By Scott Taylor
Martin Skrtel was sent off for ten-man Liverpool U21s as they were knocked out of the U21 Premier Cup, losing 3-2 to West Ham in the semi-finals. Pedro Chirivella opened the scoring for the visitors in the tenth minute before Doneil Henry equalised for the Hammers eight minutes into the second half. After the game went into extra-time, Marcus Browne completed the comeback to put West Ham ahead in the 105th minute, until Sheyi Ojo equalised five minutes later with his sixth goal of the season. However, Stephen Hendrie restored the hosts advantage almost immediately as the ten men of Liverpool crashed out of the Premier Cup.
Michael Beale fielded an extremely strong side as they looked to set up a final with Hull City, playing Martin Skrtel, Jon Flanagan, Adam Bogdan and Joao Teixeira in the starting line-up. However, he was to be without top-scorer Jerome Sinclair, who was injured in the warm-up and replaced by Ryan McLaughlin.
Despite this, it was Liverpool who started brighter and took the lead in the early stages. The Spaniard, who signed a new long-term contract this week, linked up well with Ryan Kent, behind slotting in into the far corner from 20 yards out. Hammers goalkeeper Raphael Spiegel has to be at his best to deny Kent four minutes later, after he was played in by Cameron Brannagan.
Jon Flanagan was replaced by Sam Hart at half-time, and this affected the game, with West Ham starting the second half on the front foot, with Moses Makasi forcing Adam Bogdan into a strong save. The Hungarian goalkeeper was beaten in the 53rd minute though, when the ball was rebounded to Henry, who fired into the roof of the net to make it 1-1. Browne could have put the hosts ahead for the first time in the match, but he spurned his chance.
Kent and Teixeira had two great opportunities to finish the time in normal time, but they both wasted them as the game went into an additional 30 minutes.
Substitute Hart thought he had put Liverpool ahead went his shot fired past Spiegel, but it was denied by the crossbar. This chance looked to be a turning point in the tie, as Browne put the Hammers ahead with 15 minutes left.
Liverpool’s task of turning round the tie became evening harder when experienced centre-back Skrtel received his second yellow of the match and Beale’s side were down to ten men. Despite this, they found the equaliser six minutes later, Ojo confidently chipping the ball over the onrushing Spiegel to level the tie.
Seconds later, West Ham found themselves back in front, when Hendrie fired past Bogdan as the game entered its final ten minutes. Goalscorer Browne was sent off the hosts, but Liverpool could not break down a rigid West Ham defence, who sealed their place in the U21 Premier Cup final.
Liverpool XI: Bogdan; Randall (O’Hanlon 90’), Skrtel, Maguire, Flanagan (Hart 45’); Chirivella (Gomes 105’), Brannagan; McLaughlin, Teixeira, Ojo; Kent.