Brendan Rodgers remains in the firing line as Adam Bogdan saves Liverpool
Liverpool 1-1 Carlisle (Liverpool win 3-2 on penalties)
Embattled Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers was indebted to Adam Bogdan last night, the goalkeeper saving three penalties in a nervous shoot-out as the Premier League side scraped past League Two Carlisle after being held over 120 minutes.
A bad injury to defender Dejan Lovren added to Carnlough native Rodgers' problems though, the Croatian being carried off in extra-time after having a splint applied to his right leg on the night Reds chiefs were forced to deny an approach for Carlo Ancelotti.
With supporters able to pay on the gate, it was beginning to feel like yesteryear at Anfield until the football started and the grim reality of the present was laid bare.
Carlisle are 65 places below Liverpool in the league standings and had the worst defensive record in the bottom professional division of the English pyramid.
Yet the statistics mattered not. This was excruciating in the most extreme for Liverpool and Rodgers, a team and a manager that could not find a way to beat a limited, though highly determined and organised opponent, over 120 minutes
Rodgers had said on Sunday after Liverpool failed to win against Norwich that his players were struggling to deal with the anxiety around Anfield, which for most of last night remained silent.
The strength of Rodgers' starting XI either reflected he is taking the League Cup more seriously than Europe at this moment, or he recognises the delicacy of his position and is becoming desperate.
Roared on by 6,000 Cumbrians, Carlisle took encouragement at the slightest thing; like when Bastien Hery burst from midfield and thumped a shot into the Kop.
That Liverpool took the lead through Danny Ings' header did not dishearten the visitors. For a second time, the Reds' midfield underestimated the power of Hery's running, forcing Lovren to split from the back three.
The break left Derek Asamoah in space and he equalised, although Bogdan - making his debut - could have done more to save the shot that raced underneath him at the near post.
Liverpool's confidence quickly turned to slop. Carlisle were matching Liverpool tactically and the Reds could not penetrate a defence that had conceded four goals in successive matches.
Having substituted Roberto Firmino before half-time with the Brazilian holding his back, Rodgers' hopes lay later with the introduction of Philippe Coutinho for Joe Allen. Coutinho, though, struggled to find room.
Ings' waspish enthusiasm waned and rather than a Liverpool onslaught, Carlisle started to pose more questions in attack.
When Alexander McQueen fashioned an opportunity by racing down the wing, the whole stadium held its breath as Jabo Ibehre, brought on for Asamoah, charged to meet it only for Emre Can to clear just as it seemed there might be a winner. .
For much of the second-half Rodgers sat in the dugout whispering to first-team coach Gary McAllister. With £130m worth of signings on the pitch, it seemed impossible that Liverpool would not see this through.
But it went to extra-time and the pattern of play continued, with Carlisle happy to afford Liverpool possession and wait for chances through free-kicks and the occasional corner.
The extra 30 minutes still could not separate the sides however, and the referee whistled for the dreaded lottery of penalty kicks.
James Milner, Emre Can and Ings all found the back of the net for Liverpool and, despite Adam Lallana and Coutinho missing their efforts and Carlisle scoring through Gary Dicker and McQueen, Bogdan rose to the occasion and saved three spot-kicks to finally hand his side the victory.
But there will be more scrutiny to come for Rodgers, with Liverpool dismissing claims they have approached Ancelotti about the possibility of taking over at Anfield.
A report claimed the veteran Italian, a Champions League winner with AC Milan and Real Madrid, had been sounded out by owners Fenway Sports Group about taking over the reins.
However, that was immediately rubbished by the club with sources suggesting such a move would be completely out of character with the way the Americans have run things to date.
Ulsterman Rodgers has also suffered a stuttering start to the league campaign - Liverpool have not won in five matches, leaving them 13th in the standings but only four points off fourth place, which remains the minimum target.