John Arne Riise congratulates Xabi Alonso for Liverpool's fifth goal.
Reds edge classic
By Jamie Bradbury. Saturday, 07 January 2006.
Howard 31, Robinson 43, Nicholls 53 (pen)
Gerrard 16, Sinama Pongolle 62, 74, Alonso 69, 90
The FA Cup Third Round Proper
Saturday 7 January 2006
Winning clubs receive £40,000
Liverpool came from behind to overcome a spirited Luton performance in a magnificent eight-goal FA Cup thriller at Kenilworth Road.
The Reds were on the rack for much of the first hour of the game, but ended up in the hat for the next round thanks to braces from Xabi Alonso and substitute Florent Sinama Pongolle.
Luton were lively from the start and were not in awe of the European Champions, but it was the Reds who opened the scoring on 16 minutes with a patient move finished by their talisman, Steven Gerrard.
Djibril Cisse attacked down the right and fed the ball across to Peter Crouch. But the England striker couldn't work an opening with his back to goal and returned it wide to the Frenchmen. He laid the ball on for Gerrard to whip in from the edge of the box curling over Marlon Beresford and into the net.
The Hatters, though, didn't drop their heads and began to cause problems to Liverpool's defence, so rarely breached this season. Steve Howard came close shooting wide from Rowan Vine's cross as Rafa Benitez's Premiership side started to feel the pressure.
Howard then gave the home crowd something to cheer. Following a neat move in Liverpool territory, Luton cut open their opponents before Howard took the ball around Scott Carson and poked home into the net.
If that wasn't enough, Luton kept pushing and could have two more when first a Heikkinen header was cleared from the line by Steve Finnan and then Carson was forced to save from a powerful Vine shot.
At the other end, Crouch and Cisse weren't getting a sniff and rarely troubled Luton's back line, while every 50-50 challenge was won by a white shirt.
Just before the break, Luton made their hard work count when a ball into the feet of Steve Robinson saw the skilful forward turn Jamie Carragher inside the box and he fired low into the bottom corner of the net to give Mike Newell's Championship outfit a 2-1 lead.
But Luton almost handed Liverpool a gift of an equaliser right after the change around. A mistake in midfield allowed Kewell through on goal as he closed in on Beresford he squared to Gerrard and, though the ball looked too far in front of the skipper, a trip by Luton's Paul Underwood sent Gerrard to the floor and Mark Clattenburg awarded Liverpool a penalty.
Cisse stepped up but his crisp shot was close to Beresford and the veteran stopper made a fine save holding the strike firmly.
It was Liverpool's turn to hand out some late Christmas gifts and when Vine dispossessed Sami Hyypia inside the Reds' half on 53 minutes, he was clean through with just Carson to beat.
The England Under-21 man was forced to make an attempt to halt Vine but caught the trailing foot of the striker on the edge of the box and Clattenburg again pointed to the spot and Kevin Nicholls dispatched with confidence.
Liverpool now had to raise their game if they wanted to avoid a second successive Third Round exit to Championship opposition. Benitez, who looked angry at his side's lack of grit, made an offensive change bringing Frenchman Florent Sinama Pongolle on for Momo Sissoko.
With his first real chance just after the hour mark following a through ball from Gerrard, he put Liverpool back in the game, driving under Beresford, to set up an exciting final 30 minutes.
Luton weren't knocked out of their stride and still looked to extend their lead, but Liverpool now appeared like they'd found the itch that they hadn't been able to scratch.
Xabi Alonso provided this fantastic FA Cup tie with one of the goals of the season to draw the Reds level, cracking a 35-yard shot over the head of Beresford and sneaking under the bar.
Relief for Liverpool, agony for Luton and it was soon to get worse as the Reds added a fourth from Pongolle's header to restore their lead lost in the 31st minute.
With the match running away from Luton, a corner encouraged Beresford forward, dreaming of Cup headlines. But as the move broke down, Liverpool, through Alonso, carried the ball forward and from deep inside his own half, the Spanish midfielder took a pot shot.
Players and fans alike could only watch on as the ball rolled into the Luton goal to seal the win and provide a glorious finish to an amazing 90 minutes of football.
Luton Town: Beresford, Foley, Coyne, Heikkinen (Barnett 74), Underwood, Edwards (Feeney 81), Nicholls, Robinson, Brkovic (Showunmi 81), Howard, Vine. Subs Not Used: Morgan, Brill.
Liverpool: Carson, Finnan, Hyypia, Carragher, Riise, Kewell, Gerrard, Sissoko (Sinama Pongolle 57), Alonso, Crouch (Kromkamp 79), Cisse (Warnock 89). Subs Not Used: Hamann, Reina.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg