Liverpool under-21s almost pulled off a brilliant result away to Tranmere in the EFL Trophy, only for a former Everton striker to stifle their hopes in a 3-2 defeat.
Tranmere 3-2 Liverpool U21s
EFL Trophy (2), Prenton Park
September 29, 2020
Goals: Vaughan 74′, 75′, Payne 90′; Cain 50′, Longstaff 83′
There is a virtue in Liverpool entering an U21s side into the EFL Trophy; it just isn’t in the results.
Tuesday night saw six 19-year-olds and three 18-year-olds take to the field for the young Reds at Prenton Park, with captain Ben Woodburn and forward Liam Millar the eldest in the side at 20 and 21 respectively.
Opposite was a Tranmere lineup with an average age of 27.2, including 39-year-old ‘keeper Joe Murphy, and on the bench for this Merseyside ‘derby’ were two veterans of the traditional derby, ex-Liverpool midfielder Jay Spearing and ex-Everton striker James Vaughan.
Instead, the virtue of the EFL Trophy for Barry Lewtas and his players is that they gave a good account of themselves against considerably more experience opposition, preparing them for the next step in their careers.
This could well come in the Football League, particularly for those heading out on loan, and it was encouraging, therefore, that Liverpool enjoyed the best of the chances in the first half.
But after Sepp van den Berg, Leighton Clarkson, Woodburn and Jake Cain all came close, the young Reds were left to rue a 0-0 scoreline at the break, with Cain particularly disappointed having sent his effort over the bar from inside the area.
Cain soon made up for his glaring miss, though, and did so in trademark fashion, with a stunning free-kick arrowed into the top-left corner from long range for his third goal of the season.
If that was the boost Liverpool needed, the introduction of Vaughan at half-time served to cripple their hopes, with the 32-year-old scoring twice in the space of two minutes to put Tranmere in front.
The first was a free header, while the second profited from a measure of fortune as assistant manager Gary O’Neil vocally pointed out to the linesman, with Vaughan quite convincingly offside in the buildup.
That didn’t deter the young Reds, which again will be one of the key points Lewtas will take from this defeat, as they rallied and equalised through Luis Longstaff after great work from substitute Jack Bearne.
But another controversial offside call eventually hampered Liverpool’s hopes, with Stefan Payne scoring at the death to deny a penalty shootout and ensure a second defeat in as many EFL Trophy games for the U21s this season.
It was a similar story this time last year, of course, in opening losses to Oldham and Fleetwood, with Neco Williams scoring in both of those games before a first-team callup soon after.
That is the overriding aim of entry into this competition, and it could be that not before long, another of the young Reds could follow Williams into senior contention, with the likes of Clarkson, Cain and Longstaff certainly furthering their claims.
TIA Man of the Match: Jake Cain
Liverpool U21s: Jaros; Sharif (Bradley 78′), Van den Berg, Clayton, Beck; Clarkson; Cain, Woodburn, Dixon-Bonner (Bearne 78′), Millar; Longstaff (O’Rourke 88′)
Subs not used: Winterbottom, Savage