U21 Report: City 1 Liverpool 1
Showing increasing maturity in the competitive environment of the Barclays Under-21 Premier League, Steve Beaglehole’s young side produced some superb football against their top flight opponents, only narrowly missing out on what would have been a merited victory.
Dominant during the first half, the young Foxes edged in front shortly after the interval when Tom Hopper nodded in a Harry Panayiotou cross.
But they were pegged back by a talented Reds side, who levelled the scores just two minutes later through Joao Teixeira’s fine free-kick.
With the first team not in action for nearly two weeks, Beaglehole was again able to blend some senior experience into his young side, with Anthony Knockaert and Zoumana Bakayogo starting in a team captained by goalkeeper Conrad Logan.
Lifted by the presence of a big home following, the young Foxes started at a great tempo – pressing Liverpool possession all over the pitch before breaking with pace and purpose.
2013 Academy Player of the Year Michael Cain was rarely far from the action, charging down the right on 12 minutes before producing an incisive cross that was nearly converted by trialist Stefan Smiljanic.
Knockaert hurried around the pitch enthusiastically, taking responsibility in possession wherever possible and teasing Liverpool defenders throughout, breaking briefly on 17 minutes to curl a dangerous shot just over. Alie Sesay was a dominant presence in defence, winning aerial battles and regularly stepping out to seize possession.
Irritated by their hosts’ first-half superiority, the Reds were rarely able to apply attacking pressure, though Swedish winger Kristoffer Peterson did force a solid save from Logan on 37 after driving past young Callum Elder down the right.
But the Foxes remained the primary aggressors before half-time – the tireless Hopper finding a way past two defenders from the right before setting up Panayiotou for a shot from range that was only marginally off-target.
Frustrated as they headed off for the break, Liverpool emerged with vigour after the interval and were within a whisker of opening the scoring when Jack Dunn rattled the base of Logan’s left-hand post within two minutes.
But it was the Foxes that finally made the breakthrough five minutes later, as Panayiotou’s inviting cross from the right was nodded expertly past Reds ‘keeper Dan Ward by the arriving Hopper.
The goal was met with widespread approval by the home supporters in attendance, but Liverpool’s reply was swift and classy.
Awarded a foul for Ryan Watson’s trip on their adventurous full-back Ryan McLaughlin wide on the left, the Reds drew level from the subsequent free-kick, whipped brilliantly over the wall and inside the near post by the right foot of Teixeira.
The young Portuguese almost gave his side the lead 12 minutes later when he turned with the ball in space 30 yards out, but his dipping, swerving drive was worked round the post by Logan.
And the City skipper was called into action again with 13 minutes to go – racing out to block strongly from Adam Morgan from a tight angle.
But it was the Foxes that would come closest to winning it late-on, as Hopper found substitute Joe Dodoo, whose run and shot from the left flank deserved better than to hit the base of the post.
City (4-2-3-1): Logan (c); Watson, Sesay, Bakayogo, Elder; Cain, McCourt; Knockaert (Paratore 83), Panayiotou, Smiljanic (Dodoo 46); Hopper.
Unused subs: Ngoma, Smith, Daniels.
Goals: Hopper 52
Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Ward; Sama, Jones, Kelly (c), McLaughlin; Lussey, Rossiter; Peterson (Brannagan 75), Dunn, Teixeira; Morgan.
Unused subs: Maguire, Mersin, Baio.
Goals: Teixeira 54
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