Exeter 2-2 Liverpool: Brad Smith strike saves Reds from FA Cup exit
By Nick Lustig
Last Updated: 09/01/16 9:00am
A much-changed Liverpool were held to a 2-2 draw by Exeter City in the FA Cup third round at St James Park on Friday night.
The Reds, who were without 13 first-team regulars because of injury, fell behind inside the opening stages as Tom Nichols turned in Jamie Reid's low cross after just nine minutes to give Exeter a shock lead.
However, Exeter's lead was short lived as three minutes later Jerome Sinclair restored parity with his first senior goal for Liverpool, producing a predatory finish after the home side failed to clear their lines.
Lee Holmes put the Sky Bet League Two side back in front direct from a corner in first-half injury time, but an equaliser from Brad Smith ensured Liverpool avoided an upset, taking the tie to a replay at Anfield.
Prior to the trip down to Devon, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp insisted he was keen to avoid an FA Cup shock, but made it clear he would pick a team that "hasn't played too often together" as a result of their current injury crisis.
Tiago Ilori and Ryan Kent, recalled from their respective loan spells, were drafted into the starting line-up along with a host of youngsters as a fresh raft of absentees forced Klopp into making sweeping changes from the side that beat Stoke City 1-0 in the Capital One Cup semi-final first-leg on Tuesday.
Liverpool started the game poorly and went behind when Reid out-paced Jose Enrique on the right flank before crossing for an incoming Nichols to slide his effort past Adam Bogdan.
Exeter, 16th in League Two and on a run of four successive defeats, were looking to reach the fourth round for the first time since 1981, but their joy was short lived.
Liverpool had never previously lost to a fourth-tier side in 13 FA Cup matches and equalised three minutes later through Sinclair, who made the most of some poor defending from the home side and fired his low effort into the bottom corner of the net.
Christian Ribeiro nearly restored Exeter's lead shortly before the break, but somehow managed to head wide of the post after meeting Holmes' superb cross from the left.
But Exeter still had time to enter the interval ahead as Holmes' corner from the right sailed over a despairing Bogdan and into the back of the net in first-half stoppage time.
Exeter were left indebted to goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik early in the second-half after he produced an excellent save to deny Christian Benteke, who rose highest to meet Cameron Brannagan's cross from the left.
Nichols, Ribeiro and substitute Arron Davies came close to increasing Exeter's advantage, but they were left to rue missed opportunities as Smith equalised with just over 15 minutes remaining to spare Liverpool's blushes.
Exeter defender Jordan Moore-Taylor could only clear Liverpool substitute Sheyi Ojo's cross from the left into the path of Smith, who drilled his effort past Olejnik from eight yards out to score his first senior goal for the club.
Liverpool midfielder Joao Teixeira came closest to scoring a winner during the closing stages, but Olejnik again came to Exeter's rescue and denied the Portuguese youngster.