By Scott Taylor

Wade Maxwell scored but it was not enough as Liverpool Under-18s lost 3-1 to Sunderland in the first of their play-off games at the Kirkby Academy. Maxwell headed a cross from Yan Dhanda to put Neil Critchley’s side ahead, before Josh Robson stroked home an equaliser in first-half stoppage time. Two goals in two minutes from Elliot Emberton and Andrew Nelson sealed the points for Sunderland.

Liverpool started brightly, but Sunderland were heavily involved in the first incident of the match. Under-16 midfielder Owen Gamble played in Nelson, who was was brought down. However the referee played on and Liverpool went up the other end and opened the scoring. Gamble was one of three Under-16 players making their debut at Under-18 level, alongside Brandon Taylor and Alex Storey.

After Liverpool went ahead, the Reds had three more chances to double their tally. Ovie Ejaria fired wide before having another shot well saved by Sunderland goalkeeper James Talbot. Talbot had to be just as alert moments later, and did brilliantly to deny Callum Nicholas.

Sunderland began to grow into the game, and soon asserted themselves. England Under-17 youngster Dan Wright had two efforts saved by Liverpool goalkeeper Andrew Firth, the second which he acrobatically tipped over the crossbar.

Shortly after, Sunderland equalised. Jordan Bilnco’s free-kick was directed to the far post, where defender Michael Ledger was to head it back in the danger area. From there, Robson side footed past Firth on the stroke of half-time.

Moments after the restart, Sunderland were ahead. Substitute Dylan McEvoy, who replaced Blinco at half-time, sent the ball down the left wing for Molyneux to chase. His cross was hit first-time by Emberton as the Black Cats went ahead for the first time in the match.

Straight from the kick-off, Molyneux again was provider, playing in Nelson down the left flank. He again exploited that side of the pitch before he cut in a fired one past Firth to round off the scoring.

Firth was called in action later on, denying both Nelson and McEvoy to keep the score respectable, as Critchley’s young chargers started off their play-off campaign with a defeat.

After the game, Critchley remained positive but recognised that his sides finishing had to improve, and told “Scoreline aside, the performance was good and there were positives to take. We created the chances to score but couldn’t take them.”

Sunderland head coach Elliott Dickman was satisfied with his team’s display but wasn’t too impressed with their first half showing. He told the Sunderland Echo: “It was a pleasing and very honest performance, with the second half being better than the first, but it was enough to give us a good win.”

Liverpool XI: Firth; Brewitt (Roberts), Masterson, Polgar (Johnston), Alexander-Arnold; Kane, Nicholas, Ejaria, Dhanda, Virtue (Whyte), Maxwell. Subs Not Used: Wheeler.

Sunderland XI: Talbot; Taylor, Robson, Wright (Bale), Ledger, Storey, Blinco (McEvoy), Embleton, Nelson, Gamble (Gainyu 70′), Molyneux. Subs Not Used: Purvis, Ellison.