BOSS Brendan Rodgers says controversial striker Luis Suarez is not a cheat after his handball goal earned Liverpool a 2-1 FA Cup victory against Mansfield Town.
Suarez bundled the ball past Stags shot-stopper Alan Marriott in the 59th minute to put Liverpool 2-0 up and eventually seal the Anfield side’s passage into the fourth round tie, where they will face Oldham Athletic away.
TV replays showed the ball clearly struck the Uruguayan’s hand after Alan Marriott had initially denied the second-half substitute.
But Liverpool boss Rodgers said Suarez had done nothing wrong and that it was up to the officials to decide if the goal should have stood or not.
“There is no doubt that it hit his hand, but it was not deliberate handball,” he said. “It is unfortanute for Mansfield, but it is for the officials to decide if it is a goal or not.
“I am not sure what people want Luis to do in that situation, it was not a deliberate handball. The ball rebounded on to his hand, but it is for the referee to decide whether he meant to do it.
“The feeling I got was that he did not handball it deliberately. Luis is used to what opposition fans say about him, but he has got thick skin.
“If it was a different player, I do not think we would be talking about the handball in the detail we are doing now. Luis has great ability and a man with a lot of talent and that’s what we should talk about.
“He’s a player that we should enjoy in English football while he is still here.
“Fans are starting to talk more and more about the ability he has. He is a wonderful professional and a great family man. It is not his job to say the ball hit his hand, it is the job of the officials.”
Rodgers also praised Mansfield Town’s character and the Field Mill fans after the seven-times champions eventually overcome the Blue Square Premier side in a classic cup tie.
He added: “Mansfield deserve a lot of credit for getting back in to the game at 2-0 down. We had to show a lot of character today and resilience.
“Coming to a place like this is not easy, in many ways a game like this is harder than a Premier League game.
“Mansfield and their fans were excellent. Their fans got behind them all the way, it was a proper cup tie today.”
New £12m signing Daniel Sturridge had put Liverpool ahead on his debut for the club after just eight minutes, before Suarez doubled the visitor’s lead on the hour mark in controversial fashion.
But a late goal from Matt Green send up a grandstand finish as brave Mansfield unsuccessfully pushed for a dream equaliser.
Stags will now be hoping to take this performance into their next league game against Kidderminster Harriers as they begin, what they hope, will be a successful promotion push.