By Scott Taylor
Cameron Brannagan scored the only goal of the game as Liverpool Under 21s beat Sunderland under the lights at the Kikrby Academy on Monday night. It was just Michael Beale’s side second game of the calender year atfer a 2-1 victory at Manchester CIty last weekend. Liverpool, Brannagan in particular, didn’t look rusty as the captain led by example and slotted home in the 38th minute.
The Reds started in a positive fashion, with Alex O’Hanlon volleying over a corner in the early stages of the game. O’Hanlon was again involved in Liverpool’s next change of the match. After dropping into his own half, the Ireland Under-19 international played a precise 50-yard pass to Wilson, but as he tried to chip the ball in the back of the net, he was closed down by Sunderland goalkeeper Joel Dixon.
Although Liverpool looked in control, they were still up against a very organised Sunderland side. Prior to kick-off, Liverpool were tenth in the Under-21 Premier League, one point adrift of the visitors Sunderland. Liverpool were only given space in the back four, but as soon as the ball was played forward, the Black Cats pressed and hassled the Liverpool midfield.
George Honeyman in particular was effective for Sunderland. He controlled the momentum in midfield, and was influential in the visitors first chance. His long ball forward picked out striker Mikael Mandron, and just as he was about to pull the trigger, Ryan McLaughlin flung himself in front of the ball to deny what would have been a certain opener.
The opener did come soon after. O’Hanlon produced another ball to find Wilson on the right-wing, who cut outside of his marker and pulled it back from the byline to Brannagan. The Liverpool midfielder then slotted the ball into the back of the net to score what turned out ot be the winner.
Beale’s men had a strong penalty appeal turned down, much to the disappointment of Jerome Sinclair. Goalscorer Brannagan headed it to Sinclair. The England youth international went down under the challenge of Tom Beadling, who was already on a yellow card, but the referee waved away an appeals.
Sunderland still looked for an equaliser after the interval, and almost found it. Substitute Rees Greenwood found the ball at his feet on the edge of the penalty area, but he curled his shot just over the bar, which meant that Reds ‘keeper Ryan Fulton didn’t have to make a single save in the entire match.
Beale brought on Kevin Stewart, Sergi Canos and Daniel Trickett-Smith in place of McLaughlin, Connor Randall and Wilson as he looked to secure all the points for his side. Sergi Canos has been in great form for the Under 18s, and almost translated his form to the Under-21s.
Sinclair played in the Spanish forward but just as he was about to shoot, Dixon smothered the ball from his feet to deny what would’ve been a certain second for the young Reds, but they held on for the win, one that was identical to the Under-18s’ result against the same opponents on Saturday.
Liverpool Under-21s now have picked up back-to-back wins in 2015, after Trickett-Smith scored a last minute penalty in the win against Manchester City last weekend. In doing so, they leapfrog Sunderland into 6th in the Premier League, with 17 points from their 11 games. However, the Reds are now just two points behind Everton and Tottenham, who lie in fourth and fifth respectively.
Liverpool XI: Fulton; Randall, Jones, Maguire; McLaughlin, Williams, O’Hanlon, Smith; Brannagan, Wilson; Sinclair.