The pressure mounted on Brendan Rodgers as Liverpool scraped through 3-2 on penalties after being held to a 1-1 draw against League Two Carlisle United in the third round of the League Cup.
With Carlo Ancelotti the latest big-name manager to be linked with the Anfield job, Rodgers required a convincing performance and result from his players on Wednesday to ease fears over his future.
But things did not go to plan on Merseyside, despite Danny Ings’ second goal in as many games giving the hosts – winless in five matches – the lead.
For all Liverpool’s possession and despite a barrage of shots at goal – they clocked up more than 40 across 120 minutes of action – Derek Asamoah’s first-half leveller proved enough to take the match to extra time and then penalties.
Debutant goalkeeper Adam Bogdan helped to spare Rodgers the humiliation of defeat as his save from Bastien Hery’s spot-kick proved decisive, despite Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho missing their efforts.
It was cruel on Keith Curle’s side, who beat QPR in the previous round and will return to the rigours of fourth-tier football with a home match against Newport County on Saturday.
Rodgers made six changes to the line-up that drew with Norwich City last time out, handing starts to Lallana and Roberto Firmino and both went close early on with rasping long-range drives.
On just his second Liverpool start, Ings was the next to test Mark Gillespie, the young goalkeeper doing well to parry away a dipping effort from the former Burnley forward.
However, Ings was rewarded for his lively start when he latched onto Lallana’s precise cross to head home the opener from close range.
Liverpool should have extended their lead shortly after, but Ings could not double his tally – this time heading over after meeting Alberto Moreno’s cross at the back post.
And Asamoah made the hosts pay shortly after the half-hour mark, poor defending from Martin Skrtel on his 300th Liverpool appearance allowing the Ghanaian to prod in at Bogdan’s near post after being teed up by Hery.
Gillespie had to be alert to prevent substitute Divock Origi netting his maiden Liverpool goal after the restart, diving to his left to tip the ball wide.
Curle introduced top scorer Jabo Ibehre on the hour mark – the forward having netted 10 goals in 11 games this term – while Coutinho replaced Joe Allen for the hosts.
James Milner – winner of this competition in 2014 with Manchester City – drilled wide soon after and Coutinho went close with a curling strike as the game went into extra time.
Ibehre should have done better after being slipped through by Hery in a rare foray forward from Carlisle, with Origi having a goal-bound effort blocked at the other end.
Matters were made worse for Liverpool when Dejan Lovren was taken off on a stretcher late on, as Rodgers’ side had to settle for penalties.
Carlisle’s dream was ended when Hery’s tame spot-kick was parried away with ease by Bogdan, with Liverpool set to face AFC Bournemouth in the next round.