Liverpool sealed the signing of 21-year-old striker Joe Hardy from Brentford this month, and he is expected to be a “useful asset” for the club.
Hardy was a surprise name on the team-sheet as the under-23s lost 1-0 to Man City at the beginning of January, coming off the bench for the final 10 minutes.
He has since made his first start for the young Reds, in the tough 2-1 defeat to Athletic Club in the Premier League International Cup, before a successful night against Southampton on Monday.
Starting up front alongside Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott, Hardy struck twice in a 5-0 victory at Kirkby, before being replaced by the returning Liam Millar.
Millar, Jones and Elliott also got their names on the scoresheet, in an excellent display that showed how well the U23s can perform when Neil Critchley is able to call upon a full-strength squad.
Such is the nature of his job, with the best among his group called up to the first team, but Hardy is likely to remain in the academy this season, with Critchley outlining the job he has been brought in to do.
“Joe has shown what he is about. He is a goalscorer, he can finish, and he has shown that in training,” he told the Liverpool Echo.
“He will be a useful asset for us this season as maybe in some of the games this season where we have dominated, we have not scored the goals our play has warranted.
“We know if we give the ball to Joe near to goal, there’s a good chance of him scoring.
“It was great for him to get off the mark. He was gutted to go off as he wanted his hat-trick, but we have plenty of games to come and he is going to be valuable for us.”
Hardy’s arrival on Merseyside came out of the blue, but it likely set in motion as series of changes that could benefit Liverpool in the long term.
Most notably, it has given Critchley a ‘senior’ option in the absence of Rhian Brewster and Isaac Christie-Davies, who have both left on loan this month after playing up front for the U23s.
It also allows Jones and Elliott to continue their development in their more natural positions, having also filled in as No. 9s earlier this season.
This could also be seen with Millar’s recall from a loan spell with Kilmarnock, with the 20-year-old now expected to remain at Kirkby for the remainder of the campaign.
Though neither are in line for a first-team role at this stage, the fortunes of the likes of Nat Phillips and Pedro Chirivella this season prove that opportunities could presents themselves for Hardy and Millar in the future.