Christian Benteke outplayed by Liverpool youngsters in Exeter draw
The gigantic risk that Jurgen Klopp took with his team selection partially paid off in Liverpool's fourth-round draw in the FA Cup, but for long stretches of a nervy night, it did not look as if it would end that way.
The replay will add another fixture to the backlog for Liverpool, but it could have been so much worse for the Premier League team. The youngsters will appreciate an appearance in the top flight, but there was sketchy evidence they will be adding too many more, as Exeter probably deserved to win.
More questions will be asked about cover for Simon Mignolet in the coming transfer window, as Adam Bogdan showed once again he is almost definitely not the answer. Brad Smith's equaliser spared the Hungarian's blushes on an Exeter goal from a corner that he clearly botched. If Klopp should select a similarly weakened team for the replay, Exeter are by no means out of this tie.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Adam Bogdan, 3 -- A night that will only be remembered for a shocking error when he allowed a Lee Holmes corner to drift over his head into the net before the half-time whistle. Adding to his poor mistake at Watford, Bogdan's decent performances earlier in the season have now become irrelevant. Goalkeepers rarely recover from such a weakness being so brutally exposed.
DF Connor Randall, 5 -- Steady at first, did not relish numerous Exeter surges down his side of the pitch in a troublesome second half. Made little use of his chances to contribute going forward in the first half. One for the youngster to forget, but he certainly wasn't the only one.
DF Tiago Ilori, 6 -- One of the strangest Liverpool debuts in history, surely. He didn't look overwhelmed by anything the home side threw at him at first, but started to run out of gas in a major way after the hour mark and was lucky to last as long as he did. Given his lack of football all season at Aston Villa, it was understandable.
DF Jose Enrique, 5 -- Another performance that added to an already-surreal evening, the Spaniard was caught out for speed before Exeter's opener. He at least managed to last the pace better than most of his colleagues, but then he barely extended himself the whole night.
DF Brad Smith, 7 -- Once again the Australian was the only saving grace on a poor night for Liverpool. As against FC Sion, his willingness to charge forward helped him stand out from everyone else, and he was eventually rewarded with a well-taken equaliser against the run of play. Dangerous attacking outlet in the first half, and kept going when several other heads dropped.
MF Ryan Kent, 5 -- Looked useful at times, certainly confident enough to try different things, though most didn't come off. Early substitution was a surprise, but this wasn't a night or a surface to fully gauge what the youngster is capable of.
MF Kevin Stewart, 6 -- Solid and workmanlike, got through a useful amount of work without ever really shining. Kept going and never hid, which will please a manager looking for character on such a difficult night.
MF Cameron Brannagan, 6 -- Faded and struggled in a second half in which every Liverpool player was disappointing. He worked well in the first and looked confident enough to spray around a few tasty, long passes. Showed enough to suggest he wouldn't be overawed when surrounded by better quality. Important late clearance helped keep the score 2-2.
MF Joao Carlos Teixeira, 5 -- Confidence was evident in the opening half hour. As in his Capital One Cup appearances, not everything will come off, but you need somebody to take risks on the edge of the box. Faded badly in the second half and resembled an even more wasteful version of Philippe Coutinho by the end.
FW Christian Benteke, 3 -- A dismal first half where he treated his selection and the captaincy almost with disdain. Service wasn't great, but with a team of such limited experience, he didn't lead by example. Denied a second-half equaliser by an excellent save, he at least kept going until the end, but it was another disturbingly toothless performance from the big Belgian.
FW Jerome Sinclair, 6 -- Took his one chance very well, but given few other opportunities to shine. Another, like Brannagan, who could offer more in a stronger side, and given Liverpool's lack of strikers, he should get another chance to show what he can do.
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MF Pedro Chirivella, 5 -- Poor and almost invisible performance. Kent was hardly pulling up any trees, but Chirivella's contribution made little sense of his manager's decision to put him on instead of the more senior Adam Lallana. One or two interesting pieces of skill, but mostly inconsequential.
MF Sheyi Ojo, NR -- Made a difference after replacing Sinclair on 70 minutes by going at Exeter's tiring backline. Played in the cross that indirectly created Smith's equaliser, and probably should have won a penalty, too.
MF Joe Maguire, NR -- Brought on to replace the tiring Ilori, slotted in at centre-back, Maguire made one or two useful clearances and managed to help his team see out time on an awkward evening for everyone.
Steven Kelly writes about Liverpool for ESPN FC and has a weekly Liverpool column for The Irish Examiner. Follow him on Twitter @SteKelly198586.