The early rounds of the League Cup have been good to Liverpool in the past. Just look at this:
But it doesn't always go their way. Last season's exit at Anfield to Northampton Town being proof of that. An embarrassing result, though not half as embarrassing as Roy Hodgson's press conference afterwards, during which he argued that Liverpool had performed manfully by launching a couple of attacks upon going behind to a fourth-division side at home, and that it wasn't his fault, it was all because of those pesky kids. Well done, Roy!
So this is a big game for Liverpool. They won't want to slip up here at St James Park, not least because a good Carling Cup run can really bolster confidence at a big club going through a trophy drought. Just look at Arsen... er... but you know what I mean.
Kick off: 7.45pm.
Exeter City, in Danny Coles for the suspended Steve Tully, who saw red in their weekend loss to Preston: Krysiak, Jones, Duffy, Archibald-Henville, Coles,
Golbourne, Dunne, Noble, Shephard, Bauza, Nardiello.
Subs: Pidgeley, Logan, Keohane, Frear, Bennett, Nichols, McNish.
Liverpool, starring Mr Luis Suarez! Reina, Flanagan, Robinson, Wilson, Skrtel, Adam, Meireles, Spearing, Maxi, Henderson, Suarez.
Subs: Doni, Jose Enrique, Carroll, Kuyt, Downing, Carragher, Shelvey.
Referee: Tony Bates (Staffordshire)
The teams are out. A fantastic atmosphere at the no-apostrophe St James Park. Exeter in their red and white, Liverpool in their Spinal Tapesque none more black.
And we're off! Exeter get the ball rolling. Jones launches a long one towards Bauza. The ball skims off the striker's head and through to Reina in goal. "Ooh aaar, we are Exeter," chant the crowd, doing the self-deprecating ironic thing.
3 min: Suarez, deemed surplus to requirements for over three quarters of the game against Arsenal, but picked from the start for this test, wins a corner down the right. Adam hits the set piece deep, Skrtel sidefooting clumsily into the side netting from close range. It was a fairly tight angle, but he should have hit the target. Sami Hyypia would have buried that.
6 min: That little spurt from Suarez apart, Liverpool haven't put much together yet. They're happy enough to let Exeter get a feel of the ball, passing it around the back but getting no further than the halfway line before launching it into space. "I suspect I'll be the 978th Liverpool fan to bleat this," neighs Joshua Collis, "but why risk Suarez? Surely we should be beating Exeter with the visibly less fragile Andy or Dirk. I don't like to think of the outcome if Luis gets on the wrong end of an agricultural tackle. Imagine the bite he might take out of one their poor lads?" Suarez is many things, but visibly fragile is surely not one of them. The man's a ball of energy. He never stops. I suspect they had to convince him to sit quietly on the team bus on the way down to the game, as opposed to running all the way behind it. I'm guessing he might be quite hard to break.
8 min: Archibald-Henville looks to release Nardiello down the left, but Skrtel is over quickly to cover. Exeter look lively. Liverpool are beginning to ping it around nicely too, with Adam and especially Meireles showcasing some silky touches.
11 min: Liverpool don't need Andy Carroll on the pitch to play it long: twice in less than a minute they nearly release Suarez with raking passes down the channels, but both times the balls are mopped up by a composed Exeter defence. "With LFC starting Suarez, Carragher, Reina, Adam and Henderson it could be argued they have a stronger side appearing at this tricky away trip to Exeter City than Arsenal do at their ho hum trip to Udinese," suggests Stephen Alexander. That reminds me: make sure you keep an eye on events in Italy with Bobbie Smyth's MBM.
14 min: Liverpool begin to turn the screw. Henderson and Suarez combine down the right to win a corner. Three in a row follow, each sent into the six-yard box at pace by Adam. Duffy and Coles hold firm in front of Krysiak.
15 min: Another corner for Liverpool, another ball by Adam sent fizzing through the area. Archibald-Henville hacks clear.
16 min: A free kick for Exeter down the left as Flanagan over-enthusiastically bundles Noble to the ground. Shepherd whips it into the area, where Nardiello sends a glancing header straight at Reina. Either side of the keeper and that might easily have gone in, because it was flying at a rare old lick, and Reina would have had little time to react.
19 min: Meireles goes off for treatment after landing on his left shoulder, the result of a fair 50-50 challenge with Coles ...
22 min: ... and he's not coming back, sent down the tunnel by a stern LFC quack, who is taking no chances. Meireles doesn't look too happy about his match coming to an early end, as he was playing well. Andy Carroll replaces him.
23 min: GOAL!!! Exeter City 0-1 Liverpool. Dunne breaks down the right and sends a dangerous cross into the Liverpool box. Reina claims and sends Liverpool upfield on a quick break. Henderson takes the ball wide right, then hangs a dangerous high cross into the area. Krysiak comes out and palms, but can't keep hold of the ball. It falls to Suarez to the left of goal, eight yards out, and the Uruguayan belts it low and hard through a thicket of players and into the net.
25 min: Bauza looks to have jiggered his own knee. There was no challenge. He limps off and plonks himself on the bench, to be replaced by Keohane. That's a dreadful stroke of luck for the home side.
28 min: A beautiful sunset over St James Park. The ball arcs across it, Adam hoicking a hopeless corner over everyone's head from the right.
30 min: Maxi stands under a dropping ball, just on the edge of the area. For a second, there are memories of that goal against Mexico at the 2006 World Cup, but instead of welting the ball first time, he waits, lets it drop, and sees his simple hoof fly straight into Coles. "It's a shame that Archibald-Henville's mother didn't marry a fictional glasses leaving cliff disappearing swept out to sea Neighbours character," is Phil Sawyer's set-up line, perhaps the most convoluted in the history of All Amusement. "Then you could have shortened his name to Arch-Bishop. I'll get my coat."
33 min: A couple of fine efforts by Goldbourne, who first wins a corner off Robinson with a mazy run - the set piece is wasted - and then soon after cuts inside from the right and looks for the top-left corner from 25 yards. It's an ambitious effort, but not a bad one by any means, flying only just wide left and high.
34 min: This should have been the second goal for Liverpool. Suarez irritates Jones into giving him the ball down the right. He scoots into space, then whips a delicious low cross straight through the six-yard area. It only needs a nudge to be deflected into the goal, but Maxi can't extend his leg to toe it in. Fantastic play from Suarez.
36 min: Carroll often gets pelters for being a Big Man Without A Good Touch, but here he shows glimpses of his twinkle toes. First he heads a long ball down into space for Suarez, then exchanges a couple of one-twos with him, eventually switching play on the edge of the penalty area for the onrushing Adam, who screws a hopeless shot well wide right.
40 min: Carroll forces a corner down the left. It's nothing to write home about, so I won't. "Is there a curse at Liverpool when it comes to corners?" asks Bryan Tisinger. "Adam was supposed to be the answer to Liverpool's dreadful corner kick-takers (and free kicks) of the past few years, but he was awful against Arsenal this past weekend (he wasn't taking them by the second half when Meireles came on). From your reporting, it sounds like he isn't doing much better. So it must be the curse of Liverpool, eh?" Put it this way: there was a Liverpool fanzine back in the day called Another Wasted Corner. This is when Liverpool were still regularly winning everything. This has been going on for at least 30 years.
42 min: It is now tipping down at Exeter.
43 min: Exeter boss Paul Tisdale is wearing the sort of flat cap that would see him followed around Shoreditch by a gang of admirers. "When you said my set-up line was the most convoluted in the history of All Amusement, you neglected to point out that it was for the weakest pay-off line in All Amusement," blasts Phil Sawyer. "Come on, Scott, credit where credit's due, eh?"
44 min: A poor show by Dunne, who is robbed by a determined Suarez. Dunne bundles his man over then picks up the ball and pushes it lightly into Suarez's face. There's no anger in it, just petulance.
45 min: Dunne so nearly breaks free into the box as Shepherd rolls a ball into space between the dozy Skrtel and Wilson, who have left a huge gap between them. Luckily for Liverpool, Reina is out quick to claim.
Added time at the end of the first half: Suarez attempts to chip the ball over Krysiak from ten yards out, just to the right of goal. Very ambitious, and slightly cheeky, bordering on rude. Up the other end, Shepherd welts one miles over the bar from 30-plus yards.
HALF TIME: Exeter City 0-1 Liverpool. And that's that for the half. Liverpool deserve their lead, but only just: the home team have been sprightly and determined, and clever enough to carve out a couple of half-chances. Not quite half-chances, maybe. Quarter chances? I don't know. Anyway, we're set up for a good second half. Raul Meireles, incidentally, dislocated his shoulder, but it popped back into the socket on the pitch. They're debating whether to take him to the hospital, or simply not bother until they get back home.
An oratory that never gets old.
And we're off again! Liverpool set the ball rolling for the second period. And what a start to the half by Exeter! Dunne sends a pinpoint long ball down the inside-right channel for Nardiello, who scoots clear of Skrtel and chips the ball over the advancing Reina! Unfortunately for Exeter, the effort bounces wide left of the open goal, and would have been caught by both Skrtel and Wilson were it on target anyway. But still. That's got the crowd going right at the start of the second period.
49 min: Suarez catches Shepherd late, the Exeter man requiring a couple of minutes worth of treatment as a result. There was no malice; Suarez looks genuinely apologetic and concerned. Happily, Shepherd can continue. "With the tenuous exception of Terry Henry, has there ever been an exciting foreign player with a less exciting-foreign-player name than current Liverpool target Seb Coates?" wonders nomenclature expert Michael Hunt. Seeing we're on the subject, you've a fairly interesting monicker of your own, there, Mike.
51 min: A beautiful turn by Henderson down the right, and the Liverpool man bursts into the area. He goes over the leg of Coles. He's gone looking for it, over a leg that's been foolishly left hanging out, and the referee decides it's a dive and books him. No complaints whatsoever from Henderson. All very strange, really, because you'll have seen plenty of penalties given for less than that, and it wasn't a particularly shameless dive. But everyone's happy enough, and we move on.
55 min: GOAL!!! Exeter City 0-2 Liverpool. Suarez is set clear down the right and into the area. Instead of shooting, which he was totally within his rights to do, he unselfishly looks for Carroll in the middle. The low pass is cut out, but it pings back to Suarez, who immediately rolls another ball into the middle for Maxi, the Argentinian rushing in and sidefooting calmly home. Suarez enjoys creating goals as much as he does scoring them, doesn't he?
58 min: GOAL!!! Exeter City 0-3 Liverpool. A twist in the centre circle from Suarez, who rushes away from Archibald-Henville and lays the ball off to Carroll, on the edge of the D. The ball breaks kindly to him after an Exeter challenge, and he immediately lashes an unstoppable skelp into the right-hand side of the net. Krysiak had no chance.
60 min: Suarez, with a goal and two assists to his name, is done for the day. He trots off to be replaced by Downing. "You're right about Suarez, of course, he is tough," admits Joshua Collis. "But I'm still haunted by Torres, who was like a beautiful girlfriend who during the course of your relationship develops crippling migraines. When she first came along, she was lovely, everything was great. Filled you with joy and optimism. But then before you know it, the migraines kicked in, and she never came out any more, wasn't much fun, and eventually she dumped you for some rich southern chap. And although you've got over her now, the same irrational fear holds for your new girlfriend." An honest and emotionally brave account of a failed romance, Joshua. There are some Liverpool fans who still can't bring themselves to whisper his name.
62 min: That two-goal burst has taken the sting out of this game. Exeter look visibly deflated. Downing and Henderson combine down the right, but they can't find Carroll in the middle. "Parents claimed the naïve innocence, didn't-realise-till-it-was-too-late excuse," begins Michael Hunt's lament. "Forgiveness is still pending."
63 min: Henderson tries to Le Tissier a volley into the top right corner, flicking the ball up on the edge of the D and taking a lazy slash at the ball. But the effort flies miles over the bar. "That Henderson incident was indeed peculiar," writes Phil Sawyer. "I've also noticed that the only Liverpool player to roll around in agony after a challenge was Meireles, who was genuinely injured. If Daglish has adopted a no diving, no whinging policy, Gerrard's going to find it awfully difficult to get a game."
65 min: Shepherd is replaced by McNish.
66 min: McNish is straight into the action, sending a low shot goalwards from 20 yards. Reina is down well to claim, because that was heading into the bottom-left corner. The effort momentarily wakes the crowd, who are otherwise in a minor funk.
69 min: Downing is in acres down the right. Instead of stepping into the box and taking a whack at goal, which he surely must, he opts to Gerrard a pass to the other wing for Carroll, who is miles offside. As the ball flies 20 feet over his head, Carroll can be clearly spotted mouthing "That is fucking shit". Overpriced at £35m, perhaps, but what a critic.
71 min: Downing twists and turns down the right and does what he should have done minutes earlier: has a dig at goal. It's a great effort too, arrowing in at the near post before Krysiak parries brilliantly out for a corner. The set piece, this being Liverpool 1980-2011, is wasted.
74 min: A real lull at the moment. You get the sense that if everyone could agree to pack up and go home now, they would. "Aaaargh! I typoed Dalglish," cries Phil Sawyer, of his 63rd-minute entry. "Now I'm going to be exiled from supporting Liverpool. At least I'll now be able to fulfil my father's lifelong dream and become a Southport supporter instead."
77 min: A couple of changes: Adam departs for Shelvey, while Coles is replaced by the 17-year-old Nichols. Meantime, here's relationship counsellor Anthony Clifford: "Following on from Joshua's analogy though, that rich southern bloke now has to put up with your moody ex while you're with the hottest bird in town. Again. So that's obviously a win, right?"
79 min: PENALTY TO EXETER!!! The sprightly Nichols is in the middle of a quick break upfield. He slides the ball to Nardiello, who enters the area and falls over the leg of the galoot Skrtel. That's a no brainer for the referee, who points to the spot.
80 min: GOAL!!! Exeter City 1-3 Liverpool. Nardiello, a former Manchester United player, gets up and hammers the ball straight down the middle and into the net. St James Park erupts in joy.
82 min: There's a spring in Exeter's step now, as you'd imagine. Keohane bustles down the right, latching onto a loose pass up the wing by Wilson, and nearly breaks clear, but a challenge by Spearing sends the ball clanking off his shin and out of play for a goal kick. They'll be thinking, though: just one more goal and Liverpool, so comfortable for most of this match, will begin to get very worried indeed. "If Harry Redknapp had been the one who paid £55m for Carroll and Henderson, Panorama would've been all over it," opines MBM satirist Nath Jones.
85 min: Some neat passing from Liverpool in the middle of the park takes the sting out of the game. Eventually Flanagan lumps one forward for Carroll, who stands motionless, peering into the night sky. A poor end to a nifty passage of play. "What you haven't mentioned is the disparity in wages paid to the players of these two sides. I mean, what's a Grecian urn, anyway?" Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for Jake Lynch.
87 min: Exeter knock the ball around patiently. Eventually Nardiello has a whack from 25 yards. The ball deflects off Wilson and out for a corner. From which Liverpool clear and break upfield through Downing. He's clear on goal with only the keeper to beat ...
88 min: ... but appears to be running through treacle. He eventually makes his way to the edge of the area, and having been closed down, attempts to chip Krysiak from a position just to the left of goal. It's a horrendously feeble effort, wafting into the arms of the keeper. Downing at least has the decency to look embarrassed.
89 min: A free kick to Exeter, right in the middle of the park, 25 yards out, the ball having reared up and hit Flanagan on the arm. Jones batters a low shot through the wall, but to the right of goal. "I prefer to refer to our former wonderful Spanish blond as the Scottish play-er," quips Ian Copestake.
90 min: There will be three added minutes of this.
FULL TIME: Exeter City 1-3 Liverpool. Nothing much happens in them. That's it. A very solid performance by Luis Suarez & The Assistants. But Exeter played very well in parts, a decent showing. Liverpool go into the hat for Saturday's draw.