By Scott Taylor
Yan Dhanda scored his eighth goal of the season for Liverpool U18s, but they suffered a 4-1 defeat to Reading at the Kirkby Academy on Saturday morning. Dhanda put the Reds ahead after just 66 seconds before two goals in five second half minutes from Sam Smith and Tyler Frost completed the comeback for the Royals. Smith then made it 3-1 with a controversial penalty before a mistake allowed Conor Davis to seal the result as Neil Critchley’s side suffer their third consecutive defeat.
The Liverpool manager made four changes from the FA Youth Cup defeat at Arsenal with Ben Woodburn, Kris Owens, Toni Gomes and Brooks Lenoon all missing out. Woodburn was on international duty with Wales U17 whilst both Gomes and Lennon were with the U21s.
This meant Dhanda was given a start, and he took his chance with less than two minutes on the clock. After latching onto a defence splitting pass from Ovie Ejaria, the forward took a touch before rounding Reading keeper Luke Southwood and firing into an empty net.
Liverpool almost doubled their lead in the 15th minute, when Adam Phillips curled his effort just over the crossbar. The England youth international turned provider for Dhanda but Southwood was alert and cleared the danger before any damage was done. In a half full of Liverpool chances, Paulo Alves went close as his effort flashed across the face of goal and out for a goal-kick.
Critchley’s side carried the momentum into the second half, with Ejaria firing a shot narrowly wide seven minutes after the interval. They were left to rue all these missed chances, as Teddy Howe crossed for Smith to head home an equaliser for the visitors moments later.
Shortly before the hour mark, Reading took the lead for the first time in the match. After his initial shot was blocked, Frost fired his 20-yard strike into the top corner leaving Shamal George with no chance.
Liverpool showed some fight when Dhanda had his shot cleared off the line, but proved to be the only chance, as Reading increased their lead midway through the second half. George was adjudged to have fouled Frost just inside the penalty area, much to the disagreement of the Liverpool players, but Smith stepped up to make it 3-1.
The afternoon went from bad to worse for Liverpool as a defensive mistake from George Johnston allowed Davis through on goal, and he made no mistake to seal a miserable result for the Reds. Critchley’s side have now lost both of their U18 Premier League play-off games and have it all to do if they are to win some silverware this season.
One of a few positives from the game was that Bobby Adekanye made his return with a late cameo performance. The former Barcelona starlet, 17, has been out for three months with injury and gained some valuable match fitness.
Liverpool U18s return to action with another mini-Merseyside derby against city rivals Everton on 9 April, with Liverpool having one win and a draw against the Toffees this season.
Liverpool XI: George; Alexander-Arnold, Masterson (Johnston), Whelan, Lewis (Owens); Coyle, Kane (Adekanye); Alves, Phillips, Ejaria; Dhanda.