By Scott Taylor
Sheyi Ojo scored a hat-trick as Liverpool U21s beat relegation-threatened Middlesbrough 3-2 in the Barclays U21 Premier League on Monday evening. Arnel Jakupovic opened the scoring for Boro in the 13th minute before Ojo scored either side of half-time to put Michael Beale’s side 2-1 in front.
Jakupovic then equalised from the penalty spot in the 76th minute, and then, just like they did in their 2-1 win over Boro in February, Liverpool were awarded a last minute penalty. It was the same outcome as Ojo calmly converted, sending Middlesbrough goalkeeper Joseph Fryer the wrong way to complete his hat-trick and seal a dramatic win.
Beale fielded a strong team, with Danny Ward, Brad Smith, Pedro Chirivella and Ryan Kent all starting at Hartlepool’s Victoria Park.
After Alex O’Hanlon fired over in the early stages for Liverpool, Ward was then tested for the first time of the night, when he was alert to deny Thomas McAloon. However, the Wales goalkeeper was beaten moments later, when Jakupovic beat him in the air to head Robbie Tinkler’s cross into an empty net.
Liverpool responded with Madger Gomes firing just wide before Ojo, who was on loan at Wolves this season, levelled the tie in the 33rd minute. The winger burst past Jerome Sinclair on the overlap, who timed the pass to perfection and his first-time effort flew into the top corner.
Beale’s side ended the first half on top, with Smith causing confusion in the six-yard box, and Liverpool took that momentum into the second half. Kent’s free-kick wasn’t dealt with by Fryer, but he made amends with Joe Maguire waiting to pounce.
Their pressure eventually told seven minutes into the second half, when Ojo cut in from the left wing, and decided to shoot from a narrow angle. The ball evaded everyone and crept into the far corner to complete the turnaround.
Kent then missed a great chance to put his side in control as Fryer denied him with a strong save after a good individual run from the youngster. That proved to be the turning point as with 14 minutes left, Maguire brought down Callum Johnson in the penalty area and Jakupovic stepped up to equalise.
Just as Liverpool were heading for a draw, Jerome Sinclair was brought down going away from go and the Reds were awarded a penalty. Ojo then confidently stepped up, teasing the goalkeeper with a cautious run up, before firing into the right corner to give Liverpool their sixth win of the season.
Liverpool are next in league action on Friday, when they host second-placed Manchester United at Prenton Park, and a win over their arch-rivals can see them rise as high as fourth.
Liverpool XI: Ward; McLaughlin (Whelan 62’), Brewitt, Maguire, Smith; O’Hanlon, Chirivella; Kent, Gomes, Ojo; Sinclair (Trickett-Smith 90’).