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Blackburn 0, Liverpool 1: Wembley Awaits

It was exactly the result Liverpool needed on the back of two demoralizing defeats, and while it may have taken 70 minutes to arrive, Philippe Coutinho's second half effort proved to be the decisive strike to secure Brendan Rodgers' men a semi-final showdown.

Jan Kruger/Getty Images

One of the sport's oldest cliches states that football is a game of fine margins, and even the most buoyant of supporters could be forgiven for wondering whether Liverpool would be left ruing their wasted opportunities. Had they left Ewood Park with anything less than a guaranteed trip to Wembley, Brendan Rodgers' men would have surely been chastised for lacking a cutting edge and pondering in possession, but, as it stands, the team's performance will be credited as patient and professional.

If Liverpool have anyone to thank for booking their date with Aston Villa, it's Philippe Coutinho, whose fine individual effort was the difference on the day. The Brazil international, who, in the wake of the mauling from Arsenal, claimed that only winning the FA Cup could "save our season," was always the most likely to produce a moment of magic. From an otherwise failed corner routine, Coutinho slipped his way through the Blackburn back line and finished with a driven low shot to beat Simon Eastwood. It might've took a momentary lapse from Jordan Rhodes to allow the goalscorer to worm through the box, but it spoke volumes of the Brazilian's commitment to end an otherwise disappointing campaign on a high note.

Blackburn will be disappointed with the manner of how they conceded, given their level of concentration and organization over the two legs, though what Rovers missed most was the effectiveness of Rudy Gestede. The French forward, who posed such a threat at Anfield, was only deemed fit enough to make the bench after undergoing a late fitness test. Though he later appeared as a substitute, it proved either too much or too late for the target man to make a significant contribution.

The home side weren't the only ones with their share of absentees. Adam Lallana and Jon Flanagan remained sidelined, while Steven Gerrard, Martin Skrtel and Emre Can continued to serve their respective suspensions. Such a loss of personnel would force Brendan Rodgers' hand somewhat, as pre-match speculation was soon quelled when Liverpool lined up in a comprehensive 4-3-3. Mamadou Sakho partnered Dejan Lovren, who was imperious on the day, but the Frenchman found himself replaced by Kolo Toure in the first half after limping off with a suspected pulled hamstring.

The towering defender afforded the home side an early opportunity when he looked to shepherd the ball into the grasp of Simon Mignolet, but a breakdown in communication saw the Belgian goalkeeper opt rather to stay on his line, and with Craig Conway bearing down on him, he had no choice but to concede a corner. The resulting set piece saw Jordan Rhodes' header fly narrowly over the bar, but it was a warning shot across the bow if nothing else. Blackburn would be strategic in their forward forays; careful not to over-commit and well-drilled on the counter attack.

First half chances were at a premium. Liverpool struggled to create much of an opening, and speculative shots from Daniel Sturridge and Glen Johnson were never going to pose many problems. The second half, however, began with a flurry of activity, in particular from the home side, who came out swinging. A curling effort from Tom Cairney almost caught Simon Mignolet by surprise, and a penalty shout moments later went unnoticed when the ball appeared to brush Joe Allen's arm before hitting the woodwork. Allen himself was later bundled over in the box by a clumsy Lee Williamson, who was perhaps lucky not to finish the game in the referee's book.

Shortly after Coutinho fired Liverpool in front, Daniel Sturridge made way for Rickie Lambert, who almost scored with his first touch. In truth, the former Southampton marksman should've done better, as he easily rose to meet Jordan Henderson's free kick, but bundled his header wide of the post. Lambert's contributions mostly involved running the clock down with Raheem Sterling, but Blackburn still found time for one last scramble. When goalkeeper Simon Eastwood charged forward to meet Adam Henley's long throw, he swiveled in the crowded penalty area and unleashed a venomous shot that his counterpart was able to gather.

That would be the last action of a desperate Blackburn side as they crashed out of the FA Cup, but they can be proud of the Premier League scalps they picked up along the way. For Liverpool, the season now hinges on their progress in this competition, as hopes of a top 4 finish look insurmountable. In just over a week's time, they will travel to the capital to face Aston Villa in their 24th FA Cup semi-final appearance, and know that anything less than progression will mean the end of their season. No pressure.

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