Only eight Premier League sides are still left for the FA Cup fifth round. It could be whittled down to six after the Manchester United-Tottenham Hotspur tie and if Manchester City lose at Sheffield United on Sunday.
Havant, who included a refuse collector, a trainee taxi driver, a teacher and security officer in their squad, normally play in front of about 600 fans. This time round, despite playing in front of 42-000 fans and a worldwide audience, and clashing with an opponent who has been crowned seven-times FA Cup winners, Havant showed no stage fright.
The Conference South part-timers, who were ranked six divisions and 123 places below Liverpool in English football league hierarchy, were up for the challenge; if not for a hat-trick by midfielder Yossi Benayoun, we will have witnessed the biggest upset in the FA Cup’s 137-year history.
Havant fired the first salvo when Richard Pacquette, who once played in the same Queens Park Rangers youth team as Liverpool’s striker Peter Crouch, put the visitors ahead after eight minutes.
It took Liverpool until the 27th minute to equalise as Brazilian Lucas scored with a 30-metre shot but the Anfield faithfuls were stunned for a second time when Alfie Potter’s shot was deflected into the net by defender Martin Skrtel.
Yossi Benayoun claimed Liverpool’s second equaliser a minute before half-time and he went on to complete a 15-minute hat-trick by producing a well-taken shot on the turn after 56th minute. Peter Crouch put the icing on the cake with a late fifth goal.
Havant and Waterlooville bowed out of the FA Cup as heroes, to the sound of an Anfield ovation. They can hang their heads up in defeat as this is a notable achievement worth savoring.
Havant manager Shaun Gale said he was a proud man. “You have dreams and beliefs and we came here today and thought we might get something. We knew the enormity of the task but to be twice in front at Anfield, not too many teams have done that,” he told Sky Sports News.
“My lads have been magnificent today and I am proud of them. It has been a fairytale. It will be a long time before anyone else does anything like this.”
Liverpool has escaped from the jaws of defeat yet again but they are in an unenviable position. In fact, if we compare them to where Leeds were in 2002, there were glaring similarities. Both needed the sanctuary of a fourth spot in the Premier League and Champions League qualification.
David O’Leary led his team to the top of the table at the turn of the new year but didn’t win again until March. They crashed out of a top four and only a late recovery salvaged a Uefa Cup spot. That summer, David was sacked by chairman, Peter Risdale and key players were put on the transfer market. They were eventually relegated in 2004 and a former footballing power has languished in mediocrity since.
Will Liverpool suffer the same fate? I hope not but they are getting near. On the pitch, the players cannot help but feel demoralized as they do not know if their manager will be around the next game.
Before the Havant victory, they have only won just 10 of 18 of its home game this season in all competitions. One win in its last six matches and five wins in its last 11 overall have tested the patience of the Anfield fans. Even if the owners give Benitez a vote of confidence, there is no guarantee of them getting past Everton, Aston Villa or Manchester City, all of which have reached a consistency and top form.
Financially, the outlook is equally bleak. At a time of worldwide financial crunch, taking on a huge loan is a risky business. News of recession and interest rate hikes will set them back further than not qualifying for the Champions League.
I know Liverpool fans yearn for the good old days of Bill Shankly when football was so simple. Focus on the fundamentals and not to **** itself in front of a sugar daddy, in the hopes that his wealth can be exchanged for glory.
This is the price and heavy lesson for one of the finest football clubs to pick up, even if it meant a humiliating trip down to Division One, if the club has to liquidate its best assets when the banks come calling.