There was no repeat of last season's humiliation but it told of another Liverpool exertion against Oldham Athletic that Brendan Rodgers took pride only in a competitive Anfield appearance for his son, Anton. For his own players the Liverpool manager reserved irritation and relief.
Liverpool booked a fourth-round tie at Burton Albion or Bournemouth without the drama or worry of last season's exit against the same opposition and in that sense it was mission accomplished for Rodgers. Iago Aspas scored his first goal for the club since a £7.7m transfer from Celta Vigo in the summer and ending the game with 10 men caused no tremors thanks to a late own-goal from the unfortunate James Tarkowski.
On the surface it was a routine win but it required the introduction of three South American substitutes to lift Liverpool from a first-half stupor. That was a compliment to an Oldham performance that belied their 19th position in League One but it was an annoyance to Rodgers that Philippe Coutinho, Lucas Leiva and finally Luis Suárez were required at all.
"It was for tactical reasons, we needed to be better," he said of the interval decision to replace Victor Moses and Luis Alberto with Coutinho and Lucas respectively. "We needed more speed in our play and more intensity in our game. I didn't want to do it – Lucas and Coutinho played a lot of hard games over Christmas – but the last thing I wanted was for the game to go to a replay. As a manager you can either wait for it to happen or create it. Sometimes you have to change the momentum with your substitutions. Lucas and Coutinho brought more intensity to our play and that allowed us to take control in the second half."
Rodgers' makeshift starting line-up was justified given the imperative of qualifying for the Champions League but included the insurance of an experienced defence, unlike in the fourth-round exit at Boundary Park last season. Only four players remained from Oldham's 3-2 win but it was another testing afternoon for Liverpool who lacked creativity and a willingness to seize the initiative in the final third until the second half.
There was a minute's applause before the game for Wayne Harrison, Britain's most expensive teenager when he moved from Oldham to Liverpool for £250,000 in 1985 but who died aged 46 on Christmas Day. Within a minute of kick-off Korey Smith, the visiting captain, received a yellow card for a poor challenge on Steven Gerrard but any impression the lower-league team would resort to strong-arm tactics to bridge the gap was misplaced.
Lee Johnson's men passed intelligently, with James Wesolowski a key influence in midfield, and defended with discipline whenever Liverpool made inroads down the flanks. They also had several inviting set pieces to unnerve Liverpool but, unlike last season, no battering ram in the form of Matt Smith to inflict damage. "We played well, we worked our socks off and we showed great energy after going a goal down," said the youngest manager in the Football League. "For a 20-minute period you wouldn't have known who was the Premier League team."
Liverpool were restricted to shots from the edge of the area throughout the opening half, mainly from Alberto who went close with one curling effort and had fierce drive parried by the goalkeeper Mark Oxley. There could be no complaints, however, when he and the again underwhelming Moses were withdrawn at half-time and the changes sparked an immediate improvement.
Oldham were encamped deep inside their own territory for a 15-minute spell after the break. Gerrard flashed a header over from a Coutinho corner and moments later released Raheem Sterling on the right of the visitors' area. The winger evaded the left-back David Mellor and floated a cross to the far post where the previously anonymous Aspas, afforded too much space by Genseric Kusunga, swept a fine finish back into the far corner.
Aspas headed another Sterling cross against the post seconds later and Sterling squandered an excellent chance when played through by a superb Jordan Henderson pass. The onslaught ended with that miss, as Oldham regrouped and took the game to their hosts. Brad Jones saved low from Jonson Clarke-Harris, Danny Philliskirk went close from distance, Gary Harkins felt he should have had a penalty following a push by Daniel Agger and Michael Petrasso forced Liverpool's stand-in keeper into a decent save.
Just as Liverpool appeared set for a nervous finale with 10 men, when Agger limped off seconds after Suárez had been introduced as the third substitute, they made the fourth round safely. Sterling's shot was heading wide when it struck the unfortunate Tarkowski and flew past his own goalkeeper.
Man of the match Raheem Sterling (Liverpool)