Goals from James Milner and Ki-Jana Hoever saw Liverpool advance to the next round of the Carabao Cup, after a 2-0 victory over MK Dons.
Jurgen Klopp made wholesale changes from the side that defeated Chelsea away in the Premier League on Sunday, handing debuts to three youth team products.
Caoimhin Kelleher, Rhian Brewster and Harvey Elliot were all handed their Reds bow in a mix and matched team of youth and senior players in need of match sharpness from being played infrequently or returning from injury.
Unsurprisingly, given the volume of changes and the untested combinations in the European champions team, there was a lack of fluidity and synergy against the highly motivated league one team.
The hosts almost took the lead early when a ball over the top left Dejan Lovren one versus one with dons striker Jordan Bowery. In an attempt at a back pass, the Croat underhit his header and fell over after chasing his own lax intervention. Bowery then hit across the face of goal where Chris McGrandles spurned a glorious opportunity to give Paul Tisdale’s men the lead.
It was a fright that elicited a response from Liverpool. James Milner, selling the hosts right back a pair of dummies, crossed across the face of goal where Harvey Elliot, unsighted after the ball emerged late from a ruck of bodies, smashed the crossbar from five yards out.
Milner, playing left-back for the evening, was offering himself as an attacking outlet constantly on the left, and it was through the 34-year old that Klopp’s team opened the scoring.
Winding up a shot from distance, Milner was not closed down and his long-range shot proved too hot for keeper Stuart Moore to handle as the 25-year-old redirected the shot into his own net.
The goal was the last significant action of the half, with the Reds owning possession but not always engineering great chances with MK Dons, to their credit, defensively robust and well drilled.
The second half followed a similar pattern, with Liverpool in the ascendancy in terms of possession but the hosts looking sporadically dangerous on the counter-attack.
Bowery, who was a willing and hard running option all game, almost equalised when he poked against the base of the post when collecting a header in the box. The former Crewe forward was also denied by Kelleher, with the young Irishman saving his header sharply with his feet. In truth, Bowery ought to have scored but the young Cork natives save deserves plaudits.
Ki-Jana Hoever had a difficult night at times, with most of MK Dons attacks flowing down the right side of the pitch. but the young Dutchman made amends when he sealed the win for the Reds with a towering header.
An inviting ball was stood up the back post by Milner and the right-back cum centre half, showing the sharp movements of a striker, powered a header home from just inside the box.
The Reds almost improved their lot further on two occasions when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Elliott, who was thoroughly impressive throughout, both his the posts with long-range right-footed strikes.
Klopp will doubtlessly be content with the win and the sealed passage into the next round, but the German will also be happy with the 60 and 80 minutes banked by the returning Naby Keita and Oxlade-Chamberlain. Neither of the midfielders particularly impressed, but their immediate priorities should be acquiring match sharpness and on that score, the duo will have benefited.
Liverpool team: Kelleher, Hoever, Gomez, Lovren, Milner; Lallana, Keita, Oxlade-Chamberlain; Elliott, Brewster, Jones.
Substitutions: Chirivella for Keita, Kane for Oxlade-Chamberlain, Van den Berg for Hoever.