The year is 2008, Liverpool have drawn the last four games in all competitions, owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett have made an approach to Jurgen Klinsmann and fans want the “Yanks Out.”
As for the other side of the white line, a 10-point deduction for falling into administration sent Luton spiralling down the table with a decimated squad and a manger who quit a day after the trip to Anfield.
As you can imagine, the events off the pitch threatened to take the spotlight, but this FA Cup third round replay at Anfield proved quite the event, as Rafa Benitez sent a message to those plotting his demise.
The Spaniard took no chances with his team selection for the replay after Hicks and Gillett showed their hand with Klinsmann, to further open the divide in Liverpool’s boardroom.
Steven Gerrard, Sami Hyypia, Jamie Carragher, Xabi Alonso and Fernando Torres all started against the depleted Luton side, who admirably nearly kept the Reds off the scoresheet in the first half.
Ryan Babel ended their resistance on the stroke of half-time to help open the flood gates on the other side of the interval, which left Gerrard to ‘plead’ with his manager to keep him on the field.
Liverpool 5-0 Luton
FA Cup Third Round Replay, Anfield
January 15, 2008
Goals: Babel 45′, Gerrard 52′, 64′, 71′, Hyypia 57′
Liverpool: Itandje; Arbeloa, Carragher, Hyypia, Riise; Pennant, Alonso, Gerrard (Leiva 72′), Babel; Crouch (Kuyt 65′), Torres (Aurelio 73′)
Subs not used: Martin, Kewell
The No. 8 made it 2-0 just seven minutes into the second half, heading home Peter Crouch’s knockdown before adding his second and Liverpool’s fourth 12 minutes later.
After providing the assist for Hyypia and with the scoreboard now reading 4-0, you can understand Benitez’s desire to protect his star man, but Gerrard had to plead for a chance at a hat-trick.
“The manager called me over and said he was about to take me off,” Gerrard recalled after the January contest. “I pleaded with him to give me five minutes more because I wanted to get my hat-trick.
“I’m made up he let me because it’s always nice to get three goals.”
His pleas were not left lacking, as he delivered – as he always did – in minute 71, reacting quickest to Torres’ blocked shot with a trademark low finish into the back of the net for 5-0.
“We’re gonna win 6-5” sang the 6,000-strong Luton fans, who did not lose their spirit despite zero shots on target and amid Benitez’s subtle statement to those across the Atlantic.
Through all of this, Carragher’s 500th appearance was almost lost but he was applauded on to the pitch by a guard of honour, as he joined the likes of Billy Liddell, Kenny Dalglish and Ian Callaghan in the 500 club.
Despite the momentous occasion, his son, James, walked hand in hand with his dad with Torres adorned on the back of his kit – kids really keep you humble, don’t they?!
What happened next?
An internal division at Liverpool only fuelled the infighting and invited ridicule on the owners, all the while support for Benitez continued to grow.
Supporters’ union Spirit Of Shankly was born in the immediate aftermath as fans protested against Gillett and Hicks – who would soon be barely on speaking terms as the situation went from bad to worse.
The club was edging precariously towards a fate Luton had only just experienced themselves before FSG, formerly known as New England Sports Venture, stepped in and stepped up more than two years later.
There is a lot to say about sending a statement, and Liverpool are the best in the business.