LONDON • Juergen Klopp called on his young players to become more "robust" and blamed the state of the pitch after his second-string Liverpool side were held to a 2-2 draw in the FA Cup third round by Exeter City on Friday.
Brad Smith earned the visiting team a replay 15 minutes from the end - the second time Liverpool had equalised. The third-round FA Cup draw earned cash-strapped Exeter a replay at Anfield, which will net them a minimum of £700,000 (S$1.47 million).
A dreadful run of injuries meant that Klopp rested several first-team players and fielded a side barely recognisable to the travelling numbers from Merseyside, let alone the local supporters who helped to fill St James Park.
Tom Nichols put Exeter ahead early on and when Lee Holmes restored their advantage direct from a corner, after Jerome Sinclair had equalised for Liverpool, the League Two club were on course for a famous upset. Smith's late strike helped save the Reds' blushes.
"They (the players) tried everything, but in the future we must learn to be more robust," the Liverpool manager said. "Exeter were more robust than our guys and we have to work on that.
"There were far too many easy flick-ons. It was really difficult, you could see who wasn't on the pitch, but Exeter did really well. They had the advantage because they knew the pitch better than us.
"They knew in which areas to play and in which areas (of the pitch) they needed to knock long balls. We had some good moments and that was pleasing. But, as I say, it was really hard for us too."
The biggest headache for Klopp is another game to add to the schedule this month. Liverpool now face an Anfield replay with Exeter, before the second leg of their League Cup semi-final with Stoke and a Premier League meeting with Arsenal on Wednesday.
With injuries mounting, he is almost certain to give the five youngsters who made their debut another opportunity to prove themselves.
"I can't believe that we've got another game. But we will be there," he said. "To be fair, I can't judge the young players just after this game. They helped us in our situation today and we get another game and go on."
Klopp felt that Liverpool deserved a draw on what was a poor playing surface.
"The pitch was difficult for both teams, the first goal of Exeter was their first attack. Until then, it was okay but that was, 'Oh my God', not good for the young boys," he said.
"Their second goal was something like a miracle that the ball was in and then in an atmosphere like this and with legs getting tired... we had a few more moments but not enough. So in the end we have to respect our own situation.
"We were here to go through to the next round, it wasn't 100 per cent - but 50 per cent - so now we have another game at Anfield. It is what it is."
Paul Tisdale, the Exeter manager, said: "It was a great Cup tie and I felt we gave it a real go and I'm really looking forward to the replay.
"Obviously I'm a tad disappointed because I felt we had a chance to win."
THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN