so easily have been excused in his opponents. It was infectious too, Charles Itandje proving maladroit in goal.
Admittedly, the response from Lucas was, as they say, different league – the Brazilian's first Liverpool goal had authentic pedigree – but Havant resisted any temptation towards damage limitation. Suspicions that they owed success against Swansea in the previous round to their mud-wrestling skills were exuberantly dismissed as they cut loose time and again.
Indeed, "parity" between clubs divided by 123 league positions had lasted just four minutes when Jay Smith, a surveyor, detonated the home defence with a ripping cross.
Potter, on loan from mighty Peterborough, picked up the pieces and Skrtel's desperate intervention only helped the ball over Itandje – and towards the threshold of folklore.
It could not last, of course, but Liverpool remained snagged between lethargy and panic. Just in time Benayoun, coolly discovered among a thicket of yellow shirts by Jermaine Pennant, took some of the heat out of the manager's half-time talk. But Benitez did not demur when asked if he had found it necessary to raise his voice. "We were looking for solutions," he repeated with a smile.
The most appealing solution to the Kop, at this stage, would not have contained too much water. They greeted Kevin Scriven, the Havant goalkeeper, warmly but had plainly seen too much hospitality on the pitch. Sure enough, Benitez goaded his players into finally offering Mascherano some vitality and width. Pennant became a menace, and within 15 minutes Benayoun had his second hat-trick of the season.
Only a fine save from Scriven denied him a fourth goal, and the keeper also tipped away a shot from Gerrard – the limit of his ambitions beforehand – after the captain came on for the final minutes. By that stage, his chief role was presumably to swap his shirt, but he still enabled Crouch to cover his personal embarrassment with the fig leaf of a fifth goal, albeit he was probably offside as he poked the ball into an empty net.
Havant had long exhausted their reserves of fitness, but not their pride and Itandje thwarted them in another late scramble. By then, they had no need to gild their role. As the winners slunk away, the stage was left to its true heroes.
Over £300,000 in gate receipts will enable Gale to plot less fleeting glories, but the team's most enduring reward will be less tangible. Gale was awestruck when Benitez knocked on the dressing-room door to offer congratulations, but the Liverpool manager made the most pertinent admission himself. "In the first half we were losing a lot of second balls," he said.
"Every chance for them is the last chance. Sometimes it is tempting to say that it doesn't matter, because we are better than them. But in football you have to show that you are better on the pitch."
As Gale had reminded his team beforehand, it was only a football match. "I told them that the Liverpool players couldn't win, really, all the pressure was on them," he said. "And to remember that they were just humans, like us." If people would only remember that, Havant will have made a contribution outlasting even this indelible day.
Goals: Pacquette (8) 0-1; Lucas (27) 1-1; Skrtel og (31) 1-2; Benayoun (44) 2-2; Benayoun (56) 3-2; Benayoun (59) 4-2; Crouch (90) 5-2 .
Liverpool (4-4-2): Itandje; Finnan, Skrtel, Hyypia (Carragher, 84), Riise; Pennant, Mascherano (Gerrard, 87), Lucas, Benayoun (Kuyt 72); Crouch, Babel. Substitutes not used: Martin (gk), Torres.
Havant & Waterlooville (4-4-2): Scriven; Smith, Jordan, Sharp, Warner (Taggart, 40); Harkin, Wilkinson (Oatway, 74), Collins, Potter; Pacquette (Slabber, 57), Baptiste. Substitutes not used: Gregory, Taylor.
Booked: Havant Wilkinson.
Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire).
Man of the match: Benayoun.
Attendance: 42,566.Reuse content