By Scott Taylor
Liverpool U18s look to qualify for the FA Youth Cup quarter-finals this evening, but will face stern competition from Nottingham Forest in the fifth round. Neil Critchley’s side comprehensively beat Cardiff 3-1 in the previous round whilst Forest narrowly edged out Birmingham City 1-0. The round of 16 tie will be shown live on LFCTV at the County Ground, with a 7pm kick-off.
Liverpool go into the game on the back of two defeats from their last three matches, but will take heart from a 14-game unbeaten run earlier in the season. They come up against a Nottingham Forest side who are top of Professional Development League Two North, seven points clear of their nearest challengers. After their 2-1 win against Hull City, Jack Lester’s side are now ten games unbeaten themselves, and with home advantage, head into the tie full of confidence.
With the former Forest striker Lester in charge of the side, there is no surprise that his side can find the back of the net. In just 20 league games this season, they have scored 53 goals, the most in the entire country. That is predominantly down to Ben Brereton. The striker, 16, has scored over 30 goals so far this season, even though he is the youngest player in the U18s squad. Despite playing in what appears to be a lower league, Nottingham Forest U18s has seen youngsters Oliver Burke, Ben Osborn, Tyler Walker and Jorge Grant all progressing to the first team in recent years.
Having lost just four times all season, they will prove to be a tough test for the travelling Reds. However, Liverpool also have key players in their side. Yan Dhanda recently scored a professional contract this season and has scored eight goals in all competitions this season. Neil Critchley can also call upon forwards Toni Gomes and Ben Woodburn, with the latter scoring a memorable goal in the fourth round. The Reds’ U18s manager will have Conor Masterson available after he was rested for their 2-0 defeat at Wolves on Saturday. The Irish defender, 17, was on the bench for the first team in their 2-2 draw with Exeter in the FA Cup Third Round on 8 January. Liverpool will be without Corey Whelan, who is out for the remainder of the season with an ankle injury.
The Reds got knocked out to Birmingham City in the fifth round last season, but can they go step further against a side who will be looking to reach a second consecutive quarter-final?