IF LIVERPOOL overcome the threat of Oldham Athletic tomorrow they won’t only take a step closer to Wembley, they’ll be 90 minutes away from another free lunch at Brendan Rodgers’ expense.
The manager has offered a new incentive to his players in a bid to finally erase the inconsistency which has dogged the Reds so far this season.
Win three successive matches and they get to dine out as a squad with Rodgers picking up the tab.
Victories over QPR, Sunderland and Mansfield triggered the first outing to Italian restaurant San Carlo last week and the Northern Irishman is hoping last weekend’s 5-0 thrashing of Norwich City is the start of another run which ends up hitting him in the pocket.
“I said to the players going forward into the new year that if we got three wins on the trot I would pay for lunch,” Rodgers said.
“We got off to a flyer so maybe I should have tried it in August!
“When we won at Mansfield, one of the first things that got said in the dressing room afterwards was ‘you better get your money out’.
“It was a nice lunch and the players enjoyed it. When Glen Johnson was getting stuck into his apple tart, I realised I maybe should have just said main meals on me!
“Spirit is important and the more you are together, the more your spirit grows. Small things like that, just 1% each day can help you.
“I’ve always tried to find the cause and create team spirit. It’s about good players but it’s also about togetherness and we want to keep growing that.
“Human nature is that you respond to rewards. Go back to when you were at school and when you did well at maths you got a little star.
“It’s one of the ways to get consistency in the team and after beating Norwich now the run has started again.
“It might end up costing me a few bob this season but if it does I’ll be happy because it will mean we’re doing all right.”
Liverpool face a crunch week which could potentially make or break their hopes of launching a push for Champions League qualification.
A Premier League trip to Arsenal on Wednesday night is followed by a showdown with champions Manchester City at the Emirates next Sunday.
However, Rodgers insists his focus is solely on Oldham and negotiating the Reds’ passage into the fifth round of the FA Cup.
Liverpool lost their grip on the League Cup back in October when a largely second string side was knocked out by Swansea City.
There will be changes for tomorrow’s clash at Boundary Park but not on the same kind of scale as Rodgers eyes the first piece of silverware of his Anfield reign.
“The history of this great club is based on trophies and we want to continue in that vein,” Rodgers said.
“I’m here to win trophies – it’s why I came here and the FA Cup is an opportunity for us to do that.
“The situation earlier in the season was that our cards had been dealt. We were in the middle of a tough Europa League campaign and used the League Cup to look at some of the young players.
“We knew it would be difficult for us in the League Cup but the FA Cup is a competition where we’ve got a genuine chance. We want to go as far as we can.
“We’ve got three big games coming up over the next week. I’ll have to use the squad but I’ve got great trust in the players. We’ll put out strong teams capable of getting results.
“We want to progress in the league and get into those top four positions. It’s going to be immensely difficult for us to do that this season but we will fight to get there.
“You can’t say what’s more important out of the top four and wanting to win a trophy. They are in line with each other.”
Oldham are battling against relegation from League One and go back into the game having lost seven and drawn one of their last eight league matches.
Financial problems saw Latics boss Paul Dickov lose most of his backroom staff last month when number two Gerry Taggart, fitness coach Paul Butler and reserve team boss Lee Duxbury were put on gardening leave by chairman Simon Corney.
Rodgers believes the tie will be a welcome distraction for Oldham and insists there is no room for complacency.
“Paul has had a difficult run of late, but there has been a bit of upheaval at the club which never makes it easy,” he added.
“He lost some of his staff and he’s doing everything in terms of scouting and coaching. I can only imagine how difficult it is for Paul. With not a great deal of finance, he’s putting his trust in youth players.
“He’s obviously happy enough to continue with his work and through adverse moments you learn a lot.
“I remember playing against Paul in a youth international for Northern Ireland against Scotland. He broke his leg in that game.
“He was a top player and had a fantastic career. He has assembled some good young players at Oldham like Jose Baxter and Lee Croft, the boy Matt Smith up front is a big target man, and Cliff Byrne at the back has been a great professional.
“They will be looking to get a good result to kick-start their league campaign. But we’ll be taking a strong squad there as we don’t want to hold back.”