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Liverpool close in on Wembley again

NET GAINS: Luis Suarez nods in for Liverpool during their FA Cup tie against Brighton

LIVERPOOL SAILED into the FA Cup quarter-finals for the first time since they won the competition back in 2006 after a 6-1 drubbing of Brighton and Hove Albion, who were to thank for three of the home side’s goals.

Martin Skrtel put the Reds ahead, before a Kazenga LuaLua free-kick brought the score level. The Seagulls’ Liam Bridcutt then put through his own net twice, with an Andy Carroll effort sandwiched between and Lewis Dunk gifted Kenny Dalglish’s side a fifth. Luis Suarez missed a penalty but atoned five minutes later with a header to make it six.

The scoreline was perhaps harsh on the visitors, who put in a strong first-half performance but Liverpool now take on Stoke City in the last eight, and with Arsenal crashing out and Tottenham and Chelsea only managing draws against lower league opposition, they will fancy their chances of making a second Wembley final this season.

Carroll was recalled to the starting line-up, meaning that he, Suarez and Steven Gerrard all started together for the first time. Charlie Adam replaced Jay Spearing in central midfield and Jamie Carragher was reinstated alongside Skrtel.

The home side took the lead with just five minutes on the clock. Stewart Downing won a corner after Jose Enrique surged into the box and the winger’s effort was punched over by Peter Brezovan in the Brighton goal. Gerrard hooked the corner in from the left and Skrtel got his head onto the ball, sending it into the far corner for his third goal of the season.

Brighton’s Sam Vokes found himself in a good position but he could only put a tame shot into the hands of Pepe Reina and Gordon Greer then almost released the striker but Carragher was able to get a foot to the cross and hook it away.

Jose Enrique won a free-kick in a promising position after a foul by Inigo Calderon but Gerrard was disappointed with his effort, sending it wide of the left-hand post. However, the visitors made far better use of their set-piece just minutes later and Lualua, recalled to the starting line-up, hit a fantastic low drive from the left which rocketed past the diving Reina, who appeared to see it late. It was LuaLua himself who won the free-kick after a nudge from Jordan Henderson. Alan Navarro, Will Buckley and LuaLua all stood over it before Buckley, back from injury, placed it for the 21-year-old and he hit it superbly from 30 yards out to bring the scores level 17 minutes in.

Liverpool created an array of chances after being pegged back .Suarez ghosted through the Brighton defence and his shot ricocheted back to Carroll but the striker couldn’t connect properly. Calderon then made a goal line clearance, getting a foot to a Suarez effort and putting it out for a corner.

Carroll became increasingly frustrated with decisions going against him and he felt he was nudged over by Adam El-Abd but referee Andre Marriner waved away the appeal. The Liverpool no.9 could have then put the Reds back ahead after a perfect cross from Gerrard but he could only put his header over the bar.

However, Brighton had moments to remind their travelling supporters that they were very much still in the game and great link-up play between Buckley and Calderon almost created an opening whilst the dangerous LuaLua hit the side netting after getting past Johnson.

However, it was who Liverpool went into the break ahead. Brezovan punched away from an Adam corner and it fell to Suarez. The keeper managed to put his body in the way of the Uruguayan’s shot but Johnson headed it back in and Vokes, attempting to clear, headed it against Bridcutt and into the net.

Whilst Brighton may have felt disappointed to go into half-time behind, Liverpool were extremely comfortable in the latter stages of the second-half and a goal fest ensued. Carroll made it 3-1 on 57 minutes, in a move started by Suarez. The big centre-forward touched it to Downing, who evaded the challenge of Calderon and sailed it into the box, where Carroll was able to shoot and score.

Brighton manager Gus Poyet felt there was still some hope for his side and made a double substitution, bringing on Vincente and Craig Mackail-Smith with just over 20 minutes remaining. However, within minutes Liverpool found themselves 5-1 up with both goals coming courtesy of Albion players.

On 72 minutes, Bridcutt again found himself on the scoresheet for the wrong team. Henderson had charged down a loose ball and clipped it over towards Gerrard. Navarro should have headed the ball clear but he completely missed his header and the Liverpool captain took a shot which hit Bridcutt at the left post.

Dunk added to Liverpool’s lead two minutes later. It was a bizarre moment that started with Brezovan completely missing Suarez’s cross. Dunk first chested it down and then hit it with his thigh and this sent the ball towards the Liverpool goal in front of the Kop. The defender desperately tried to make a last ditch slide to hook it out but it had already crossed the line.

The 6,000 travelling fans were still in good voice but it was plain sailing for Liverpool now. Carroll could have made it six but Brezovan pulled off a fine save and then Kuyt won a penalty. The Dutchman allowed Suarez to take the spot-kick but it was saved and his attempt at going in for the rebound was cleared for a corner.

However, the striker did get his goal, much to the delight of the home crowd who were chanting his name throughout. Suarez started the move, crossing to Enrique on the left. The Spaniard’s pass was headed by Carroll into the path of his strike partner, who nodded in from a yard out.

The thumping win was great preparation for the Carling Cup final next Sunday against Cardiff City and after a series of unlucky draws at Anfield this season, Dalglish will be delighted to see his side finally make the most of their chances.

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