AFC Wimbledon 1 Liverpool 2

After all the hypesurrounding the third round FA Cup pairing of the ‘new’ Wimbledon with the teamthey sensationally defeated in the 1988 final, it was the ex-England and soonto be ex-Liverpool captain, Steven Gerrard who turned in a man of the match performanceto ensure his side retained their interest in this season’s competition. Theyhad to survive plenty of sticky moments along the way last night though againstthe Division 2 side, in the small but noisy Cherry Red Records Stadium, beforethey secured a 2-1 victory.

AFC Wimbledon have only beenin existence twelve years, being founded by Wimbledon FC supporters in reactionto the existing club relocating to Milton Keynes. Effectively they split from whatis now MK Dons (the name was adopted in 2004) to form the new club, which beganlife in the ninth tier of English Football and have enjoyed many successful promotionssince to reach their current level.

Their connection to the old ‘CrazyGang’ that energised their previous incarnation was evident yesterday in theform of the current manager, Neil Ardley, with other stars of the past such asthe Cup Final scorer, Lawrie Sanchez and goalkeeping hero, Dave Beasant inattendance.

On a decent playing surfacethat was only slightly sticky in places, but enough to undo several of the . injudiciousattempted flicks and back heels that Liverpool's more creative midfield attemptedthroughout the match, Liverpool took the lead inside the first fifteen minutes.Gerrard sprayed the ball wide to the galloping Javier Manquillo down the right,continued his run into the box and met the cross from the Spaniard with a braveheader to find the corner of the net.

Far from daunting the homeside, they seemed to grow in belief as the half progressed, pressuring the Redswith a series of crosses and corners.

As the jitters in the Liverpool defence thathave been all too frequent this season and last seemed to take hold once again,a Wimbledon corner was missed by Simon Mignolet, the ball came back off thecrossbar and “The Beast” that is the sixteen stone Adebayo Akinfenwa bundledthe ball home from almost on the goal line. Mignolet had saved brilliantlymoments before the equaliser, but his weakness against crosses was highlightedagain. There was still time before the interval for Akinfenwa to display hissilky skills with a soft shoe shuffle on the half-way line to beat two players.One apiece into the break and the crowd sensed that the upset they had comehoping to see was still a distinct possibility.

Into the second-half and theshaky Premier League team’s defence were spared their blushes by Gerrard’sclever positioning on the post to head clear, with Mignolet floundering againfrom an Adam Barrett header. As the gameprogressed, either team seemed capable of claiming a winner as both had chances.There was one surreal moment just before the hour mark, when the Wimbledondefender Barry Fuller lost the flight of the ball in the floodlights and hadhis back to the ball as it clearly struck him on the arm in the area.

Much tothe annoyance of Gerrard, the officials decided to give the benefit of thedoubt to the Wombles’ player.

Just past the hour mark anda cynical foul on Philippe Countinho just left of centre, beckoned Gerrardforward to attempt one of his trademark up and over free-kicks. He did notdisappoint and curled a cute right-foot curler into the net, despite the keeper,James Shea getting a slight touch on the ball as it went in.

There was no tame surrenderfrom the home side as they continued to push forwards, seeking anotherequaliser.

With centre-half Martin Skrtel lying prone on the deck midway intothe Liverpool half, Dannie Bulman fired narrowly over the bar for them. Theywere beginning to visibly tire and so the chances on the break continued tocome for Brendan Rodgers’ men as well, but they were unable to take advantage,seemingly attempting to walk the ball into the net but never completelyconvinced that they were fully in control of the outcome of the game.

Another Wimbledongoalscoring opportunity was always likely to arise and so it proved in injurytime, as Mignolet slid in to kick clear when Akinfenwa almost reached anotherBarrett flick on.

Shea excelled at the death topreserve the one goal deficit, when he denied the substitute Mario (“Why alwaysme?”) Balotelli from point-blank range, with Gerrard’s follow up for thehat-trick being well blocked as well. Gerrard would have no doubt liked thenovelty pink matchball used in the FA Cup ties for his personal collection athome, but that would have to wait for another day, as his side held on.

For Liverpool it was worryingthat the man leaving at the end of the season was still the best player on showfor them by some margin and the one they relied on to get them through to thenext round.

The rumours about Gerrard's future and background to why he'sleaving at the end of the season continue to rumble on. There was plenty ofpressure on him at the end of last season as the side pushed for the title tothe end and it is maybe slightly reminiscent of Kenny Dalglish’s last days atthe club after the Hillsborough disaster when he decided to walk away. Dalglishreturned and the fans will no doubt hope for similar from Gerrard one day insome shape or form.

Gerrardseems like he has unfinished business with the FA Cup and an interesting coincidenceis the fact that his 35th birthday coincides with the day of the final on 30thMay, 2015.

Before that though, they have a date with Bolton Wanderers at homein a repeat of the third round tie in 1993, when the Championship sideprevailed. Gerrard and co will hope for better fortune this time around.

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