LFC U21s 1 (Brannagan 12’) – 0 Stoke City U21s

A 5th goal of the season for Cameron Brannagan ensured Liverpool Under 21s remain unbeaten in 2014 after another convincing performance away to a tough Stoke City side.

After losing their last game against Bolton, Alex Inglethorpe’s Liverpool Under 21s attempted to avenge that defeat and get back to winning ways when they travelled to the Britannia Stadium to play Stoke Under 21s. The only problem is, match fitness is at an all time low for the Under 21s, as their last game, the defeat to Bolton, was on the 9th December 2013, so the Under 21s haven’t played in other 2 months. As a result of these lack of games, Liverpool lie 6th in the Under 21 Premier League, 9 points adrift of leaders Fulham Under 21s. The good news is that Fulham have played 4 games more so the Reds may have the chance to go top if they win all their games in hands. Liverpool’s opponents Stoke City lie in 12th in the table, winning 5, drawing 3 and losing 7.

Team News
Inglethorpe made 8 changes from the side that played Bolton, only Lloyd Jones, Jordan Lussey and Cameron Brannagan did not make way. Firstly, there was a change in goal as the injured Danny Ward was replaced by Yusuf Mersin, who got a rare start for the Under 21. Then there was 3 changes in defence as Martin Kelly, Tiago Ilori and Aly Cissokho are replaced by Stephen Sama, Rafa Paez and Brad Smith. Kelly and Cissokho return to the first team whilst Ilori was loaned out to Granada until the end of the season. Another person loaned out is Jordon Ibe, who joined Birmingham until the end of the season and he was replaced by Kris Peterson whilst Joao Teixeira made his way into the first team setup and was replaced by Jack Dunn.
The final two changes sees Jordan Rossiter drop to the bench as 16 year old Pedro Chirivella made his debut and Samed Yesil was replaced by Villyan Bijev as Yesil faces another long spell on the sidelines following another ACL injury.

First Half
Both teams started brightly, but it was the hosts who created the best chance of the game within 10 minutes when Karim Rossi’s ball found James Alabi, who’s looping header had to be tipped over by Liverpool goalkeeper Yusuf Mersin. Liverpool did have a chance after just 4 seconds but Jack Dunn blazed over. Despite this early pressure from Stoke, it was Liverpool who took the lead through Cameron Brannagan. The move started when Brannagan himself found Kris Peterson on the left wing, and the Swede’s low cross fell to Jordan Lussey. Lussey then hit it first time which forced a good save from the Stoke goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann. However, the shot stopper could only parry it straight into the path of Brannagan, who made no mistake in slotting home his 5th goal of the season in all competitions.
Stoke regrouped and almost equalised through Kevin Gomes-Nieto’s low drive from outside of the box. However, Mersin was alert and prevented any damage as the home side came awfully close to an equaliser. More unnecessary pressure was added to Liverpool in the 41st minute when Jack Dunn’s clumsy challenge meant that he received the first booking of the game after bringing down Alabi. And it was Alabi who almost punished the Reds moments later as he was too strong for Brad Smith on the turn and from 12 yards out his strike rattled the crossbar with Mersin beaten and the woodwork continued to shake minutes after.
That was the final action of the half as Liverpool Under 21s led 1-0 despite many chances from the hosts as the game goes into the second half all to play for.

Second Half
Stoke again started the second half the brighter side and James Alabi was involved again as he was brought down by Brad Smith, who earned the second yellow card of the evening. However, the Reds responded quickly as Cameron Brannagan’ snapshot was well held by Bachmann.
The end-to-end action continued as a Stoke City corner went to the far post and Mersin had to be at his best to deny Alex Grant.
Liverpool needed more defensive stability, so made their first change of the game when Jordan Lussey was replaced by Jordan Rossiter. The Reds did have an injury scare soon after the change as Cameron Brannagan was down injured. However, Stoke were reluctant to kick the ball out of play so Brannagan got up, even though he was injured and blocked the cross before laying back down which goes to show his great attitude that he has for the club.
As the game progressed, Stoke made a double substitution to try and get an equaliser, as two attack minded players come on for Gomez-Nieto and another attack minded midfielder.
Liverpool almost doubled their lead in the 73rd minutes as Jack Dunn’s effort smashed against the crossbar before the long range rebound from Rossiter was well saved by Bachmann.
Bachmann was tested again just 5 minutes later as Dunn’s free-kick was destined to head into the top corner but the Stoke shot stopper denied that from happening superbly as the game entered its final stages.
The game turned sour in the 84th minute when Brad Smith was tripped 20 yards out and tempers started to flare. No Stoke player was cautioned despite the foul but Villyan Bijev was booked for his involvement in the brawl as the tempo and intensity of the game suddenly increased. From the resulting free-kick, Bijev fired over. Tempers continued to flare when Mason Watkins-Clark rash challenge triggered a reaction from Brad Smith but the former was booked for his action.
More importantly, the game ended before any more fiery incidents could occur as Liverpool picked up their 8th win of the season.

Team Line-Ups
LFC XI: Mersin, Sama, Smith, Paez, Jones, Lussey, Peterson, Chirivella, Bijev, Brannagan, Dunn.
Stoke XI: Bachmann, Wheeler, Gomez-Nieto, Ward, Grant, Watkins, Thomas, Lecygne, Alabi, Rossi, Henshall.

Next Fixture:
Liverpool Under 21s move to 4th with their win and will next host 20th placed Wolves at Anfield. The game is also live on LFCTV on Thursday 27th February.

Thanks for taking the time to read this new match report on my blog, and for more content on Liverpool’s Under 21s and Under 18s then simply keep an eye out on the blog Finally, for more Academy updates, then be sure to follow me on Twitter (@ScottTaylorUK).