I certainly wasn’t alone in believing Blackburn Rovers were up against it yesterday against the Premier League’s in-form side, at Anfield.
In fact, if you believed some sections of the media, it appeared far more likely that Manchester would be awarded “Driest British City 2015” than Rovers escaping the Reds’ lair with anything other than a comprehensive beating.
However, after 90 minutes of graft, guts and determination, they are still just one game from Wembley and remain in the Cup. And it was quite an achievement.
Not being a season ticket holder, I had to be content with watching the match on TV but what an atmosphere was generated, particularly by the 6,000 Rovers fans situated in the “Pillar End” of Anfield, with the lovely restricted view seats.
They never shut up and the minute’s applause set aside for the late Jack Walker as the clock ticked onto 4.20 was very moving. Rovers’ biggest and most generous fan would surely have enjoyed watching his beloved time battle against far more illustrious opponents and give them a real scare in their own backyard.
As the teams head back to Ewood Park then for a highly anticipated replay, I’m left feeling unusually optimistic about their chances of winning.
Sure, Liverpool have still got better players with Premier League quality and the extra gears to move up into when required. Of course, a player like Coutinho can spank it in the top corner from 20 yards or Sterling can whistle past a defence in one fluid movement. And there’s the Steven Gerrard factor.
But, as Rovers showed yesterday, when the whole team is on their game, they have great quality too and can frighten Liverpool once again.
First of all, in April, the pitch promises to be far more of a mudbath than the pristine carpet of Anfield. It’s had a difficult winter and the pretty passing that Brendan Rodgers has tried to instill in his players may not be wholly appropriate for the tricky surface at Ewood.
Secondly, with a bit more support, Rudy Gestede’s magnificent target man play could certainly lead to more chances and goals. Craig Conway should have done better from a Gestede dummy in the first half and the way the Benin international led the line terrorised three very experienced Liverpool centre backs. With somebody like Jordan Rhodes sniffing chances next to him (and, let’s be honest, he usually takes his chances), they do have a shot.
Thirdly, and linked to the second reason, Josh King may well be fit and raring to go. While he is hit-and-miss in the hustle and bustle of the Championship, his bursts of speed frightened the life out of Stoke and Swansea, getting two men sent off, scoring a hat-trick and generally demonstrating Premier League class. Tough tackling centre backs like Dejan Lovren and Martin Skrtel will not appreciate his flying acceleration and he could certainly cause them more problems. Rudy Gestede’s flicks to King were an integral part of the last round and their link-up play is capable of hurting any defence – particularly if Liverpool’s plays like it did earlier in the season.
Finally, Ewood Park. It’s been a tough few years to be a Rovers fan. Venkys made some horrendous mistakes, we dropped like a stone and almost went the way of Coventry, Wigan, Leeds et al before us. However, they’ve stabilised, and bringing a top side like Liverpool to Ewood will be a throwback to much happier days. Hopefully, the crowds will come flocking back to support the side and make it an enthralling Cup atmosphere. I’m sure there will be plenty of noisy Scousers, but we’ve had some great games against them in the past and there’s no reason why the replay shouldn’t be another classic.
Roll on April!