LIVERPOOL, January 14 – Liverpool's dreadful season hit crisis point on Wednesday when Rafael Benitez's team were knocked out of the FA Cup after losing 2-1 to Championship strugglers Reading at Anfield.An own goal by Ryan Bertrand had given Benitez’s side the lead over managerless opponents but a stoppage time penalty by Gylfi Sigurdsson sent the tie into extra time.
Substitute Shane Long then headed a 100th minute winner in the third round replay that left Liverpool, already out of the race for the Premier League title and eliminated from the Champions League, shell-shocked.
On a night to forget for Benitez, Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard left the field injured.
Torres, who scored his first Liverpool hat-trick against Reading in 2007, lasted just 29 minutes before he was replaced while Gerrard failed to appear at the start of the second half after complaining of a hamstring problem.
With new Argentine signing Maxi Rodriguez from Atletico Madrid watching from the stands, Benitez made five changes to the side that was held to a 1-1 draw by the Championship strugglers 11 days earlier in the first match.
There was no sign of Spanish keeper Jose Reina, who played at the Madejski Stadium, as Diego Cavalieri was given a rare chance to shine while teenage Hungarian stopper Peter Gulacsi was on the bench.
Swiss international Philipp Degen was also handed a start although big guns Torres, Gerrard and Alberto Aquilani were wheeled out in an attempt to avoid a shock.
However, it was Reading who looked like the Premier League team for long periods of the first half.
Having endured a wretched first half to the season, the FA Cup remained one of the few pieces of silverware that Liverpool could still win yet Benitez’s side seemed disinterested at times on a freezing Merseyside night.
Reading, who are in danger of slipping into the third tier, have managed just five wins in 24 attempts in the league this term yet twice in the space of four first half minutes they successfully sliced open the Liverpool defence.
Polish striker Grzegorz Rasiak fluffed a golden chance from close range after Jamie Carragher had failed to cut out Simon Church’s 22nd minute cross.
Then Church, who scored in the first meeting between the clubs, allowed another chance to go begging after failing to connect with Jobi McAnuff’s cross.
There was no sense of urgency about Liverpool – Aquilani, Emiliano Insua and Daniel Agger all guilty of gifting possession too easily. But they were not alone.
Torres endured a frustrating evening and 10 minutes after dragging a rare chance wide, the Spaniard was replaced by David Ngog having earlier taken a knock.
Quite what new signing Rodriguez, who watched the game with a Liverpool scarf wrapped round his neck, made of it all is anyones guess.
At least Benitez’s side finished the half strongly, Yossi Benayoun curling a chance narrowly wide of Adam Federici’s post before Reading fell behind in the cruel circumstances.
Having played so well for much of the half, they saw all their hard work undone in a split second as Bertrand deflected a close range shot by Gerrard past his own keeper.
Despite having the lead, Liverpool continued to struggle in the second half.
The loss of Gerrard clearly did not help their cause.
They were again let off the hook when Ivar Ingimarsson failed to steer substitute Brian Howard’s free kick into the net.
But in a dramatic twist at the end of normal time, referee Phil Dowd pointed to the penalty spot after Benayoun was adjudged to have fouled substitute Shane Long, Sigurdsson sending Cavalieri the wrong way to force extra time.
Liverpool struggled to recover from the blow and in the 100th minute Long headed the winner in front of the Kop after meeting Bryn Gunnarsson’s cross.