Liverpool fought off a strong challenge from Bournemouth before eventually sealing their comfortable passage into round five of the FA Cup with a 2-0 win at Dean Court. There was little to separate the Champions League hopefuls and their Championship opponents in the opening half, apart from a low strike from Victor Moses that squirmed past Bournemouth goalkeeper Lee Camp. The homes side were just lacking that cutting edge in the final third, while they were unfortunate, too, not to be handed a penalty. But as the match opened up later on, Liverpool took advantage and Daniel Sturridge got a crucial second goal on the hour mark.
Aiming to avoid a second-straight exit to lower league opposition in the fourth round of the competition, after defeat to Oldham Athletic last season, Brendan Rodgers selected almost as strong a side as was available to him. Only Moses and Martin Kelly were perhaps surprise starters as the pair were given a chance to press for more regular appearances.
The conundrum for Rodgers remained how to accommodate the strike duo of Sturridge and Luis Suarez along with Steven Gerrard in the midfield. Against Aston Villa in the opening half Liverpool’s 4-4-2 was exposed and so on this occasion Rodgers went with a 4-2-3-1 with Gerrard again alongside Jordan Henderson in midfield and Sturridge and Suarez taking turns to move to the right, with the latter most often being the man to do so. The issues remain unsolved, though, and a more clinical team would surely have exposed the open nature of the Liverpool side. Of course, going forward, the Merseysiders have the quality to hurt any team and ultimately had too much for Bournemouth, whose manager Eddie Howe can none the less be pleased with their efforts.
From the off Bournemouth started in a positive manner that suggested they fully believed they could get something out of the contest. And they were certainly matching Liverpool, although they were lucky to escape when Suarez got in behind their defense from Gerrard’s pass but was wrongly flagged for offside.
Yet, with 26 minutes on the clock Liverpool went in front with their first and only shot on target of the opening half. Suarez’s cross-field pass found Moses on the edge of the box and the winger took a touch inside before hitting a low shot that didn’t appear to carry a whole lot of threat, but, going through several pairs of legs, it caught Camp out at his near post and nestled in the back of the net.
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Bournemouth continued to cause Liverpool problems, however, with the shape of Rodgers’ side often leaving them exposed. That was particularly true down their right side where Sturridge or Suarez often failed to track diligently and left Bournemouth left-back Charlie Daniels to maraud forward unchecked. It was that scenario which came closest to leading to an equalizer for the home side when Daniels pulled-back for the on-rushing Andrew Surman but his shot cannoned behind off the chest of Kolo Toure. From the resulting corner Tommy Elphick headed another presentable chance over the bar.
It was Liverpool, though, who spurned an even clearer chance before the break. Suarez found Jordan Henderson with a little cut back at the near post but the midfielder blasted his effort high over the crossbar.
Perhaps the key moment of the tie came early in the second half. Kelly, making just his second start since serious injury in September 2012, was lucky to avoid conceding a penalty when he hauled Simon Francis to the ground by his shirt in the box as a corner came in. Having escaped, Liverpool then went and all but sealed the tie just minutes later.
With the game opening up, there was always a danger that Liverpool’s attacking talent would expose Bournemouth’s back line. And that’s exactly what happened as Suarez found a pocket of space and fed an inch-perfect through ball for Sturridge who coolly rolled the ball past Camp.
Liverpool now had Bournemouth where they wanted them, with space in behind their defense. Both Sturridge and Suarez had chances to make the score-line more emphatic, but while Sturridge was unlucky with his lob that came back off the top of the bar, Suarez was unusually wasteful in putting his similar effort into the stands. It was not to matter, as Liverpool recorded an ultimately clinical win on what was a potentially difficult afternoon on the South Coast.