Liverpool are the reigning World Club Cup champions, holders of the UEFA Champions League and runaway Premier League leaders, but a second-string side were humbled at mid-table League One team Shrewsbury Town in the FA Cup fourth round.
Despite Jurgen Klopp’s mighty Reds holding a 2-0 lead and looking home and hosed a minute into the second half, the Shrews came back courtesy of substitute Jason Cummings’ double and earned a money-spinning replay at Anfield.
Much has been made of the dwindling magic of the FA Cup throughout this season, especially since Championship and Premier League teams entered the competition and aren’t all taking it seriously. This result proves the world’s oldest knockout football competition is very much alive and well.
The lesson for Klopp, who has not prioritised the FA Cup during his time in charge of Liverpool, is a harsh one. If you don’t respect the competition, then be prepared for fixture congestion.
While Shrewsbury rightly make back page headlines, the issue of replays will continue to dominate the broader news agenda. Top-flight coaches like Klopp are in favour of scrapping return games when an FA Cup tie ends in a draw and having matches decided on the day instead.
That is a plus for player welfare, especially during mid-winter which is always a busy time in English football anyway. However, to deny Shrews players and fans of the Shropshire club the chance to play and watch their team at Anfield in a season where the Reds are due to end 30 years of hurt without a league title seems wrong.
One of the beautiful things about the FA Cup is that rounds three and four in particular pair the haves with the have nots. This tie embodies that tried and test source of magic, even though certain games such as the all-Championship clash between Birmingham City and Blackburn Rovers have not been well attended.
Shrewsbury are plucky underdogs in their own division, let alone against the best team in England. At the time they hosted Klopp’s crew, they sat eight points off the League One play-off places and a dozen above the relegation zone.
That is the very definition of a mid-table club. Liverpool remain clear second-favourites at 5/1 on the William Hill football betting site on which side will lift the FA Cup at Wembley in May. A home replay with the Shrews en route is widely expected to be a mere footnote.
The magnitude of what Sam Ricketts and his players have achieved in just getting the chance to go to Anfield should not be lost on anybody. In the Premier League, only Manchester United had taken points off the Reds at the time the original FA Cup tie was played.
While the result at Shrewsbury would have probably been very different had Klopp put out a full-strength side, the occasion has created terrific memories for the modest but passionate fanbase at the New Meadow. This is a football club which can only dream of the resources Liverpool command.
The Shrews punched above their weight when finishing third in League One under Paul Hurst the season before last. Their dreams of play-off glory were shattered in a Wembley final by yo-yo club Rotherham United in extra time.
That saw vultures circle as manager and players who performed so well left in search of new pastures and bigger challenges. Shrewsbury finished last term two points and three places above the relegation zone, but this magnificent result – even against Liverpool’s youth team and reserves – gives a club of far more humble standing and stature a much-needed tonic.