For one match only there was a "This is Mansfield" sign in the tunnel at the ground traditionalists would prefer to remember as Field Mill. If the idea was to see if it could have the same debilitating effects as its counterpart at Anfield, there were certainly moments when Liverpool were not entirely comfortable in this "three-sided" ground, with its throwback pitch, up-and-at-them opponents and the broken windows in the dugout where Brendan Rodgers was looking a little uneasy during the second half.
It had looked as if it might be a cakewalk when Daniel Sturridge marked his debut by scoring his first goal for the club but Liverpool had started to look decidedly vulnerable before Luis Suárez's right boot, not to mention his right hand, soothed their nerves with the second goal. The Uruguayan now has 19 for the season but this one, incorporating a clear handball, should never have been allowed and Mansfield can be justifiably aggrieved bearing in mind it was the point of the match when they were threatening to bridge the gap between them and the side 93 places higher in the order of English football.
As it was, there were still some anxious moments for Liverpool after Matt Green fired a low shot past Brad Jones in the 79th minute to precipitate a late onslaught. Green had been a constant menace and almost produced an equaliser with a 25-yard effort in the final moments. Yet Mansfield, playing well above themselves, will have to reflect their luck was out. As well as Suárez's latest controversy, there were three separate occasions when Mansfield might have had a penalty because of handballs, two of them described by their manager, Paul Cox, as "blatant". Liverpool were pinned back for spells of the second half but nobody, ultimately, could put forward a case to be added to future versions of the 'Mansfield Town Legends' commemorated in a poster accompanying the match-day programme.
The prize for Liverpool is a fourth-round assignment against an Oldham Athletic side invigorated by beating Nottingham Forest, from a division higher, on Saturday. Mansfield, meanwhile, will return to the business of trying to get back into the Football League and the ninth-placed team in the Blue Square Bet Premier can be encouraged by those moments when they enlivened their supporters in a sell-out crowd, not to mention those determined souls who brought stepladders to peer over the side of the derelict terrace that runs along one side of the pitch.
Liverpool, however, could also reflect on more missed chances than they will care to remember, particularly in the first half when Mansfield were in danger of being overwhelmed. "We could have been out of sight," Rodgers said afterwards. Sturridge was bright and lively and eager to impress even if, with a touch better finishing, he probably ought to have spared his new employers the difficulties that followed. Jonjo Shelvey stood out, passing the ball at times as though he were playing on a bowling green rather than a pitch that looked as though it had been used for grazing cattle.
His pass for Sturridge's goal was the outstanding moment of the match, weighted beautifully and containing enough disguise and subtlety to dissect the entire defence. Sturridge ran on to the ball, shaped his body and side-footed his shot past the oncoming goalkeeper, Alan Marriott.
For the rest of the first half it had seemed perfectly reasonable that Rodgers had not only restricted Suárez to the role of substitute but gave several others, including Steven Gerrard and Pepe Reina, the day off. This was a new, experimental team and that perhaps explains why they lost their way in the second half. Exodus Geohaghon, Mansfield's towering centre-half, caused pandemonium at times with his long throw-ins and aerial presence whenever there was a free-kick or corner. Green was full of hard running and deserved his goal. Shelvey faded and, though Brad Jones, deputising for Reina, made at least half a dozen saves, he did not always exude confidence.
It was a pulsating tie in the end but one that also left the underdog with a sense of injustice. Carolyn Radford, Mansfield's chief executive, said a replay had "been stolen from us" and, away from the cameras, was even more outspoken about Suárez's decisive contribution, four minutes after he had replaced Sturridge. Marriott was still visibly angry an hour or so after the match, claiming that Stewart Downing and other Liverpool players sympathised with him and that Suárez had been laughing as he blasted the ball over the line.
Downing had set up the chance, driving into the penalty area from the right, before playing the ball into Suárez's path in the centre. His first effort ricocheted back to him off Marriott and at that point Suárez jutted out his right hand, knocking it down and leaving himself with an open goal. The advantage he gave himself was considerable: he could not miss.
Yet the anger should be directed perhaps more at the officials than the striker. Cox, for one, was reluctant to condemn Suárez, describing it as an "instinctive" reaction, but critical of the referee, Andre Marriner. Rodgers said the fourth official had told him the handball was seen but construed as accidental and, if that is true, it was shocking refereeing from Marriner and unsatisfactory, too, on the part of his assistants.
Man of the match Jonjo Shelvey (Liverpool)