Brendan Rodgers claimed that it was not Luis Suarez's job to own up to handballs after the striker's controversial goal sent Liverpool through a fiercely contested FA Cup tie at non-league Mansfield.
Suarez, a candidate to be footballer of the year, was clearly struck on the hand by the ball as his shot was parried by the Mansfield keeper, Alan Marriott, who claimed the Uruguayan was laughing as he drove the ball into an empty net. The Mansfield chief executive, Carolyn Radford, argued afterwards: that "the game has been stolen from us".
Rodgers accepted that Suarez had used his hand to score the decisive goal in the 2-1 victory that earned Liverpool a fourth-round tie at Oldham Athletic. However, he argued it was accidental and instinctive.
"It is not his job to own up," said the Liverpool manager "If it were anybody else, we wouldn't be discussing it. It is not his fault. What do you want him to do in that situation? The ball has hit him and it is up to the officials what they do. It hit his hand no question but it was not deliberate. It is unfortunate for Mansfield because it ends up being the winning goal but the game should have been out of sight by then."
"Luis has thick skin and people are starting to recognise the ability the boy has," added Rodgers, when asked if Suarez was happy being called a cheat in a non-league ground. "You saw that in the little cameo he had when he scored one and might have scored a number more. He is a wonderful professional and a family man and we need to appreciate him while he is here. He wanted to start the game, even though he has been Liverpool's only striker this season. This is his street football and he loves it."
Marriott, who had performed wonderfully in the Mansfield goal, thought the reactions of the Liverpool players said everything. "The lads have all seen their reactions," he said. "When you see Luis Suarez laughing when he kicks the ball over the line, you know what has happened. Even Stewart Downing told us that he could not believe professional officials had missed that."
Mansfield's manager, Paul Cox, was more sanguine, reflecting that if his goalscorer, Matt Green, had used his hand to force a replay, he would have accepted it.
"What Suarez did today was instinctive and we should embrace him as a football talent rather than have a go," he said. "He has not celebrated; he has blasted the ball into the net as if it didn't matter. But he did what any striker would have done. I can't be two-faced on that."
His chief executive was less impressed. "It feels a bit like the game was stolen from us," Radford said. "It is very unfortunate when referees and officials can't pick up these things. We should at least be getting a replay. Handballs are obviously de rigueur."
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