LIVERPOOL were sent crashing out of the FA Cup following a humiliating loss at Oldham Athletic – with a former non-league striker doing most of the damage.
The Reds fell to their most desperate of the season as the League One side punished Brendan Rodgers’ men for producing a performance which fell way below the standards expected.
Two goals from striker Matt Smith, playing for Solihull Moors less than two years ago, and one courtesy of Reece Wabara were enough for Oldham to seal the win as Liverpool were knocked out of the competition by a side two levels below them for the first time in a decade.
Luis Suarez had levelled the game in the first-half and Joe Allen’s late strike gave Liverpool hope but the Lattics held on for a famous win at Boundary Park.
Oldham also survived Steven Gerrard's last minute strike which crashed back off the bar.
Rodgers had made six changes from the side that thumped Norwich City last weekend but the starting 11 which started the game should have been able to see off Oldham, a side struggling at the wrong end of League One.
But the FA Cup once more gave a smaller club the confidence to mix it with the country’s biggest teams and it took the cash-strapped Lattics just three minutes to take the lead.
Indecision from Brad Jones and then Sebastian Coates’ failure to deal with Smith allowed the Oldham striker to direct home a header.
Martin Skrtel got the last touch but the opening goal belonged to the former non-league forward.
The Reds defence looked nervous as Oldham controlled the first period of the half until Liverpool equalised with their first meaningful attack of the game.
Suarez collected a pass on the left-wing, just inside the Lattics’ half, and charged at goal.
Though the ball ran away from him as he moved into the area, Oldham’s Cliff Byrne accidently put the ball back into Suarez’s path and from there the Uruguayan made no mistake, slotting clinically past Dean Bouzanis for his 21st goal of the season.
Liverpool enjoyed their most productive spell of the half after levelling matters but failed to build on Suarez’s goal with Raheem Sterling firing straight at the Oldham goalkeeper when clean through.
The standard of football dropped as the tie once more became scrappy and disjointed.
And as half-time was approaching Liverpool once again fell apart at the back.
Jones badly fumbled a shot from the right and from Lee Croft’s scuffed effort on the rebound, Smith had the simple task of tapping in from a couple of yards.
Liverpool protested strongly after the goal, claiming Sturridge had been fouled in the build-up.
But they could have few complaints about Oldham’s third goal.
After Fabio Borini had wasted a glorious chance from Jack Robinson’s cross, home winger Reece Wabara rose above a fragile Liverpool back four to loop a header beyond Jones to make it 3-1.
The reinforcements arrived soon after as Steven Gerrard and Stewart Downing were brought on in the hope of rescuing a desperate situation.
Naturally, Liverpool improved with the England captain on the field but their fortunes hardly improved.
Oldham defended stoically but Liverpool failed to make the most of their near total dominance of the ball.
Sturridge wasted a fine chance when a blocked Gerrard shot bounced into his path, but from eight yards he smacked the ball high into the stand.
Joe Allen showed Sturridge the way by cutting the deficit with 10 minutes remaining, scoring his first goal for the club with a well-struck volley from the edge of the area.
But it was mere consolation as Oldham held on, surviving Gerrard’s thumping drive against the woodwork, and condemning Liverpool to a desperate defeat.
OLDHAM ATHLETIC (4-4-1-1): Bouzanis, Wabara, M’Voto, Byrne, Grounds, Croft, Wesolowski ©, Baxter, M’Changama (Winchester 10), Simpson (Taylor 78), Smith (Mellor 84). Subs: Cisak, Brown, Tarkowski, Taylor, Winchester, Sutherland, Mellor.
Goals: Smith (3, 45) Wabara (48)
Cautions: Simpson, Wabara, Smith
Red Cards: None
LIVERPOOL (4-2-3-1): Jones, Wisdom (Gerrard 55), Coates, Skrtel, Robinson, Allen, Henderson, Sterling (Shelvey 72), Suarez, Borini (Downing 55), Sturridge. Subs: Gerrard, Downing, Lucas, Carragher, Suso, Shelvey, Gulacsi.
Goals: Suarez (17) Allen (80)
Red Cards: None
Referee: Lee Probert