Liverpool were forced to come from behind twice to draw 2-2 at fourth tier Exeter City in the FA Cup third round after an horrendous error by goalkeeper Adam Bogdan almost gifted the minnows a shock victory on Friday.
Tom Nichols opened the scoring for Exeter, seeking a place in the fourth round for the first time in 35 years, and after Jerome Sinclair’s equaliser, Reds boss Jurgen Klopp saw Bogdan’s blunder allow Lee Holmes’ corner to go straight into the net.
Australia international Brad Smith eventually ensured Exeter had to settle for the consolation of a lucrative replay at Anfield when he equalised for Liverpool in the closing stages.
“It’s obvious what we have to learn in the future. We have to be more robust,” Klopp said.
“It was a difficult pitch. Exeter did really well. Maybe they know which part of the pitch you can play football.
“The first goal was unlucky for us, it was their first attack. I won’t say anything about the second goal.
“It was really difficult for us. On one-on-one situations they were more robust than our guys.”
The fact that the opening effort came from the League Two hosts was not particularly surprising given the starting line-up selected by Klopp, a consequence of his team’s current lengthy injury list and his desire to rest players for forthcoming Premier League and League Cup fixtures.
It took just nine minutes for Exeter to delight the romantics keen for a memorable Cup upset as Jamie Reid sped down the right and crossed for Nichols to sprint ahead of veteran defender Jose Enrique and slide home the opening goal.
But, despite that poor defensive effort, Klopp’s incredibly inexperienced line-up, featuring three debutants and just two players-Enrique and Christian Benteke-with more than four appearances for the club, had started relatively confidently and required just three minutes to equalise.
The goal owed much to poor Exeter defending, notably by Jordan Tillson, which failed to deal with Ryan Kent’s pass into the feet of Benteke in the home area and, after the loose ball broke kindly for Sinclair, the 19-year-old made no mistake from 10 yards.
However, in first half stoppage-time, those errors were forgotten by the home supporters as Hungarian goalkeeper Bogdan inexplicably allowed Holmes’ right-wing corner kick to soar over his head and directly into the roof of the goal.
Exeter, 76 places below their visitors in the Football League pyramid, were equal to the task, however, and narrowly missed claiming a second goal from the best remaining chances of the half.
After 29 minutes, Christian Ribeiro’s cross found David Noble dead in front of goal who hurried over his shot from 10 yards under pressure from Liverpool defenders and, just before the half-time whistle, an excellent cross from Holmes was met by full-back Ribeiro who should have done better than send a bouncing header wide from the penalty spot.
A goal down on the restart, it took Liverpool just five minutes to finally provide service to Benteke, and it almost brought an equaliser as Cameron Brannagan’s left-wing centre picked out the Belgian international, whose close-range header looked destined for the back of the net until Olejnik produced a stunning reflex block to keep it out.
After 56 minutes, neat footwork from Alex Nicholls and Reid almost set up Nichols for another shooting chance, while Ribeiro was wide with another header, again following an excellent cross from Holmes.
Nichols threatened with a couple more shots and substitute Arron Davies just missed the target from 20 yards with his first touch before Liverpool equalised for the second time, against the run of play, after 73 minutes.
Substitute Sheyi Oji probed down the left touchline and his cross was cleared, poorly, by Jordan Moore-Taylor, directly to Smith who drilled the ball into the back of the net from a dozen yards.