A hat-trick of own goals from Brighton in a game where the worst tackle arrived from a middle-aged male streaker in stoppage time enabled Liverpool to move serenely into the FA Cup quarter-finals and on from the latest Luis Suárez controversy. Kenny Dalglish's team advance on Wembley for the first time in 16 years in next Sunday's Carling Cup final and clearly have a craving for more.
The Liverpool manager had challenged his players to audition against Gus Poyet's Championship side for a Wembley role and requested that a line be drawn under the sorry affair at Old Trafford. The team responded on both counts and in the only way they can as Suárez completed the rout having missed a penalty five minutes earlier. "That was my fault," said Dalglish, who had held seven fingers aloft to signify who should take the spot-kick in front of the Kop. "I let sentiment get in the way." Charity, misfortune and shocking defending barred Brighton's route to a cup shock.
"It was a good victory and more difficult than the scoreline would suggest," Dalglish said. "Brighton played very well against us in the League Cup and for 40 minutes they were very good here as well. We deserved to win and to go through but whether the scoreline is a true reflection is open to conjecture."
Remarkably, this was the first time that Suárez, Steven Gerrard and Andy Carroll have started a game together for Liverpool and the impact on the team's attacking range and options was marked. The home side swarmed over Brighton from the start and, though Dalglish's analysis of his opponents' first half display was true, with Poyet's men a threat to the Liverpool defence whenever the opportunity arose, weak and at times comical defending ultimately produced a landslide. Dalglish said: "They are three fantastic footballers and played very well today. Any team who gets players who are as iconic as they are on the pitch has a better chance of being successful. But the fact we have done as well as we have and that is the first time those three have started a match shows how well the squad has done."
Peter Brezovan, the Brighton goalkeeper, made his first good save of a busy afternoon from Stewart Downing in the fourth minute. While all eyes focused on a wrestling bout between Carroll and Adam El-Abd, Gerrard delivered the resulting corner to the near post where Martin Skrtel diverted a header through Brezovan's grasp despite the presence of two dawdling Brighton players.
Brighton were true to their manager's word about attacking their Premier League hosts. None more so than Kazenga LuaLua who brought the visitors level with a precision free-kick from 25 yards to the wild delight of the 6,000 supporters who had travelled up from the south coast.
Liverpool responded emphatically but it was not until Downing, Suárez, Carroll and Charlie Adam had gone close that they regained the lead. Again, Brighton failed to defend a Liverpool corner as Brezovan punched Adam's delivery skywards and two defenders were taken out by an immaculate piece of control from Suárez. The Uruguay international saw his shot saved by Brezovan, Glen Johnson headed the rebound goalwards, Sam Vokes intervened on the line but his clearance struck Liam Bridcutt and rolled in. The midfielder's misfortune and Brighton's fatal attraction to the own goal had only just begun.
Carroll and Downing were chief among those in red playing for a Wembley place and both presented a strong case to Dalglish with vibrant displays. The pair combined superbly for Liverpool's third, finished off by Carroll with a left-foot shot tucked into the bottom corner.
Brighton then decided they had not been generous enough. Gerrard capitalised on poor defending to test Brezovan at close range and, when the keeper saved, cut the ball across goal from a tight angle. Once again the ball hit Bridcutt and was diverted over the line. But Lewis Dunk lessened the midfielder's embarrassment by producing a ridiculous own goal that placed Bridcutt's efforts in the shade. Intercepting a Suárez cross in front of the Kop, Dunk took the ball on his chest and attempted to play keepy-uppy before launching his clearance. Unfortunately his first touch was so bad he kneed the ball over the line.
Suárez had his penalty saved after Craig Noone felled Dirk Kuyt. The release was only delayed, however, as José Enrique and Carroll combined for Suárez to nod No6 over the line from close range. Cue the streaker bearing only shoes and a hug for Jamie Carragher. Time for a laugh at Anfield. At last.
Man of the match Charlie Adam (Liverpool)