To goals of Pongolle and Reds came back. (Photo: AP)
Benitez found timely spark
By Tommy Smith - Liverpool Echo
There was one reason I never doubted Liverpool would make
cup progress even when they went 3-1 down: Rafa Benitez.
The Liverpool manager has the habit of seeing where it is
going wrong and putting it right.
The Reds were sparked into life in the second half,
particularly with the arrival of Florent SinamaPongolle,
while Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso's performances inspired
Gerrard's opening goal appeared to set the scene for what
looked to be a routine win. But Luton didn't see it that
When Benitez threw Pongolle into the fray at 3-1 down, they
looked a different proposition, with the skipper exposing
the home side's back line and Alonso making telling
Pongolle, whose speed and approach eclipsed what Peter
Crouch and Djibril Cisse had done before, showed that little
bit of panache and his finishing was clinical.
The way he escaped his marker for a fine headed second was
something Crouch had been unable to achieve.
There had been talk that Pongolle may be loaned out for the
rest of the season. But his performance was just what
Benitez was looking for as a response.
The more pressure you put on players the better they become,
and Pongolle was outstanding. Now, the player, who has
always stated he is happy at Anfield, has to prove he can do
The trip to Portsmouth will be a tricky one, but the Reds
are far more accomplished this season and should progress.
Gerrard right to play
downs of Cup chaos
By Len Capeling - Daily Post
The true story of this gutwrenching game came not from
the hysterical headlines or the heavyweight hyperbole of
Hansen and his henchmen.
No, it came from the fixed and furrowed expressions on the
faces of two of the tie's most influential figures.
Steven Gerrard is never less than honest about himself and
his teammates. In this he resembles Roy Keane, with a tad
more caution when it comes to naming names.
So when interviewed after this eight-goal frightener,
Gerrard responded with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. We
can't be pleased with our performamce was the gist, thus
killing any notion of moonshine about a desperate rearguard
Before the Merseyside derby, Liverpool boasted the
Premiership's least porous defence. Here they looked as if
they'd forgotten even the basics of defensive stability -
from front to back they were open to the skies and Gerrard
couldn't get the madness of it all out of his mind.
Nor could his manager, who seethed as he strode across
Kenilworth Road at the end. Face like thunder, he appeared
to be muttering to himself - probably Spanish and more than
Like some modern-day Poirot, he wrestled with a mystery. How
could a side so expertly drilled come apart so completely,
Parallels with Istanbul and AC Milan would have passed him
by, as well they might.
In Turkey, Liverpool suffered a first-half stuffing from a
world-class outfit yet lived to tell an heroic tale. Luton
are a universe or two away from that standard, yet they made
Europe's champions look like dopes in the opening half.
Yet Liverpool began so brightly, Gerrard's classic curler
giving them the lead after 16 minutes, following good work
by Peter Crouch and Djibril Cisse.
Gerrard's goal was a gem, though, bizarrely, Luton not
Liverpool drew heart from it. For the next 40 minutes or so
one of the Premiership's finest allowed themselves to be
Xabi Alonso - having his worst game for the club, until two
spectacular late stunners spared some of his blushes - and
Momo Sissoko were over-run as the outstanding Steve Robinson
and Kevin Nicholls dominated midfield and ran the show.
Their supply of quality ball to wingers Carlos Edwards and
Rowan Vine gave John Arne Riise and Steve Finnan a problem
they failed to address.
Exposed to raiding wide-men and midfield attackers, Jamie
Carragher and Sami Hyypia lost their usual authority and the
two goals Luton deservedly grabbed were no surprise given
First Robinson freed Luton's Steve Howard for the equaliser
and then scored himself after too easily spinning Carragher.
Half-time was supposed to lead to a Liverpool re-think, and
a foul on Gerrard, frantically pursuing a poor pass from
Kewell, offered hope before Cisse compounded his anonymity
by giving keeper Marlon Beresford an easy take.
Cue an attack of apoplexy by Benitez, though whether at
Cisse or referee Mark Clattenburg for refusing to dismiss
last defender Paul Under-wood was not clear.
Rafa's gaze got grimmer when the increasingly uneasy Scott
Carson clipped Vine after another defensive cock-up,
Nicholls knocking in the penalty for a swaggering 3-1.
Sissoko the Lost found himself sacrificed for Florent
Sinama-Pongolle, a man who either disappears as soon as his
boots hit the pitch, or proves to be an electrifying
presence. Benitez gave him long, involved instructions,
presumably along the lines of give me two goals and I might
let you stay. Energised beyond belief, Florent became an
instant Sinama sensation, making all that had gone before
seem the stuff of haunting horror movies.
He quickly drifted on to a pass from Gerrard - now directing
central midfield operations - and produced a Michael Owen
Act two saw him rise among Luton's six-footers to guide
Finnan's delivery high into the net. Exquisite.
In between times, Alonso remembered his reputation to score
one of the goals of the season. From fully 35 yards, and
under extreme pressure, he spun the ball up and then down
over the toppling Beresford.
He wasn't finished either.
As if to wipe away his early dis-appearance, he ignored the
demanding Gerrard to take audacious advantage of Beresford's
own disappearing act.
Stranded upfield after an abortive Luton corner, he could
only watch in amazement as the Spanish star lasered the ball
into the net while 10 yards inside his own half.
Gerrard, after being dismayed when he didn't receive the
ball, applauded his team-mate's affrontery. But, like his
perfectionist manager, he couldn't wipe away the chaos that
had gone before, when Liverpool played as wretchedly as
they've done all season.
What happened will thrill the romantics but not anyone as
hard-nosed as the Liverpool captain.
Great entertainment for the neutral, awash with goals, only
one of them regulation. But, as Benitez begins a very
necessary post-mortem, he will look only at the territory
his team conceded, and fume.
Sinama keen to stay in picture
By Ian Doyle - Daily Post Staff
Florent Sinama-Pongolle is willing to turn down a loan
move this month and fight for his place at Liverpool.
The 21-year-old was on target twice after coming on as a
second-half substitute as Rafael Benitez's side came from
3-1 down to win 5-3 at Luton Town in the FA Cup third round
It was only Sinama-Pongolle's 12th appearance of the season
- his start at Bolton Wanderers last Monday was just his
fourth of the campaign - and the player has attracted a host
of clubs interested in taking him on loan during the
French sides Nice, Auxerre and Nancy have all emerged as
potential suitors with Manchester City also reportedly
keeping tabs on the striker.
However, Sinama-Pongolle has insisted he would prefer to
remain at Anfield despite admitting frustration at his lack
of first-team action.
"I haven't played as much as I would have liked so far this
season, so it's understandable that I am a little bit
disappointed with how things have gone up to now," said
"But I'm happy at Liverpool. I love the club and I am still
very much enjoying myself here. Being at this club is a
great footballing experience for me.
"I want to prove to people that I am a very good player and
that I can be a big success here. Hopefully I will enjoy
being a Liverpool player for a long time to come.
"I will have a talk with Rafael Benitez about his plans. I
would love the manager to say that he wants me to stay at
Liverpool. That's the answer I'm looking for."
relieved at recovery
Two-goal Xabi Alonso reflected on Liverpool's latest cup
great escape and admitted: "We've had another comeback."
Liverpool, who fought back from 3-0 down against AC Milan to
win the Champions League final, dug deep again to beat Luton
5-3 in the FA Cup third round after trailing 3-1 in the
second half at Kenilworth Road on Saturday evening.
Substitute Florent Sinama Pongolle started the comeback and
Alonso levelled with a spectacular long-range effort.
Sinama Pongolle headed a third Reds goal in 11 minutes to
edge the visitors in front, and Alonso added a second at the
death from inside his own half.
"At 3-1 down, things were pretty tough but we've had another
comeback," Alonso told BBC1.
"We'd prefer to do the job from the beginning but we're
still glad to get through."
Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard, who had opened the
scoring, was relieved that his side had escaped a second cup
exit of the season at the hands of a Championship outfit.
"Credit to Luton, they stopped us from playing and upset us.
They were fantastic," said the England midfielder.
"It was probably one of the hardest games we've played all
"We've not got the best of records against Championship
sides in the cup and we got knocked out by Crystal Palace
this season (in the Carling Cup).
"It was a great cup-tie for the neutral but we're not happy
with the way we've played.
"They've got a Scouse manager (Mike Newell) and he's a good
manager but, thankfully, we've done the job here in the
BBC Sport Online
Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez accused his players of
complacency after their incredible 5-3 FA Cup third round
victory away at Luton.
Benitez said: "The problem was we scored too early and we
thought the game was going to be easy.
"When we woke up the score was 3-1 to them. We got back into
it and kept going forward, but you cannot afford to wait
until the second half to play.
"I was not happy with the performance. We gifted them so
Benitez was livid Luton's Paul Underwood was not sent off
after bringing down Steven Gerrard for a penalty, but he
praised the hosts for their display.
"In the six-yard box, if it's a penalty it has to be a red
card," Benitez added.
"If it's not a foul, fine, then it is also no penalty. It
would have made a big difference, to have 10 players instead
"But Luton did a fantastic job, they really played well.
Their supporters were great but so were ours too."
Luton manager Mike Newell was distraught after seeing his
side concede four second-half goals but did not blame his
team for their defeat.
"I'm majorly disappointed, we put on a good peformance in
the first half and at 3-1 up you have to be able to shut up
shop and close it out," said Newell.
"But I cannot fault the players for their honesty and their
"The lads are very honest and they keep going for it. We've
lost to a good side but it's a disappointing day for me.
"Anything can happen in the Cup and we're a Championship
side, not non-league.
"We gave them a real game and at the end of the day we can
feel a bit hard done by. But now we can concentrate on the
"Our season's levelled out a bit. But we're in decent form,
we're just not scoring many. We're a good side with good
players and we want them to have a go now."
Reds fight back to win thriller
By Paul Higham - Sky Sports
Liverpool emerged from a truly memorable FA Cup tie at
Luton with an amazing 5-3 victory in a third round battle
that had everything.
A pulsating game saw Steven Gerrard put Liverpool ahead
early on before Luton started to dominate the European
champions and goals from Steve Howard and Steve Robinson
deservedly put Mike Newell's men ahead at half time.
The game was far from over and the second half was
spellbinding stuff as Djibril Cisse missed a penalty before
Kevin Nicholls scored from the spot for Luton just minutes
later to put them 3-1 ahead.
Liverpool then staged another miraculous comeback with
substitute Florent Sinama-Pongolle the catalyst as he scored
the first and third of three goals in 12 minutes to somehow
put The Reds ahead, either side of Xabi Alonso's dipping
The Spanish midfielder then capped an amazing night's action
by adding a fifth for Liverpool in stoppage time from inside
his own half, with goalkeeper Marlon Beresford stranded
after coming up for a corner.
Luton came flying out of the traps and were giving their
illustrious visitors no time to settle whatsoever, forcing a
couple of early corners.
Sami Hyypia almost put Howard through moments later, but
Scott Carson came out to clear after the big Finn had
knocked the ball back towards his own goal.
Liverpool took the lead on 16 minutes with a moment of real
quality from their skipper, as Cisse's lay-off from the
right was whipped unstoppably into the far corner by Gerrard
with a fine first-time hit.
The hosts drew level on the half hour mark when Ahmet
Brkovic slipped a fine ball through Hyypia's legs sending
Howard through, and the big striker rounded Carson and
finished well to send Kenilworth Road wild.
The Hatters did not rest there and they continued to
dominate proceedings with only Steve Finnan's header off the
line preventing Markus Heikkinen from heading Luton in
Rowan Vine had a shot beaten away by Carson before Luton
took a fully deserved lead two minutes before half time when
Robinson cushioned the ball superbly on the turn leaving
Jamie Carragher for dead before lashing the ball home into
the far corner.
Liverpool were given a glorious chance to equalise three
minutes after the break when Gerrard was brought down by
Paul Underwood after Harry Kewell had tried to square for
him when clean through on goal.
However, Cisse's poor spot kick was saved by Beresford, and
almost immediately referee Mark Clattenburg was pointing to
the spot at the other end after adjudging that Carson had
brought down Vine in a one-on-one right on the edge of the
Vine had broke free after being presented with the ball from
a dreadful Hyypia mistake, and skipper Nicholls stepped up
and put Luton in dreamland with a 3-1 lead after just
Benitez responded by bringing on Pongolle, and he got
Liverpool back into the game just after the hour mark when
he rifled past Beresford after being put through by
The game was literally end-to-end cup tie stuff, with Luton
still looking to attack as Liverpool pushed for an equaliser
- which duly came on 69 minutes with Xabi Alonso firing in a
35-yard after that dipped over Beresford at the last minute
to amazingly make it all square at 3-3.
Liverpool kept going forward and bagged their third goal in
12 pulsating minutes when Steve Finnan's cross was
emphatically headed home by man-of-the-moment Pongolle to
give Liverpool a 4-3 lead in a truly gripping encounter.
With time running out, Beresford came up for a corner but,
as Liverpool cleared he was caught out of his goal and
Alonso showed a huge amount of ability to fire in to an
empty net from his own half with his left foot to cap what
was a truly epic cup tie.