Liverpool narrowly escaped Exeter City's raucous St James' Park stadium with a 2-2 draw on Friday night, in a classic tie to kick off FA Cup third round weekend.

Olimpico goal almost sees fourth-tier Exeter knock Liverpool out of FA Cup.
The home side, currently 16th in League 2, led twice and looked to be controlling the game in the second half before Liverpool's Brad Smith poked home a 73rd minute equaliser. Neither side could find a winner and now face a replay at Anfield for a place in the fourth round.

With his team in the midst of a busy schedule and an injury crisis, Jurgen Klopp was expected to make significant changes from the side that beat Stoke on Tuesday night. Even so, the level of inexperience in the starting XI was startling. Three players were making their first team debuts, including Tiago Ilori, recently returned from a failed loan spell at Aston Villa, and Kevin Stewart, called back from his loan at Swindon Town just hours before kickoff. Forgotten man Jose Enrique started at centre back while Adam Bogdan took over in goal.

Exeter City, roared on by their passionate home support, must have fancied their chances of causing an upset and duly took the lead in the 9th minute when their promising young striker Tom Nichols met a cross with a neat, first-time finish.

Liverpool hit back quickly through Jerome Sinclair's first senior goal and began to assert themselves on proceedings. Despite Joao Teixeira's lively midfield work and Connor Randall's attacking runs down the right, they struggled to create clear chances and Exeter grew back into the game, countering Liverpool's high press tactics with long balls that bypassed the midfield and stretched an inexperienced defence.

Just before half time, Exeter won a corner and Lee Holmes' curling delivery flew straight in to the Liverpool net past the hapless Adam Bogdan, who was put off far too easily by a nudge from an Exeter player on the goalline. Exeter took their lead into the break as a famous shock began to look possible.

Klopp sent his side out early from the dressing room for the second half, and Liverpool almost scored when Christian Benteke's close range header was brilliantly turned over the bar by Exeter 'keeper Bobby Olejnik. But Liverpool never built on that chance as Exeter held their own, diving into tackles and committing men forward to win the ball high up the pitch. Liverpool's young midfield struggled to put any flowing moves together on the boggy playing surface and Benteke began to look more and more isolated in attack. Liverpool's record of never having lost to fourth-tier opposition in the FA Cup was looking under serious threat.

Still, Klopp resisted the temptation to use senior players on the bench, either showing faith that his youngsters could turn things around or accepting a defeat that would ease a congested fixture list. But he did bring on Sheyi Ojo, another loanee called back to bolster the squad, whose fast and direct wing play led to the equaliser. His cross from the left fell to the feet of Brad Smith - arguably Liverpool's best player on the night - who reacted quickly to drill home his first senior goal.

A scrappy final 20 minutes saw no clear cut chances as Exeter continued to disrupt Liverpool's attacking play, themselves still getting forward to threaten a famous winner. An injury time corner to Exeter had the home fans dreaming, but the sense was that the Exeter players were more than happy to take their hard-earned replay at Anfield later this month.

Article contributed by: Ben McAlinden