Nearly a year ago, Liverpool found themselves knocked out of the FA Cup by League One's Oldham Athletic in one of the shock results of the fourth round. Facing them again in the same competition—albeit a round earlier—over the weekend, Liverpool once again struggled, failing to break through a stubborn defence in the first half and leading fans to fear that the Premier League side could be facing either a replay or another ousting from the cup by the same lower league side.
The introduction of Lucas helped the Reds to control midfield after having lost the possession battle in the first half, while Philippe Coutinho made them more dangerous down the left and in turn opened up space for Raheem Sterling on the right. After a sub-par start, the changed approach and manager Brendan Rodgers' halftime instructions helped Sterling to turn his game around and become one of Liverpool's best performers in the second half with an assist and a shot that forced an own goal.
"The manager told us to get our mentality right for this game because we knew what defeated us last time," Sterling told LFCTV. "His message at half-time was that we needed to move the ball a lot faster and get them working and chasing the ball. That's what we did second half, and we got the two goals which gave us the win. Stevie gave me the ball and I knew I had to take the guy on. I got half a yard on him and crossed it in. It was a great finish [by Iago Aspas], the ball was behind him a bit, but he found the bottom corner and it was a great goal."
Setting aside his shaky first half performance, in the end it was another strong showing for Sterling, and after a difficult start to the season that saw the young winger on the bench more often than not he's taken the chance offered by Liverpool's recent injury troubles to establish himself near the top of the teamsheet. Luis Suarez remains the club's most dangerous attacker by a fair margin, but Sterling has been the best of the supporting cast over the past six weeks, and it is far from certain that the imminent return of Daniel Sturridge and Joe Allen will change his role.
"I'm enjoying it massively and the manager has put his trust in me to put me out every week so far," he added when asked about his increasingly important role in the team. "Hopefully I can deliver on the pitch and get some more assists and goals for the team. It was a good win today. We'll just take it into the next game and hopefully we can get the result there and take it step by step as a team."
Next up for Sterling and Liverpool are Stoke City and Aston Villa in the league before a mid-week FA Cup tie against either Bournemouth or Burton Albion and the derby against Everton close out the month of January.