Liverpool are through to the fifth round of the FA Cup after the club’s youngest-ever side beat Shrewsbury Town 1-0 in Tuesday’s fourth-round replay at Anfield.
Former Manchester United academy player Ro-Shaun Williams’ 75th-minute own goal proved to be the difference, moments after the League One visitors saw David Edwards’ header ruled out by VAR.
Head coach Jurgen Klopp had been accused of disrespecting the cup when he chose to honour the mid-season Premier League break by sending all his stars on holiday rather than play in this game.
But their replacements did themselves, Klopp and the club proud with a performance full of confidence and commitment which belied their tender years.
With an average age of 19 years and 102 days, three debutants, 36 senior appearances between them and squad numbers ranging from 46 to 93 this was a very inexperienced team at any level never mind a somewhat controversial cup tie in front of almost 53,000 at Anfield.
There was at least some first-team representation at the match with James Milner, who has remained behind to continue his rehabilitation work at Melwood rather than going away, sat in the first row behind the dugout.
Kick-off was delayed by 15 minutes due to an accident closing the M62 motorway, which immediately prompted numerous jokes on social media about the Liverpool youngsters being out late on a school night.
Coincidentally a number of these players were scheduled for an ‘education’ session on Wednesday morning but for this night it was Shrewsbury who got a schooling.
When striker Liam Millar, a Canada international with eight caps, robbed Ethan Ebanks-Landell just outside his own penalty area in the first couple of minutes, the tone was set.
The youngsters buzzed about the Anfield pitch not overawed by, for most, the biggest occasion of their short careers and dominated possession – as high as 78 per cent in the first half.
They were not lacking in confidence either with first-half individual highlights of Curtis Jones, who became Liverpool’s youngest captain at the age of 19 years and five days, including a drag-back nutmeg on Ro-Shaun Williams and a rabona cross.
But they lacked a cutting edge, right-back Neco Williams going closest with an angled drive wide of the far post, and with the visitors – starting 10 players from the original tie – showing little intent to go forward, the half ended goalless.
Attacking the Kop in the second half the impressive Neco Williams should probably have scored soon after the break but was denied by goalkeeper Max O’Leary’s outstretched foot, coming just seconds after Callum Lang’s rare foray into the Liverpool penalty area ended with him going down after a tangle with Ki-Jana Hoever.
If playing at Anfield was a new experience for Liverpool’s side, VAR was a novelty for Shrewsbury and it came to the hosts’ rescue on the hour when Shaun Whalley nodded in Edwards’ rebounded shot only for the referral to rule it out for offside.
Harvey Elliott and Jones both fluffed a close-range range attempts as the home side began to add some threat to their dominance but when the goal eventually arrived it came with some considerable assistance.
Neco Williams’ long ball forward was aimed at Elliott but namesake Ro-Shaun intervened, heading back over his own goalkeeper from the edge of his own penalty area.
It was then credit to Liverpool’s youngsters that they saw out the remainder of the game with few alarms and were still attacking in added time.
Chelsea at Stamford Bridge await in the last 16, when Klopp and some of his first-team stars will be back.