LIVERPOOL (AFP) - Liverpool fell to a third home defeat in eight days as they exited the FA Cup in a humbling 2-1 loss to second-tier Wolverhampton Wanderers at Anfield on Saturday (Jan 28).
First-half goals from defender Richard Stearman, his first for the Midlands club in nearly three years, and Andreas Weimann saw Paul Lambert’s side join Swansea and Southampton in tasting success at Anfield in the space of just over a week.
But, after seeing their team knocked out of the League Cup by Southampton in midweek, this latest loss was a particular disappointment for home supporters, who booed their team off the field at half-time.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp opted for an under-strength team against a team currently positioned just four places above the relegation zone in English football’s second-tier Championship.
Only Georginio Wijnaldum, Ragnar Klavan and Roberto Firmino could be classified as first-team regulars among Klopp’s starting XI and the gamble backfired before even a minute of the fourth round tie had elapsed.
The hapless Alberto Moreno fouled Dave Edwards and Helder Costa’s superb free-kick was met at the far post by Stearman, whose powerful header flew across goal and into the Liverpool net.
Wolves’ second goal, in the 41st minute, was the result of even worse Liverpool defending as Matt Doherty’s pass was gathered by the impressive Costa, who held off Moreno far too easily.
His superb pass, into a central position from the right, found Weimann, sprinting between Joe Gomez and Connor Randall, and the Wolves forward advanced confidently before touching the ball past Loris Karius and slotting into an open goal.
Not until the 86th minute did Liverpool manage to breach the Wolves defence as the visitors failed to clear a Philippe Coutinho corner.
Daniel Sturridge helped the ball across goal and Divock Origi turned the ball in at the far post.
It might have been worse for Klopp, whose side are 10 points behind Premier League leaders Chelsea, as his defence in particular struggled to cope with the committed visitors, roared on by 8,300 Wolves supporters.
Shortly after the opening goal, Nouha Dicko failed to connect with a shot eight yards out and, in the 10th minute, Costa sprinted nearly 70 yards, leaving a line of defenders in his wake, before slicing off target.
While seven-times FA Cup winners Liverpool began to enjoy more possession, Wolves’ solid defending ensured 20-year-old back-up goalkeeper Harry Burgoyne did not have a first-half save to make.
The closest thing to a Liverpool chance fell to Firmino, just after the half hour, but his attempted curler flew wide and, at the interval, Klopp threw on Coutinho.
There was almost an instant response as Ben Woodburn’s free-kick was met by Firmino.
But what appeared a goal bound header struck team mate Klavan on its way out for a goal-kick.
Wolves, themselves four-time FA Cup winners, albeit the last in 1960, were being pressed deeper and deeper into their own half, packing 10 men behind the ball for long passages of play.
Coutinho’s first sight of goal – and Liverpool’s first on-target effort of the game – ended with a weak 22-yard shot straight at Burgoyne on the hour.
The Wolves keeper did well to put off Moreno as he threatened to catch up with Coutinho’s long pass into the area moments later and Klopp increased the pressure further by bringing on England forward Sturridge.
Liverpool appeared unfortunate, and Klopp reacted with fury, in the 72nd minute when Wolves defender Lee Evans made contact with Ben Woodburn and the home striker appealed in vain for a penalty.
Wolves’s moments of relief were becoming increasingly rare but the visitors could have put the tie beyond all doubt 10 minutes from time, however, when Kortney Hause headed a corner goalwards and substitute Jon Dadi Bodvarsson had a close-range shot blocked by Karius.
Liverpool’s goal ensured a frantic finale, with Burgoyne saving with an outstretched leg to deny Origi an equaliser and Bodvarsson making an extraordinary run that ended with Lucas clearing his effort off the line.