AFC Wimbledon 1 Liverpool 2: Steven Gerrard fires Reds into round four
Steven Gerrard's long goodbye began by saving Liverpool's blushes as AFC Wimbledon threatened an upset akin to the 1988 FA Cup final.
This third-round tie was the first match since the 34-year-old announced he will be leaving Anfield at the end of the season, with a move to Major League Soccer in the United States beckoning.
Winning a third FA Cup on what will be his 35th birthday would certainly be a fitting end to Gerrard's time with the Reds, who he helped secure a 2-1 win against Wimbledon with goals either side of an Adebayo Akinfenwa strike.
The giant striker's leveller for League Two side allowed fans to dream of an upset similar to their famous defeat of the Merseyside behemoths in 1988, when Lawrie Sanchez's header brought home the cup.
That remains the most famous day in Wimbledon's history and this match marked another milestone, with this the first time they had reached the third round since their rebirth in 2002.
However, it was a tie which looked to only be going one way as Gerrard put the visitors ahead with a lovely header after 12 minutes.
Rather than take the sting out of the tie, though, it sprung the hosts into life, with Wimbledon netting a deserved leveller through Akinfenwa.
The presence of the 16-stone striker, affectionately nicknamed 'The Beast', saw much-maligned Simon Mignolet flap at a corner and, when the ball came off the bar, he prodded home from close range..
It was no less than the Dons deserved and Gerrard was forced to clear off the line when Adam Barrett powered a header goalwards moments after the restart.
However, Gerrard, like so many times before, dragged Liverpool up by the coat-tails and brilliantly curled home a 22-yard free-kick - what proved the decisive goal in an enthralling third-round tie.
A home tie with Bolton awaits in the fourth round for Liverpool after a difficult night at Kingsmeadow, where Javier Manquillo was left rolling around in pain inside the opening minute.
Sean Rigg was not even reprimanded for the challenge and was soon causing problems at the other end, latching onto a flick forwards to hit a bobbling effort across the face of goal.
It was a missed chance Liverpool ruthlessly capitalised on, scoring with their first clear-cut chance of the match.
After neat team play, Gerrard played the ball out to the right flank and Manquillo's cross was headed home by the Reds captain.
A Lazar Markovic cross-shot almost doubled Liverpool's advantage but, while Liverpool were dominating possession, the Dons were growing into the tie.
Only a timely Martin Skrtel challenge prevented Matt Tubbs turning home a George Francomb cross, with Rigg's fizzing strike from the resulting corner heading in until Mignolet impressively clawed over.
Akinfenwa - widely considered the strongest player in world football - was, unsurprisingly, proving a handful, with his presence seeing a James Shea goal kick through to Tubbs, who hooked an effort across the face of goal.
The 32-year-old was soon back at the heart of the action, heading wide before giving the home side a deserved leveller.
Francomb's corner to the back post was bundled onto the crossbar by an under-pressure Mamadou Sakho, with Akinfenwa, whose bulk had hampered Mignolet's attempt to catch the cross, stabbing home from close range.
It was a deserved equaliser and things almost got even better early in the second half, with a poor Gerrard pass allowing Sammy Moore a strike which deflected just wide.
That was a let-off for the Liverpool captain, who made amends from the resulting corner as he cleared Barrett's header off the line, with Rigg firing wide as the visitors continued to wobble.
It was at this point, though, that the tide began to turn. Jordan Henderson saw a shot accidentally blocked by his own team-mate and Philippe Coutinho fired wide, before penalty appeals for handball against Barry Fuller were waved away.
However, the Wimbledon vice-captain could have no arguments with the free-kick award minutes later. Fuller was booked for his challenge on Coutinho and Gerrard made the home side pay, impressively curling the free-kick past Shea.
Dannie Bulman lashed one just over as Wimbledon attempted to draw parity for the second time, while at the other end goalkeeper Shea impressively denied Rickie Lambert with his feet.
Coutinho was also denied by the Arsenal academy graduate, who then thwarted Markovic on the break after Adebayo Azeez effort was blocked.
The Wimbledon substitute again threatened in stoppage time but there was to be no dream leveller for the vast majority of the 4,784 crowd as Mignolet smothered, with Gerrard seeing a hat-trick denied by a goal-line clearance.
Belfast Telegraph Digital