Michael Beale’s Liverpool u21 side had the chance to go top of the league today, but in order to do so they had to beat Leicester City in Chester.
The last outing for the under-21s saw an impressive performance from 18-year-old attacking midfielder Ryan Kent, who ran the show and scored two goals in the mini-derby against Everton at Goodison Park.
Back to the present, Danny Ward was the man between the posts for Liverpool, with Neil Mellor and Connor Coady talking him up before the match as a goalkeeper who likes to shout instruction and organise the back four in front of him. He didn’t let them down, and made a string of key saves in the first half.
The young reds lined up in a 4-4-2 formation, with Sheyi Ojo playing alongside Jerome Sinclair up front. Beale’s side used inverted wingers, with left-footer Harry Wilson taking up a position on the right wing, and right-footer Ryan Kent playing from the left.
Ojo looked lively in the opening exchanges, showing good skill on the ball, and sending a left footed shot just wide in the 14th minute after carrying the ball half the length of the pitch.
The first real chance fell to Leicester’s Harry Panayiotou when the Liverpool defence failed to clear a cross, but the Saint Kitts and Nevis striker was thwarted by a great reaction save from Danny Ward.
Ward was called into action again as the defence failed to deal with another simple cross into the box. This time it was Leicester’s Lithuanian striker Simonas Stankevičius who found himself free in the box, only to see his header pushed wide by the Welsh ‘keeper.
Leicester finally got the goal their first-half play deserved, and it was no surprise that it came from a ball into the box. Jack Barmby’s free-kick curled in from the right, and Joe Davis rose above Connor Randall at the back post to loop a header into the far corner.
Liverpool started the second half with a slightly different formation, with Ojo drifting to the left wing, and Ryan Kent moving inside to play a number 10 role behind Sinclair. The formation was 4-2-3-1 / 4-3-3 with Cameron Brannagan and Alex O’Hanlon as the deeper two in midfield.
The signs were slightly more encouraging at the start of this half, and Ryan Kent was able to get more involved in the game from his central role. Cameron Brannagan also began to have more of an influence in midfield, and it was he who won the free kick which led to the equaliser.
O’Hanlon crossed the free kick into the box for fellow Irishman Daniel Cleary to power a header in from close range. He steamed onto the ball at the far post, giving the Leicester defenders and goalkeeper no chance.
The tide turned in Red’s favour after the goal, and it wasn’t long before they were ahead. O’Hanlon was involved yet again, with a ball into the box which was only half cleared by Ben Hamer in the Leicester goal. The ball fell to Brannagan who was lurking outside the area, and the number 8 steadied himself before despatching the ball into the goal from distance.
There were other chances from set-pieces, first for Cleary, who was unable to get a good contact on the ball from a corner, and then for Jerome Sinclair who sent a header from a free kick just wide of the top corner.
Liverpool continued to dominate in the second half, and a few changes saw Brannagan move out to the right wing, and the versatile Randall shifted to central midfield after the introduction of right-back Corey Whelan.
Ojo continued to impress with individual skill and dangerous runs at the opposition defence, but couldn’t quite get his goal, sending one shot just wide of the right hand post.
Leicester had a chance to score an equaliser in the dying seconds as Liverpool failed to deal with yet another set-piece, but Danny Rowe was unable to convert for the away side.
Cameron Brannagan has found himself on the first team bench in recent weeks, and this winning goal will only have improved his chances of getting a game for the seniors as the season draws to a close.
Liverpool: Ward, Randall, Hart, Cleary, Maguire, O’Hanlon, Wilson (Whelan 73), Brannagan, Sinclair (Yesil 88′), Ojo, Kent (Canos 84′).
Leicester: Hamer, Pearson (c), Chilwell, McCourt, Davis, Sesay, Dodoo, Rowley, Stankevicius, Panayiotou, Barmby