The Reds have made a habit of decisive strikes in the closing minutes this campaign, with this never-say-die approach giving them a new edge.
Critchley’s youngsters were unable to produce any heroics as they lost 5-0 to Aston Villa in the League Cup on Tuesday night, but the experience clearly benefited the group as they beat Paris Saint-Germain 3-2 on Friday.
After such a tight turnaround, 10 of the U23s’ starters at Kirkby were from the squad at Villa Park, and for a long period the fatigue looked set to take its toll.
But the introduction of Larouci and Tom Hill from the substitutes’ bench changed the game, with both scoring, and Larouci’s victory-clincher came in the fourth minute of stoppage time.
From 2-1 down, Liverpool emerged 3-2 victors, with Larouci’s effort coming low from outside the box and prompting wild celebrations from the young Reds and their coach.
Speaking to the club’s official website after the game, Critchley detailed how this is a quality that is ingrained in the upbringing of his players in the academy, explaining that it is “in-built.”
“It is [a nice trait to have],” he said.
“It’s something that the U18s have done on a regular basis and lots of those players stepped up and played for the U23s against PSG.
“I’m sure some more of them will feature for us after Christmas.
“[Late winners] are a good trait to have. It’s something that is in-built from the first team down and it’s something we try to instil into the boys here.”
Critchley is right to acknowledge how Barry Lewtas’ U18s have emulated their senior counterparts throughout the campaign, with four winners and an equaliser scored in the last five minutes of a game so far.
Late Goals for the Liverpool U18s
- Layton Stewart vs. Stoke, 87′ – 3-2 winner
- Remi Savage vs. Wolves, 90+2′ – 1-1 equaliser
- Reece Devine OG vs. Man United, 89′ – 4-3 winner
- Layton Stewart vs. Napoli, 85′ – 1-1 equaliser
- Fidel O’Rourke vs. Swansea, 90+3′ – 3-2 winner
- Owen Beck vs. Southampton, 90+2′ – 3-2 winner
- Jack Bearne vs. Salzburg, 90+3′ – 3-2 winner
Two more—an 85th-minute leveller from Layton Stewart against Napoli and a 93rd-minute winner for Bearne against Salzburg—have come in the UEFA Youth League.
This is the attitude these youngsters will need if they are to make the step up to the first-team squad on a long-term basis, with many already moving up from U18s to U23s, as Critchley attested.
Mentality and character are as important as talent when it comes to young players making the grade at a club like Liverpool.
And if this can be instilled throughout the academy it should pay off in the future.