Match Report: Mansfield Town handed a hard lesson in injustice by Liverpool's Luis Suarez
Mansfield Town 1 Liverpool 2: Stags' dreams are cruelly broken after controversial goal breaks fans' hearts
Monday 07 January 2013
Nestled next to Mansfield Town's ground is a shop called Dreams and over its door was a sign announcing it was closing down. It was a metaphor of sorts.
They were wild, ridiculous and improbable dreams and they took such a long time to flicker and fade. Mansfield lost gloriously and controversially.
The tie climaxed with men dressed in what Mansfield's young chief executive, Carolyn Radford – who had once worked for Gucci – called "our beautiful kit" hurling themselves forward, knowing they were being eliminated by an injustice.
The match ended much as the second half had begun, with the non-league side repeatedly attacking the five-times champions of Europe, who had been utterly dominant before the interval.
Mansfield's manager, Paul Cox, had got married on Friday and whatever words he employed in his wedding vows could not have been more stirring than the ones he reached for in the dressing room.
His players, who had been overrun by the combination of Daniel Sturridge and Jonjo Shelvey, emerged as a team transformed. Brad Jones saved dramatically, Jamie Carragher cleared desperately. Then Liverpool broke away and broke Nottinghamshire hearts.
Stewart Downing put Luis Suarez through. Alan Marriott parried and so did the Uruguayan, only this time he used his hand to do it, smiling as he smashed the ball into an unguarded net. The outrage he caused when kissing his wrist was misleading. It was the way he celebrates every goal, kissing the name of his daughter.
However, everyone, from the Liverpool players gathering around Suarez, the two managers standing in front of Field Mill's abandoned fourth stand and the crowds jammed into the other three expected the whistle to blow. Nothing happened and cries of "cheat" began to fill the night air.
It was a tie that deserved better and was almost closer than Liverpool's last visit to Field Mill, a League Cup tie in September 1970 that finished in a goalless draw. Since Bill Shankly's side struck the frame of the goal five times, it could hardly be called dull.
Nevertheless, by the time the tie was eight minutes old, Daniel Sturridge had become the quickest Liverpool debutant to score since George V was handing out the FA Cup at the Empire Stadium and Marriott was telling himself he was facing a "cricket score".
Its origins lay in a fabulously timed ball from Shelvey through to Sturridge, who very calmly and very confidently took his second touch as a Liverpool player, scored his first goal for the club and his ninth in a dozen FA Cup games.
Brendan Rodgers' tactics of employing Shelvey at the centre of three midfielders was something Mansfield never came to terms with in the opening 45 minutes. A pitch that Cox joked should have been soaked with water to cut it up more, played very much to Liverpool's liking.
Once more, Shelvey, who has been lethally effective against anything less than top-class opposition this season, put Sturridge through. However, the debutant hesitated, thinking he was offside, and allowed Marriott to narrow the angle and block.
Sides looking for a cup run might not appreciate fielding a player called Exodus but Exodus Geohaghon's long throws, which were greeted with a stamping of feet in the stands, began to give Mansfield a foothold in the tie and 13 minutes from time, Matt Green forced the first save from Brad Jones.
Had Liverpool not been controversially two goals to the good when he scored, it might have been more than a cherished memento. It was still in the young striker's words "something you dream about when you are a nipper". Colin Daniel crossed, Lee Beevers volleyed it back across Jones's goal and Green did the rest. For the final 11 minutes the scent of justice was in the air.
When the final whistle went, it still lingered, although Cox, who was convinced Mansfield might have had a penalty for one of two "blatant" handballs, had his reactions absolutely right. He did not attack Suarez for obeying the natural instincts of a centre forward but added: "I am 41 and I am not going to celebrate losing a football match but there are a lot of positives today."
They were to be found in the reaction of his players after the interval and in the way the club staged the tie. They left 96 seats empty as a mark of respect to the dead of Hillsborough and played Liverpool's battle hymn before following "You'll Never Walk Alone" with their own song, Elvis Presley's "The Wonder of You".
Mansfield's owners, Carolyn and John Radford, had said in the match programme that was being sold by the box-load outside the ground that, apart from the Olympic gold Rebecca Adlington won in the pool in Beijing, the town had "struggled to find beacons".
Yet as the lights shone out over what DH Lawrence, who lived a short drive from Field Mill, called "this once-romantic and now utterly disheartening colliery town", the beacons glowed.
Anthony Howell's shot at the near post was pushed away for a corner; another attempt was blocked by Carragher; another from Louis Briscoe was saved. This was the FA Cup in its raw glory.
Had Mansfield won, the betting firm, Blue Square, had promised to send Cox on the honeymoon of his dreams. However, when he woke this morning he would have been happy with two weeks in Bridlington. They were that good.
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