The hapless way Liverpool gave up each of Wolves’ goals might have been taken from a West End farce. Alisson was the culprit for the gift that was Gonçalo Guedes’s opener, Ibrahima Konaté the man in the frame for the Hwang Hee-chan strike that takes this tie into a replay.
Towards the end there was even a third comedy of errors when a Liverpool goalmouth scramble after a corner led to Toti putting the ball in the net but the goal was ruled – amid confusion – offside. It emerged later that the assistant had flagged the corner-taker, Matheus Nunes, after the ball had been returned to him.
So it was that Jürgen Klopp’s men escaped. Seeing as he should rate the FA Cup as Liverpool’s best chance of a trophy this season – they trail Arsenal by 16 points in the Premier League, are out of the Carabao Cup and meet Real Madrid in the Champions League – the German can feel relieved.
Wolves, though, ended understandably furious – Julen Lopetegui was booked for his complaints – about the chalked-off finish, as after watching a replay via his own “tactical camera” at pitchside the manager was convinced there had been no infringement, the VAR apparently not having access to the same angle.
On this showing the Spaniard should fancy Wolves’ chances in the rematch as Liverpool’s shaky rearguard appears to need a close-season reboot rather than a mid-season patch-up job. Klopp offered an honest assessment. “The whole game I don’t think we won enough challenges. They win a challenge and all of a sudden we are completely open, how can that happen?” he said. “You have to win challenges. It is something I mentioned in the dressing room. Next team is Brighton, if you don’t defend properly there, there is no point going.”
His four changes included handing a debut to Cody Gakpo, his new £35m forward, who had Liverpool’s opening chance – a pea-roller of a shot that Matija Sarkic clutched with ease. More penetrating was a Mohamed Salah burst that caused Jonny to upend him outside the area but the Egyptian’s subsequent free-kick sailed over.
This was Lopetegui’s fifth game managing Wolves and he was encouraged by a Rayan Aït-Nouri corner and an attack in which the same player fed Raúl Jiménez, who was thwarted only by a craftily deployed Konaté foot. And now Wolves scored via Alisson’s clanger, after the goalkeeper sloppily passed straight to the lurking Guedes to finish. Conceding in this clownish manner was emblematic of Liverpool’s uneven season in which solidity is elusive. Klopp fixed a grin on him, but he was surely seeing.
From there Wolves started cuffing Liverpool aside. When Jordan Henderson was passed to in came Adama Traoré like a train to take the ball and leave the captain on the turf. Moments later, Traoré hurtled down the right and fired in a low cross that Jiménez was agonizingly close to tapping in.
Gakpo appeared most likely to conjure an opening, as illustrated by one balletic touch-and-spin that put Liverpool on the attack. He was isolated but at last his teammates came alive and equalized from one of those long-range deliveries Trent Alexander-Arnold finds simple. Nathan Collins bounced a crossfield clearance and the right-back took over, dropping a 30-yard diagonal towards Darwin Núñez. The striker’s poor finishing has been a recent satirical favorite, but the way he volleyed past Sarkic belied this.
The goal was as out of the blue as Wolves’s first had been and proved the last act of an entertaining first half. The first of the second period gave Liverpool the lead, although they could thank a quirk of the offside law. Gakpo crossed and if it had gone straight to Salah the latter would have been in an illegal position. But because Toti intervened with a header that went to No. 11, who duly finished, his strike stood. Put another way: in times gone by, if the assistant referee had flagged instantly when the ball left Gakpo’s foot, the game would have stopped then, and the scores would have remained level.
Liverpool were gleeful but shot themselves in the foot again. A dismal Konaté clearance allowed a Wolves attack. Hwang swapped passes with Matheus Cunha, Alisson was hesitant and Konaté pinballed the ball off the South Korean forward. Suddenly, this third-round encounter was headed for a replay.