Liverpool and their ownership wrangles may currently be a manifestation of so much that is bemoaned about the modern game but, for 45 glorious minutes here, the unlikely names of Richard Pacquette and Alfie Potter helped bring some much needed football romance back to Anfield. Not once, but twice, the gas fitters, binmen and cabbies of Havant & Waterlooville took the lead against the five-time champions of Europe. Even the Kop, mired in their internecine war with the club's owners, appreciated the magic that was unfolding before them.
Inevitably, a 15-minute hat-trick from Yossi Benayoun put paid to anything too outrageous occurring but, while Liverpool players can return to blaming American owners for their under achieving season and Rafa Benítez can continue his politicking with the same, Havant's 6,000 supporters and players will long remember this day, and rightly.
They will remember the warm reception they received before kick-off from Liverpool fans and the stunned silence that greeted the eighth-minute opening goal from Pacquette, a truant officer by trade.
They will remember that silence giving way to heartfelt applause from an Anfield crowd who have a keen sense of their football history and they will certainly remember taking the lead for a second time when Potter's strike led to Martin Skrtel's own goal.
Surely, they will also remember the standing ovation that greeted them from 40,000-plus on the whistle and the Kop chanting 'Havant' in unison, the prelude to a lap of honour and a further 20 minutes of fans celebrating on the Anfield Road terraces.
'They will have fantastic memories after this game,' said Benítez. 'The atmosphere was good and it was fantastic for them to be here. It was even better for them to score one and two goals at Anfield.
'The FA Cup is like this, it's a fantastic competition. You can see a team progressing through the rounds and playing at Anfield even though they are five divisions below. That's how good, how amazing the FA Cup is.'
Surprisingly, given the hype that had surrounded the build-up to the tie, it was the visitors who settled far more quickly than the hosts, aided in no small part by some appallingly shaky defending from Liverpool goalkeeper Charles Itandje and new £6.5million signing Skrtel.
A wayward back-pass from the latter gifted Havant their second corner of the game in the eighth minute, from which they scored. Mo Harkin picked out the unmarked Pacquette and his unstoppable six-yard header put his team into a most unlikely lead. How unlikely? Bookies were offering healthy odds of 700-1 on a 1-0 Havant victory with Pacquette the scorer.
Itandje, transmitting uneasiness through his team, almost gifted Neil Sharp a second goal before the £6m Brazilian Lucas curled in a fantastic 20-yard shot to equalise in the 27th minute, but still Havant would not lie down.
On the half-hour, Jay Smith's cross was cleared but headed back into the area by Tom Jordan, allowing Steve Finnan to make the most incredible, unforced error, on the edge of his penalty area, slipping and allowing Potter to advance and score via a deflection off Skrtel.
As Benítez later pointed out, it was imperative that his team equalised quickly and, a minute before half time, Benayoun duly obliged. Ryan Babel and Jermaine Pennant picked holes through a stationary defence to set up the Israel winger for a training-ground finish from 15 yards.
And thus were balance and sanity restored to the football universe. Eleven minutes after the restart, Benayoun turned to beat Sharp and convert Pennant's cross before completing his hat-trick with a tap-in after Kevin Scriven failed to hold Babel's shot.
Havant enjoyed a final flirtation with the implausible, but Itandje blocked Jordan's powerful 87th-minute header on the line before Peter Crouch tapped in from a clearly offside position in the dying seconds.
'To come to Anfield and produce a performance of that magnitude, I'm immensely proud of the players,' said Havant manager Shaun Gale. 'People laughed when we said we would come to Anfield and have a go. But we well and truly came and had a go. That's the only way we can play.
'We have had a fantastic run, so for it to end at a stadium like this, you accept that. We frustrated them in the first half but, unfortunately, in the end class has shone through.
'I will remember everything about this day. It has been fantastic for the players. I told them to enjoy it but that they were not coming here for a party, they can have a party afterwards.
'When you get a standing ovation from the whole ground on the final whistle, that sums it all up and the lads deserved it. It has been a fantastic achievement and I'm proud to be their manager.'
The FA Cup now has its annual air of inevitability - the big four, including Liverpool, are still in contention and it would be no surprise if they constituted the semi-final field, should the draws keep them apart. But every football fan in the country would do well to remember the occasion at Anfield yesterday as a reminder of the magic the competition can still generate.
Man of the match
The heart recommends naming one of the Havant part-timers who contributed to a remarkable 45 minutes at Anfield. But the simple fact was that Mascherano was one of the few Liverpool players who looked as if he belonged five leagues and 123 places above his opponents.
FA Cup fourth round
Saturday January 26, 2008
FT Liverpool 5-2 Havant/W'ville
08' 0-1 Pacquette
27' Leiva 1-1
31' 1-2 Skrtel (og)
44' Benayoun 2-2
56' Benayoun 3-2
59' Benayoun 4-2
90' Crouch 5-2
Charles Itandje, Steve Finnan, Sami Hyypia (Jamie Carragher), Martin Skrtel, Yossi Benayoun (Dirk Kuyt), Lucas Leiva, Javier Mascherano (Steven Gerrard), Jermaine Pennant, John Arne Riise, Ryan Babel, Peter Crouch
Kevin Scriven, Neil Sharp, Phil Warner (Tony Taggart), Jamie Collins, Mo Harkin, Tom Jordan, Alfie Potter, Jay Smith, Shaun Wilkinson (Charlie Oatway), Rocky Baptiste, Richard Pacquette (Jamie Slabber)
Referee: Dowd, P
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2008