Exeter City 1 Daniel Nardiello 80'
A surprisingly strong line up from Kenny Dalglish saw Liverpool run out with a side that wouldn't have looked entirely out of place in league competition, the likes of Meireles, Suarez, and Adam joining quality squad players like Maxi Rodriguez in attack while a handful of youngsters managed to make it into the starting eleven at the back. Though with Skrtel, Meireles, and Suarez all needing to work on their fitness, hopes of killing the game off in the first half, and no European competition to worry about, perhaps it wasn't actually a huge surprise. Certainly Dalglish and the coaching staff would have wanted to avoid any chance of repeating the previous season's unlikely defeat to Northampton in the League Cup, and on paper at least there was no way this Liverpool side could lose.
Early signs were that they indeed wouldn't, with lively interplay between Meireles and Henderson in midfield setting up darting runs from Suarez and a series of corners for Charlie Adam to whip in. Still, when Martin Skrtel, making his return to action after a long injury lay-off, managed to miss a tap in at the back post and Exeter refused to look overawed by Liverpool's possession game, it couldn't help but lead to concerns for a club that has seemed to play as though expecting the worst for much of the past two seasons.
It wasn't helped, either, that with Exeter growing slowly into the game Raul Meireles took a hard tumble just short of twenty minutes, dislocating his shoulder in the process. It was reported that it popped back in of its own accord, and the player clearly wanted to rejoin the action, but in the end Dalglish opted to take the safe route and substituted him for Andy Carroll.
Almost immediately the change resulted in Liverpool begining to attack down the wings, looking to put crosses in towards their big striker. And when less than three minutes after his introduction Jordan Henderson chipped the ball towards Carroll in the box, Liverpool finally got the breakthrough their play deserved but that had seemed increasingly elusive: Goalkeeper Krysiak got fingertips to the cross but could only push it out towards the edge of the penalty area, where an unmarked Suarez tracked its flight and volleyed into the bottom of the net to put the visiting favourites up one-nil.
Afterwards it was all Liverpool all the time, and with Skrtel and Carroll getting the chance to renew their bromance on the frequent corners that resulted from Liverpool's rampant play, they probably should have been up by two or three goals at the half. Again, though, Exeter failed to crumble completely, and with Liverpool once more refusing to turn their dominating play into goals the match slowly evened out before the two teams headed to the dressing rooms.
In the second it would be much of the same, with Liverpool again controlling play but failing to appear as though they could quite put all the pieces together. But after Henderson was booked for seeking out contact in the eighteen-yard box, initiating a collision in search of a penalty, Suarez took matters into his own hands. A rampage down the right lead to two centering attempts, the first to Andy Carroll blocked back to Suarez but the second to a late arriving and unmarked Maxi slotted home.
Soon after, another darting run from Suarez would set up Andy Carroll for a left-footed hammer-blow from outside the area, a driven strike reminiscent of his goal against Manchester City late last season. Then it was time for the Uruguayan striker to rightly be taken off before the sixty minute mark, the game in hand and full fitness a few steps closer. Soon afterwards, too, much of the Liverpool squad remaining on the pitch seemed to decide the match was fully done and dusted, with the play taking on an increasingly lazy feel for the last thirty minutes or so.
With so many players mentally switching off, it was only a mater of time before Exeter would score a consolation goal, and a clumsy penalty conceded by Skrtel to mar an otherwise solid return to action for the defender would be what gave it to them in the end. It did appear as though, as with Henderson's earlier yellow card, there wasn't much contact—and what there was was sought out by the attacker. Still, it was a lazy piece of defending from Skrtel, and it was surrounded by some fairly sloppy play from the rest of the Liverpool side, all combining to give the match a rather unenjoyable feel in the end: A cluster of Suarez brilliance sandwiched by a less than convincing start on one side and a sloppy, disinterested finish on the other.
Still, in a cup competition all that matters is the result, and so Liverpool move on to the third round, their opponent to be determined when the draw takes place over the weekend. It may not have been the free-flowing brilliance some would have hoped for on seeing the team sheet and opponent, but sometimes the result is the only thing that truly matters. Anyone thinking otherwise need only cast back to Liverpool's experience in the League Cup last year.