Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp hailed his decision to use the FA Cup to blood the club’s youngsters after the Reds progressed to round four at the expense of League Two high-flyers Plymouth.
Midfielder-turned-defender Lucas Leiva was Liverpool’s unlikely match-winner as he netted his first goal for almost seven years as the Reds set up a clash with Championship side Wolves at Anfield on 28 January.
Klopp selected the youngest XI in the club’s history for the goalless draw between the sides at Anfield earlier this month and entrusted a sprinkling of youth players to navigate Wednesday's replay.
“Maybe it was not the most exciting game but it was very important for us,” said Klopp. “We tried [full-back] Trent Alexander-Arnold in the first game [against Plymouth] and the only way he could play against Manchester United was because he played that game.
“So tonight was another for a few boys. Harry Wilson was involved for the first time so that’s very good. The whole exercise has been invaluable.”
Klopp also praised the goalscoring exploits of Lucas after the 30-year-old found the net for the first time since a Europa League strike against Steaua Bucharest in September 2010.
“We always play the day before a game old players versus young and he is the top scorer for the old, which is unbelievable,” added Klopp.
Liverpool’s winner arrived on 18 minutes and it was simplistic in form. Playmaker Philippe Coutinho whipped in an inswinging corner which his fellow countryman Lucas rose to meet at the near post and head powerfully past Plymouth goalkeeper Luke McCormick from six yards.
Plymouth came agonisingly close to a leveller deep into the second period as former Ross County forward Jake Jervis’s acrobatic scissor kick cannoned against Loris Karius’s post.
Liverpool could have calmed their nerves with three minutes remaining after being awarded a penalty for a wild Yann Songo’o lunge at Alberto Moreno, only for Divock Origi’s weary spot-kick to be comfortably clutched by McCormick.
Southampton, meanwhile, earned the right to host Arsenal after striker Shane Long marked his 100th appearance for the club by chalking up a stoppage-time winner against Championship outfit Norwich.
The result halted a worrying run of one win in six matches across all competitions for the Saints, although Norwich, who failed to register a shot on target, have recorded just one victory in seven outings.
Former Bournemouth winger Matt Ritchie scored twice as Championship leaders Newcastle progressed to round four and heaped further misery on Birmingham boss Gianfranco Zola following a 3-1 success.
Ritchie converted a ninth minute penalty and settled matters in injury-time after David Cotterill had registered Birmingham’s interest in the tie following Yoan Gouffran’s first-half effort. Newcastle will travel to Oxford United in round four.
Defeat meant that former Chelsea striker Zola has failed to win any of his first seven games as Birmingham boss.