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Liverpool's Suarez in new handball controversy

Date

Mark Ogden

FA Cup wrap

Caught in the act ... Liverpool's Luis Suarez (C) handles the ball in the lead up to to scoring the winning goal against Mansfield in the FA Cup.

Caught in the act ... Liverpool's Luis Suarez (C) handles the ball in the lead up to to scoring the winning goal against Mansfield in the FA Cup. Photo: Reuters

Brendan Rodgers probably had something else in mind when he introduced Luis Suarez from the substitutes’ bench to give Liverpool a helping hand as his team toiled to FA Cup victory against Mansfield.

On the ropes against the Blue Square Bet Premier outfit, who had laid siege to the Liverpool goal as Rodgers’s players defended their first-half lead, Suarez’s handled goal within four minutes of entering the action sealed the Merseysiders’ progression to a fourth tie against Oldham at Boundary Park later this month.

Despite the Liverpool manager’s post-match assertion that Suarez’s hand-ball was not deliberate, it was no surprise to hear chants of ’cheat, cheat, cheat,’ raining down from the stands inside Field Mill.

Robbie Fowler might have urged the referee to backtrack on a penalty award during a game against Arsenal at Highbury in 1997, but that was a one-off in a hard-bitten profession where any inch is taken to claim a mile.

Referee Andre Marriner, having looked across at his linesman Mike Mullarkey, awarded the goal to Suarez, a 54th minute replacement for £12 million debutant Daniel Sturridge, despite the appeals of the incensed Mansfield players, led by goalkeeper Alan Marriott.

Mansfield’s anger was fuelled by their team having a penalty claim turned down moments earlier when Matt Green’s back-heel was blocked by a stray Liverpool arm on the goal line.

With tensions running high, a supporter wearing a blue and yellow jester’s hat then ran on to the pitch and approached Suarez before being ushered away by stewards.

Whether Suarez’s hand-ball was deliberate or not, it distracted from a stirring Mansfield fightback. In the second half they belied their status as a mid-table non-league club lying 93 places behind their illustrious opponents.

Having insisted prior to the game that he would be taking the tie seriously, Rodgers opted to make eight changes to his starting line-up, with the likes of Steven Gerrard, Glen Johnson and Daniel Agger given a day off, and Suarez on the substitutes’ bench.

When Sturridge put Liverpool ahead inside the opening 10 minutes, it appeared less of a gamble. The England forward displayed slick movement to escape centre-half Exodus Geohaghon and latch on to Jonjo Shelvey’s through-ball before guiding a first-time shot past Marriott.

Sturridge’s inconsistency at Chelsea ultimately proved key in their decision to sell the former Manchester City youngster, but his FA Cup record cannot be questioned, with his debut goal making it nine in his last 12 games in the competition.

At that stage, it appeared as though Mansfield were destined for a brutal dose of reality against the five-time European champions. But Paul Cox’s team overcame their nervous start and began to push Liverpool back, taking advantage of the uneven Field Mill pitch and Geohaghon’s long throw-ins, which were straight out of the Rory Delap guide to causing defensive panic.

Chris Clements saw a free-kick blocked by the Liverpool wall, while the industrious Green forced Brad Jones into an important save on 32 minutes. Liverpool still carried plenty of threat, with the impressive Shelvey linking well with Sturridge, but their failure to score a second injected Mansfield with energy and belief and they were unlucky not to equalise during a vibrant start to the second-half.

Within the space of three minutes, Anthony Howell saw a close range shot saved before the same player was denied by the out-stretched leg of Jamie Carragher. As Mansfield heaped pressure on the Liverpool goal, Louis Briscoe forced Jones in another save before the Australian keeper palmed away another effort from Clements.

Field Mill sensed an opening and the home supporters raised the volume as Liverpool were penned back in their penalty area. But the goal just would not come, even when Geohaghon’s downward header was saved and Green saw his back-heel from two yards pushed away by the besieged Jones.

Having seen his team go close to conceding, Rodgers made the change which ultimately decided the game by introducing Suarez in place of Sturridge. And within minutes, Liverpool’s talisman did what he been sent on to do by doubling his team’s lead.

Mansfield responded well, though, and the goal they deserved came on 79 minutes when Green beat Jones from 12 yards with a half-volley from Lee Beevers’s cross. It teed up a rousing finale, with more throw-ins from Geohaghon causing consternation in the Liverpool penalty area and Green testing Jones once again.

But Liverpool held on. Just.

Earlier, Danny Graham poached an 87th-minute equaliser to earn Swansea a 2-2 draw with Arsenal at the Liberty Stadium in a game that finished amid a rapid exchange of goals.

Arsenal fought back from behind to lead through a quick-fire pair of strikes from Lukas Podolski and Kieran Gibbs in the last 10 minutes, only for Graham to pounce at the death to take the tie to a replay.

Swansea had led through a 58th-minute effort by Michu, scorer of both goals in a 2-0 Premier League win at the Emirates Stadium in December, but Swansea appeared to be heading out until Graham found the roof of the net with three minutes to play.

"We should have won this game," said Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.

"It's frustrating to concede a goal just like that on a corner, where we couldn't clear the ball before the corner. Even on the corner, we were first to the ball and didn't win the ball.

"We have shown quality and heart and it's quite good if we can repeat that."

Michu began on the bench for Swansea, perhaps with an eye on Wednesday's League Cup semi-final first leg against Chelsea, but he rose from the dug-out to tip the tie in the hosts' favour in the 58th minute.

The Spaniard had only been on the pitch for a minute and 13 seconds when he collected Nathan Dyer's knock-down, lobbed the ball over Per Mertesacker, and then beat goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny to claim his 15th goal of the campaign.

Podolski swivelled on a loose ball to level in the 81st minute and Gibbs then slammed in a sumptuous volley from Olivier Giroud's chipped pass to put Arsenal ahead two minutes later, but Graham had the final say.

The winners of the replay will face a trip to second-tier Brighton and Hove Albion, who eliminated Newcastle United for the second season in succession on Saturday.

Holders Chelsea will face lower-league opposition in the form of either Southend United or Brentford, while either Fulham or Blackpool will await the winners of the replay between Manchester United and West Ham United.

Telegraph, London and AFP

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