Rob Dore |
The FA Cup has long been famed for its giant-killings. The lower league Davids wildly flinging their slingshots at the top tier Goliaths, more often in hope than expectation. But every so often a pebble hits a fatal pressure point and the giant falls dead to the delight of the media, who go pun crazy in the following morning’s papers.
On Sunday afternoon Mansfield Town will be hoping to find chinks in the Liverpool armour, booking a place in FA Cup history and a slot in every FA Cup 3rd round montage for the next fifty years.
Can Mansfield beat Liverpool at Field Mill in front of less than 10,000 fans? Anything is possible, particularly in the FA Cup. Or so we’re told.
Mansfield currently occupy ninth place in the Blue Square Conference Premier table, the fifth tier of English football. They were relegated from the Football League in 2008 after a 77 year stay, which mainly involved bouncing up and down between the third and fourth tiers, broken by one single season in the second tier in 1977-78.
There are a couple of decent cup runs in their history books, the most successful being a run to the quarter-finals in 1972. They also made it on to our tv screens five years ago when they reached the fourth round before losing 2-0 to Middlesbrough.
It’s not the kind of pedigree which will have Brendan Rodgers overly worried. This season the Stags have been decent but a little inconsistent, failing to string more than two wins together across all competitions. They are coming in to this game having lost just once in their last twelve games but the level of competition has been far below what they will be facing on Sunday. Regardless of which line-up Rodgers puts out.
In fact the most notable accomplishments at the club in recent years have been off the pitch. The biggest, as far as securing the club’s future, was the purchase of the ground from former owner Keith Haslam. The second was the owner John Radford marrying his 30-year old CEO Carolyn Still, now Carolyn Radford. An alleged former escort and confirmed hottie.
Both Radford’s would have preferred this game to be played at Anfield, so they could benefit from the greater ticket sales. An ideal result on Sunday would be the draw at 11/2 but even that would require a Herculean effort from the Mansfield players, some extra large slices of good fortune and a little help from the referee.
Under Rodgers Liverpool have become a side which works hard and closes down their opponent when they don’t have the ball. On the ball they play sharp passing football, a style which could drain and demoralise their lower league opponents. Taking pitchforks to the pitch on Sunday morning may not be a bad plan for the home side.
Regardless of the affirmations from the manager that Liverpool are targeting a place well inside the top four of the Premier League, winning a piece of silverware this season will add legitimacy to Rodgers’ rebuilding plans.
If Luis Suarez starts on Sunday then he’s as close to a sure thing to score as you can get in football right now at 13/5 to score first. Liverpool fans will be hoping to see him and new signing Daniel Sturridge in the line-up, with the former Chelsea man 7/2 to score first and 8/11 to score anytime. Debut goals are a common occurrence.
Liverpool have put in a couple of under par performances recently but have bounced back with consecutive 3-0 wins. The second of which against Sunderland was particularly impressive.
The Reds look to be in good form and Rodgers will have them focused and complacency free. It’s always worth a small speculative punt on the underdog in this competition, particularly at 11/1. However the gulf in quality is too great and work ethic from Liverpool is too good.
Liverpool have scored the first goal in four of their last five games, each of which came before the 20th minute.
If they score early on, which they are likely to do given the manner with which they start games, then Liverpool could run up a big score. Liverpool at 2/9 is one for your accumulators but Liverpool -2 goals at 8/5 is definitely worth a bet. As is the first goal to be scored before the 21st minute at 10/11.