Only two days ago, we looked at the excellent work being done by Alex Inglethorpe with Liverpool's Under 21 squad, despite the myriad difficulties presented by the nature of his role as leader of a team that's a curious mixture of first-team nursery and rehabilitation facility. Last night, those difficulties manifested themselves clearly before a ball was even kicked, as the manager's selection options were critically impaired.
Inglethorpe's team was missing Jonjo Shelvey, Andre Wisdom and Fernando Suso from the line-up that drew only last week in the same venue against the same opposition. One can only assume that Wisdom and Shelvey were being saved for the first team at the weekend, whilst Suso was away on Under 20 duty for Spain. With Ryan McLaughlin and Raheem Sterling still injured, the team which started was very youthful, lacking in experience and crucially, missing their best footballers.
The start made by the young Reds was encouraging enough and with Conor Coady and Joao Teixeira prompting from the middle, Kristoffer Peterson, Kristian Adorjan and Jordan Ibe were all looking to feed Adam Morgan, who spearheaded the attack. The defence looked solid too, with Jack Robinson returning to left-back after his spell at Wolves and John Flanagan, who played in the first team with Robinson under Kenny Dalglish, taking up his place on the opposite flank. Stephen Sama partnered recent three-year contract recipient, Lloyd Jones, in the centre of the rearguard.
Soon after the quarter hour mark, Liverpool's positive start was undermined when the referee awarded what seemed a very harsh penalty to United. Stephen Sama was adjudged to have bundled over Tom Lawrence and Larnell Cole stepped forward to beat Danny Ward from the spot. Liverpool were reeling and the early coherence of their play seemed to desert them. Then, in the 25th minute, after he himself had been fouled twice in the build-up, John Flanagan took down Lawrence for a second penalty. Cole again beat Ward and Liverpool, inexplicably, were two goals down.
There could be no faulting the application of Inglethorpe's charges, however. Without much in the way of end-product, the visitors plugged-away with Coady trying hard to provide some impetus and Teixeira becoming more prominent as the game wore on. In the second period Ibe presented Kristian Adorjan with the Reds best opportunity to halve the deficit but he could not finish.
With less than a quarter of the game remaining United were looking threatening on the break as Liverpool looked to score. When the home side were awarded a corner, what followed was a hideous reminder of our senior side's ineptitude under the same circumstances. A succession of botched efforts to clear saw the ball break to Cole on the edge of the box and his shot was allowed to make its way, via a deflection, into the back of Ward's net.
When Flanagan was sent off for allegedly kicking the ball at a grounded United player, it was a final, crushing blow to Liverpool, ending their hopes of capping, what has been a very decent season in the Elite Group, with an appearance in the final. The game ended 3-0.
As I watched this game last night, I foolishly checked my Twitter feed at regular intervals. This can be a parlous activity at the best of times and it was a tad depressing to see how many had opted to choose the stream of Wigan's match at the Emirates. That aside, I found myself irked by the reactionary nonsense that flowed from some of those who had watched Liverpool's youngsters.
"Not good enough," squawked some armchair analysts. "Never gonna make it," insisted other insightful internet warriors. When these folk have managed to steady the jerk in their knee, I would posit a counter-argument. The personnel in Inglethorpe's team is as changeable as a May day in Ireland and therefore even the machine of established patterns of play has constantly got different cogs.
It is important to remember the function of this team in the overall scheme and retain a little excitement about the brilliance of some of the young players wearing the Liverbird. They are being schooled in the arts of pressing, passing and possession, whilst developing their own individual skill sets. As fans, we can only hope that the clear potential of some of these young footballers is fulfilled in our first team.