Liverpool defeated a weaker but courageous Cardiff City to reach the fifth round of the FA Cup for only the second time in seven seasons.
The visitors, who are currently 20th in the Championship, dug in to frustrate Jurgen Klopp’s side during a goalless first half in which they had a penalty appeal turned down when Mark Harris was brought down by Ibrahima Konate.
In the second half, Diogo Jota headed in a free-kick from Trent Alexander-Arnold to make Liverpool’s dominance count.
A new signing has been made. Harvey Elliott made his comeback after five months out injured with a beautiful swivel and finish after Luis Diaz came on to set up Takumi Minamino for the Reds’ second.
Substitute Cardiff’s vast and boisterous travelling supporters were given late cause to cheer thanks to Rubin Colwill’s powerful low shot, but Liverpool will visit Norwich City in the final 16.
Liverpool presented a formidable side that would have scared most Premier League opponents, let alone those in the Championship, despite not having played in a fortnight.
Cardiff manager Steve Morison, on the other hand, appeared to be prioritizing his team’s struggle for survival in the second division by fielding an untested lineup, with teenagers Oliver Denham and Eli King making their professional debuts.
Liverpool quickly asserted their authority, forcing their opponents to defend deep and producing the game’s opening chance after four minutes, when Jota turned and struck powerfully in the box, only to be denied by Dillon Phillips’ excellent save.
Cardiff, as expected, had to absorb moments of pressure, but they posed a threat on the break, with Harris leading the charge with vigour.
Wales’ striker cut inside from the left and was brought down by Konate’s clumsy challenge, but penalty appeals were turned down by referee Andy Madley.
That was a warning for Liverpool, who had 82 percent possession in the first half but were let down by sloppy finishing, such as Curtis Jones’ miss from a Minamino pull-back.
Another confrontation between Harris and the officials occurred less than a minute into the second half. Harris was the first player to reach a long ball from Will Vaulks, but he was brought out by Caoimhin Kelleher’s aggressive sliding tackle midway through the Liverpool half.
Madley, who appeared to believe Konate would have covered for Kelleher, gave him a yellow card instead of a red, and his judgement was backed up by video assistant referee Darren England, who also ruled out significant foul play.
After Jota glanced in a wonderful header from Alexander-outswinging Arnold’s free-kick, Liverpool eventually broke through, releasing the pressure valve for the home side.
Jota had an opportunity to score again moments later, but his volley from Kostas Tsimikas’ corner went wide, before Diaz took advantage of Perry Ng’s sloppy defending to feed Minamino for a close-range finish.
Elliott, who came on as a substitute for his first appearance since suffering a catastrophic ankle injury last September and crowned his return with a magnificent goal in front of the Kop, received perhaps the loudest applause of the day from Liverpool fans.
Cardiff’s Colwill responded with an excellent finish that earned him a hug and some encouraging words from Klopp at the final whistle, but this was Liverpool’s day as they took another step forward in a competition they haven’t won since 2006.