By Scott Taylor
Ben Woodburn scored twice as Liverpool U18s held off a late onslaught to beat Derby County 3-2 on Saturday morning. After their entertaining 5-5 draw last season, the Reds played out a five-goal thriller this season. A brace from Woodburn and an own goal put Liverpool 3-0 up before two goals in the final five minutes set up a nervy finish but the Reds extended their unbeaten run to 12 games.
Heading into the game Liverpool were without Adam Phillips, Bobby Adekanye, Corey Whelan and Yan Dhanda, but still had plenty of options in the starting XI. In blustery conditions, it was the Reds who started the game on the front foot. Toni Gomes, the club’s leading scorer in the Academy with eight goals, had two efforts blocked by the Derby defence.
The pressure paid dividents midway through the first half. Trent Alexander-Arnold’s cross from the right wing deflected in off Derby defender Michee Mbuti and beyond the reach of Matt Yates in the Derby goal. The Liverpool captain almost created a chance of his own before team-mates Herbie Kane and Gomes both had opportunities to double their advantage. Derby did have chances of their own in the opening period. Alex Babos’ through-ball found Tom Mellors, but his low shot was well saved by Liverpool goalkeeper Shamal George.
After the second half, Gomes had another chance to make it 2-0 but his effort was well saved by Yates. The youngster then came even closer to getting his ninth goal of the season, but his header was cleared off the line by Calum Macdonald.
With just under half-an-hour to go, Babos and Mellors combined with the latter heading wide. As they were chasing an equaliser, Liverpool counter-attacked and Woodburn grabbed his first of the afternoon. The Wales U17 captain then made it 3-0 moments later, firing home the rebound after Yates parried Kane’s long-range effort.
Even with the result all but confirmed, Derby continued to look for a way back into the game. Firstly Babos had a shot denied by the gloves of George, before Emil Riis Jakobsen somehow fired over with the goal gaping.
Their persistence was eventually rewarded in the closing stages when the hosts won a penalty, with James Carvell converting it in emphatic style. Shortly after, Jakobsen made amends for his earlier miss and he was on the end of the Babos through ball to slam his effort into the roof of the net.
However, the visitors held on for another well deserved win as they made it three months unbeaten. More positive news for Liverpool is that Liam Griffin made his comeback from a long-term ankle injury and featured for the final 20 minutes of the tie. After the victory, Liverpool remain in third in the U18 Premier League, but are just one point behind second-placed Manchester City. Neil Critchley’s side next face the league leaders in the mini-derby next weekend, and win could see Liverpool move one point behind their Merseyside rivals.
Liverpool XI: George; Lewis, Masterson, Parker, Owens (Johnston 85′); Coyle (Griffin 70′), Kane, Alexander-Arnold; Ejaria; Gomes, Woodburn.
Derby County XI: Yates, Goode, Mills, Bird, Mbuti, Macdonald, Mellors (Davidson-Miller 66′), Edwards, Jakobsen, Babos, Carvell.
By Scott Taylor