West Ham 2 Antonio 45', Ogbonna 120'
Liverpool 1 Coutinho 48'
Despite some terrific attacking play and a cheeky goal by Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool again fail to deal with defensive set pieces and are eliminated in the most infuriatingly predictable of ways, as West Ham score the winning goal in added time of extra time.
The Reds put out a B+ side for this 4th round replay, with Coutinho returning to the team from injury, forming a band of three behind Christian Benteke, alongside Joao Teixeira and Jordon Ibe. Pedro Chirivella and Kevin Stewart made for a youthful double pivot in midfield, while Jon Flanagan, Tiago Ilori, Lucas Leiva and Brad Smith rounded out the backline in front of Simon Mignolet.
After a slow opening, the game exploded into life on fifteen minutes. Benteke was involved in two dangerous situations immediately after one another, first through a knockdown into the six yard box that no Liverpool player could get a proper swing at, then making a great run to the back post, but having his finish saved by Darren Randolph. West Ham replied at the other end with a long range shot partially blocked by Lucas and then smacking off Mignolet's near post.
A spell of dominance for the visitors followed, and it mostly took place down the left, where Smith got forward constantly, and combined well with Benteke, Coutinho and Teixeira. The quartet was involved in three chances in quick succession, with Teixeira and Coutinho both going close, the latter curling a left-footer off the near post. A Stewart follow-up lead to a corner, which in turn ended in another Benteke far post header, again cleared off the line.
Minutes later, Ibe committed a silly foul on the edge of his own box, granting Dmitri Payet an opportunity from a set piece. The Frenchman's effort was touched onto the post by Mignolet, and the Belgian got up quickly to punch away Antonio's headed follow-up.
Seconds before half-time, Liverpool took a punch to the gut. Enner Valencia broke into the left side of the box and delivered a cross. The ball took a huge deflection off the shin of Flanagan, floated over the Reds backline and fell kindly for Antonio, who smacked a volley into the far corner, sending Liverpool into the break a goal down.
They would get one back almost as soon as the second half began. Some near interplay near the West Ham box lead to a free kick, and Coutinho stepped up. The Ronaldinho fan boy took a page out of his idol's playbook and smoothly rolled the ball under the jumping wall and into the near corner, pulling the Reds level.
Ten minutes later, the left side combined well again, and Smith provided Benteke with a terrific opportunity from 8 yards, but his shot was blocked by Ogbonna.
Jürgen Klopp showed his intent to finish the game in regulation time by bringing on injury returnees Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi for Coutinho and Teixeira on 60 minutes, in practice leaving his side playing a 4-2-4 for the remainder of the match. While the substitution and tactical change looked aggressive and positive, the net result was a lack of presence in midfield, which gave West Ham ample opportunity to drive forward through the middle, and cut the attackers off from their supply line, making the remaining 30 minutes a messy affair.
Valencia went down in the box from an arm pull by Ilori, who was lucky to not give a penalty away. Cheikhou Kouyaté was knocked unconscious after a clash of heads with Flanagan, and in an encouraging twist, was not allowed to return to the field, coming off for Andy Carroll. Benteke had a good free kick attempt well saved, Ibe fired in a left-footed effort after a Sturridge rebound fell to him, and the 90 minutes were up.
Liverpool were dominant in extra time, and after Mark Noble had a long range effort saved, the Reds seemed the only side likely to score. Benteke missed three glorious opportunities in five minutes; first smacking a volley inches wide from twelve yards, then hitting the ball straight at the goalkeeper after having been played in by a wonderful Sturridge through ball, and finally heading well over after Origi left Antonio dizzy on the left side and played in a floating cross.
Second half in extra time was slower, but still had a few opportunities in store. Sturridge sent a left footed effort flying inches wide from 20 yards, then had a back-heeled finish blocked by James Collins. A Flanagan header blocked a the near post by Collins seemed to be the last shot of the game, but as injury time approached, Roger East, who delivered an infuriatingly inconsistent performance, decided to penalise Lucas for a tiny nudge in the back of Valencia, who went down extremely easily. As Payet whipped in a terrific cross, Ogbonna was allowed to climb on Kevin Stewart and head home the winner.
Liverpool have had plenty of bad performances this season underscored by terrible set piece defending. This was not one of those. The players produced a solid performance and strung together pieces of terrific play throughout, creating plenty of big chances, all while mostly limiting West Ham to set pieces and long-range efforts.
There was good and bad, of course. Benteke had one of his better performances in a Liverpool shirt, getting involved and making positive runs all night, but was completely unable to finish his chances, which in the end cost his side. Brad Smith looked fantastic going forward, but was caught out of position on several occasions and got absolutely torched on others. Origi looked rusty and uncertain in the wide left position, and despite bright moments clearly needs game time to get up to speed. Mignolet continues to look a liability on crosses, although he didn't get much help from the referee in this one.
On the bright side, Ilori, Flanagan and Chirivella were surprisingly solid, Stewart put a second excellent outing in a row, and captain Lucas Leiva was an absolute rock at centre-back. Teixeira continues to look ready for first team action, and Coutinho appeared sharp, focusing on flicks and dribbles and passes rather than low percentage shots. Oh and Daniel Sturridge is swooningly good still. Let's keep him forever.
As bitterly disappointed as players and manager will be with the end result, this was a performance they can generally feel good about. The FA Cup adventure is over for the season, which lightens the match load a little, but there are still plenty of fixtures to go around, as next week sees the return of the Europa League. But first, a trip to Aston Villa on Sunday.