What a night. What. A. Night.
Notts County fought back from two goals down to take Liverpool to extra time on an unforgettable evening for Magpies’ supporters. Nearly 3,000 members of the ‘Black and White Army’ cheered their team on to a remarkable achievement against the Premier League giants, who were very nearly subject to a historic scalp.
The night did not get off to the best of starts for County, when Raheem Sterling fired the Reds in front early on. It all looked to be game over when Daniel Sturridge had made the hosts’ dominance pay off with a second in the 29th minute.
This was not the case, as County staged a quite remarkable second half comeback. Yoann Arquin gave Notts hope with a powerful 62nd minute header, before Adam Coombes came off the bench to net a dramatic equaliser with just six minutes to spare.
The atmosphere in all areas of the ground was electric from beginning to end and at one stage it appeared that Notts might achieve the impossible, especially when a strong penalty shout in extra time was waved away. But, a breakaway goal from Sturridge and another from substitute Jordan Henderson secured Liverpool’s place in Round 3 of the draw.
Two changes were made to the side that faced Stevenage three days prior, as Greg Tempest and Adam Coombes dropped to the bench. In their place was a new arrival from Aston Villa, left-back Enda Stevens, and Jamal Campbell-Ryce, whose inclusion on the right wing allowed Notts to revert to a 4-4-1-1 formation that saw Callum McGregor operating behind Yoann Arquin in attack.
Liverpool fielded a starting 11 that suggested Brendan Rodgers’ side were taking the tournament seriously in 2013.14. The home line-up included the likes of England internationals Steven Gerrard, Glen Johnson and Daniel Sturridge.
It was another great English talent, Sterling, who sparked the game into life in the third minute, following a misplaced pass in midfield. Possession was quickly fed to the pacy winger, who skipped between two County players and smashed unstoppably inside the left-hand post from 20 yards.
Gerrard nearly doubled the hosts’ lead less than three minutes later, with a free-kick on the edge of the box. The England skipper beat the wall but watched his powerful hit swerve narrowly wide.
Labadie, whose foul had given away the free-kick, won one of his own when he was dragged to the turf as he surged forward. The midfielder unleashed a stern low drive, which was batted away by Simon Mignolet before Campbell-Ryce directed over on the rebound.
On 13, Gerrard let loose with a stunning drive that dipped narrowly over Bartosz Boalkowski’s crossbar. He later provided an impressive set-piece delivery from the right wing and Daniel Agger, an early replacement for the injured Aly Cissoko, watched a glancing header kept out by the foot of the post.
Another free-kick, this time quickly taken, saw Johnson free inside the area, only his low shot was superbly blocked by Manny Smith’s last-ditch lunge. As the Magpies’ defence struggled to clear the resulting corner, Joe Allen demonstrated quick feet and fed Sturridge into the space but the striker’s curled finish flew narrowly past the angle of the goal.
A moment of brilliance from Gerrard resulted in Liverpool’s second goal of the evening. The midfielder sliced open the away rearguard with an incisive pass to pick out the run of Sturridge, who rifled unstoppably across goal, past Bialkowski.
Everybody in the stadium felt that Agger had made it 3-0 in the 35th minute, when he connected with a pacy Gerrard corner. The centre-back’s thumping header appeared destined for the roof of the net but reacted instinctively to tip clear with a one-handed save.
A defensive set-piece led to Notts’ next chance, as Chris Kiwomya signaled his centre-backs into attack. It almost paid off, when David Bell’s left-wing cross almost found its way onto Smith’s head.
With County pushed forward, Liverpool broke at pace and Liddle was required to produce a superb hooked challenge to keep out Jordan Ibe, as he raced into the box. Moments later, Sterling found space again to slide Gerrard into the area, only the subsequent attempt was lifted against the near post.
Notts started the half brightly, with Dumbuya providing the first effort on goal. The fleet-footed full-back roamed into the final third at speed but his low shot lacked power and Mignolet gathered with ease.
McGregor then showed great energy to win the Magpies a corner, which then led to another, raising the levels in the packed out away section. Bell delivered a nicely weighted centre for Labadie, whose looped header bounced wide of the left-hand upright.
Mignolet was tested for the second time in the game, when Arquin chested a long punt forward into the path of McGregor. The on-loan Celtic man targeted the bottom-right corner with a fierce low drive that forced the Reds’ stopper into a smart, smothering save.
The bumper away following really found their voice after Arquin pulled a goal back for Notts, via a well-rehearsed set-piece. Fotheringham’s floated pass towards Smith saw the centre-back nod across goal, where Arquin applied a firm header that found its way home off the underside of the crossbar.
Gerrard did his best to restore the deficit, first with a whipped cross from the right, which defender Kolo Toure placed against the outside of the post. He then showed fantastic vision to pick out a Sturridge run, though the frontman’s header found the side-netting.
A series of substitutions were made in quick succession. Campbell-Ryce, Fotheringham and Bell were replaced with Curtis Thompson, Andre Boucaud and Coombes.
Coombes made an immediate impact and sent the County support into hysterics with an 84th minute leveller. Arquin had been played into the right channel by McGregor and provided a delicate, chipped cross for the former Chelsea man to fire low inside the left-hand post.
There was still work to do and Smith came to the rescue with another outstanding block to deny Agger, whose thunderous drive was diverted marginally wide. Sturridge later threatened but cleared the bar with a chip and Sterling placed high and wide of the top-right corner, following a cutback from the byline.
The final whistle was met by a rapturous reception from the Magpies’ faithful - proud of their team's unrelenting efforts. Extra time was to decide the outcome of this entertaining encounter – perfect for the Sky television cameras and the neutrals watching on at home.
Early into extra time, Coombes almost added his second of the evening when he came within inches of connecting with Smith’s headed knockdown at close range. At the other end, Bialkowski played his part with a low save to deny substitute Phillipe Coutinho.
Notts enjoyed much more possession and played the ball around with confidence, to the soundtrack of ‘It’s Just Like Watching Juve’. This further increased when Liverpool went down to 10 men following an injury to Toure.
And, it seemed like it was going to be a fairytale ending for the Magpies, when Stevens was sent tumbling inside the area. However, to the disbelief of the away support and players, the referee waved play on.
To rub salt in the wound, the hosts restored their lead less than a minute after the controversial decision. A counter attack down the left saw Sturridge strike towards the far corner and despite Bialkowski gaining a touch he was unable to prevent the ball from creeping over the line.
In the 110th minute, Henderson all but confirmed the Reds’ place in the next round with a brilliant individual goal. The England international pierced through the Notts rearguard with a nutmeg and placed past Bialkowski to make it 4-2 – the final score.
The reactions of the away fans suggested that the Magpies had won the match and it really felt that way. Kiwomya had asked for his team to make it a night to remember and there is no doubt that the men in black and white stripes delivered just that.