Liverpool U21s lost 6-1 away to Wigan Athletic in their opening EFL Trophy game of the season on Tuesday, on a humbling, but valuable evening for the Reds.
Wigan 6-1 Liverpool U21s
EFL Trophy (1), DW Stadium
September 22, 2020
Goals: Naismith 47′, Jolley 59′, 67′, Crankshaw 79′, 90′, Garner pen 84′; Clarkson 44′
Liverpool’s under-21s found themselves in cup action, led by Barry Lewtas, but they were underdogs against Wigan’s senior team, as they locked horns in their Northern Group D clash.
Ben Woodburn captained the Reds on the night and there were also starts for Caoimhin Kelleher, Jake Cain and Leighton Clarkson, while highly-rated attacking midfielder James Balagizi made his U21s debut from the bench.
Meanwhile, former Reds academy player Emeka Obi started at centre-back for Wigan, having spent a season in Kirkby back in 2016/17.
The young Reds made a bright start, in particular the lively Woodburn, while Kelleher made an important stop to deny Ollie Crankshaw.
A lively game looked certain to have its opening goal, but Charlie Jolley selfishly shot instead of squaring to a teammate, hitting the post. Jack Bearne then saw an effort saved for Liverpool before Liam Millar fired a strike into the side-netting.
Bearne and Luis Longstaff had further chances for Barry Lewtas’ side, but Clarkson buried Millar’s pinpoint cross soon after, giving Liverpool a deserved lead at the interval.
Half-time: Wigan 0-1 Liverpool U21s
Unfortunately, things then went pear-shaped.
Kal Naismith profited from sloppy Reds marking to power a header past Kelleher and the match was completely turned on its head when Naismith set up Jolley to make it 2-1, as Liverpool’s inexperience shone through.
They were lucky not to go 3-1 behind but Lee Evans missed, but the reprieve didn’t last long and Jolley got his second after a defensive mix-up between Kelleher and Tom Clayton.
The Reds never recovered and Wigan cruised to victory, as two further goals from Crankshaw and substitute Joe Garner (penalty) made it a rout.
It will act as a huge learning curve for these Liverpool players against senior opposition, some of whom may even have faint hopes of playing for the first team against Lincoln City on Thursday night.
Liverpool U21s: Kelleher; Sharif, Savage, Clayton, Beck; Cain (Balagizi 84′), Clarkson, Woodburn; Bearne (Dixon-Bonner 64′), Longstaff (O’Rourke 84′), Millar
Subs not used: Jaros, Quansah, Bradley