The Liverpool under-21s produced a valiant effort but ultimately fell to a 4-2 defeat to League One side Port Vale in the EFL Trophy, with Liam Millar netting twice.
Port Vale 4-2 Liverpool U21s
EFL Trophy Group Stage (3), Vale Park
November 10, 2020
Goals: Cullen 12′, Hurst 19′, McKirdy 61′, Rodney 64′; Millar 11′, 34′
After 6-1 and 3-2 defeats to Wigan and Tranmere in the newly renamed Papa John’s Trophy, Barry Lewtas’ young Reds made the trip to Vale Park looking to end the group stage with pride, having already been consigned to exit.
Lewtas made five changes to his side from the loss at Tranmere, with 17-year-old Conor Bradley coming in at right-back, while Billy Koumetio followed up his under-23s debut at the weekend and Paul Glatzel made his first start of the season up front.
Bradley caught the eye early on and teed up the in-form Liam Millar for Liverpool’s opener, with the Canadian scoring with a confident finish.
Port Vale pegged the young Reds back immediately, however, with Mark Cullen’s diving header, and the striker came close with two further efforts – one drawing a strong stop from Vitezslav Jaros – after Alex Hurst made it 2-1 in the 19th minute.
Millar restored parity before the break, with the 21-year-old continuing to prove his ability beyond academy level as he cut inside onto his right and beat Dino Visser, benefiting from a deflection for his fourth goal in as many games.
HT: Port Vale 2-2 Liverpool U21s
Buoyed by their spirited first-half showing, the young Reds came out of the blocks quickly after the break, with their high-intensity pressing game almost catching Port Vale off-guard.
Millar set up Glatzel for a promising effort as the hour mark neared, but the 19-year-old was starved of space and unable to make his shot count, with the hosts turning the tide soon after.
Port Vale’s third of night came from midfielder Harry McKirdy, with the U21s cut open as they attempted to play the offside trap, while three minutes later Devante Rodney made it 4-2, unfortunately following an error from Koumetio.
Both Millar and substitute Joe Hardy had chances to reduce the deficit, but the game ended with a third defeat of the tournament for the young Reds, who exit at the group stage for the second season running.
As with last term, however, Liverpool’s involvement in the EFL Trophy cannot be deemed a waste of time, with vital experience gained against senior opposition, particularly for the likes of Koumetio, Bradley, Glatzel, Jake Cain and Leighton Clarkson.
Last season saw Neco Williams make his breakthrough at first-team level soon after featuring on the same stage – it could well be that one of those to turn out for Lewtas’ side this time around does the same.
TIA Man of the Match: Liam Millar
Liverpool U21s: Jaros; Bradley, Van den Berg, Koumetio (Beck 69′), Savage; Clarkson; Longstaff (Ritaccio 70′), Cain, Millar; O’Rourke, Glatzel (Hardy 61′)
Subs not used: Winterbottom, Sharif, Bearne