Liverpool reached the FA Cup fourth round with a comfortable victory over a Covid-affected Aston Villa - but it took until the second half to get on top of a home side made up of academy players with no first-team experience.
But despite conceding in the fourth-minute when Sadio Mane headed in, they remained resolute in defence for the rest of the half and then stunned the visitors when 17-year-old Louie Barry equalised.
The England Under-17 striker, born just a few miles from Villa Park, signed for the club last January for more than £800,000 having had a spell with Barcelona’s academy. His composed finish four minutes before the break was as assured as what would be expected from Lionel Messi.
Unfortunately for Villa, the youngsters tired while the Reds exerted more pressure in the second half, scoring three goals in a five-minute spell after the break.
Georginio Wijnaldum stroked in Liverpool’s second on the hour mark before Mane looped in a header and Mohamed Salah struck home a low shot from inside the area.
Youngsters provide silver lining for Villa
A penny for the thoughts of the Villa youngsters when they were told they would be lining up against the likes of Salah, Mane and Jordan Henderson.
The club’s chief executive Christian Purslow explained how, on Thursday, the staff had to find enough players from the under-23s and under-18s to come up with a matchday squad. Those players then had to have Covid-19 tests - thankfully for Villa the results all came back negative on Friday morning. Purslow said that many of the players were so young that their “mums and dads would be dropping them off at Villa Park”.
There were four players in the first XI who had recently hit driving age, 17, and midfielder Benjamin Chrisene was the youngest of the crop at just 16.
Stand-in manager Delaney looked as startled as those reading the teamsheet when he gave his pre-match interview. He knew his mixed bag of youth players had little to no chance of taking their opponents to even extra time, however they did perform better than some would have expected and the goal from Barry will have lifted spirits at the club.
The confidence shown by the teenager to get in front of defender Rhys Williams and stroke the ball past Caoimhin Kelleher was superb, as was the throughball from Callum Rowe.
His team-mates were equally outstanding. Keeper Akos Onodi, 19, made brilliant stops to deny Curtis Jones and Salah, while the defence in front of him prevented the Hungarian from having an even busier night, with skipper Dominic Revan and Mungo Bridge both excellent.
Villa’s realistic hopes of progressing were dashed before kick-off, but the youth on show provided a silver lining.
- 46WalkerSubstituted forRoweat 75′minutes
- 47RoweSubstituted forSwinkelsat 75′minutes
- 67RaikhySubstituted forSohnaat 65′minutes
- 69Dialla Sylla
- 70BogardeSubstituted forLindleyat 66′minutes
- 57ChriseneSubstituted forYoungat 61′minutes
- 76N Williams
- 46R Williams
- 17JonesBooked at 44minsSubstituted forFirminoat 61′minutes
- 14HendersonSubstituted forThiago Alcántaraat 45′minutes
- 11SalahSubstituted forOxlade-Chamberlainat 74′minutes
- 10ManéSubstituted forOrigiat 74′minutes
- 18MinaminoSubstituted forShaqiriat 61′minutes
- 6Thiago Alcántara
- Craig Pawson
Match ends, Aston Villa 1, Liverpool 4.
Second Half ends, Aston Villa 1, Liverpool 4.
Attempt missed. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Liverpool) right footed shot from outside the box is close, but misses to the left. Assisted by Roberto Firmino.
Corner, Liverpool. Conceded by Sil Swinkels.
Corner, Liverpool. Conceded by Kaine Hayden.
Corner, Liverpool. Conceded by Kaine Hayden.
Thiago (Liverpool) hits the bar with a right footed shot from outside the box. Assisted by Divock Origi.
Attempt missed. Roberto Firmino (Liverpool) right footed shot from the centre of the box misses to the right. Assisted by Xherdan Shaqiri with a cross.
Attempt missed. Roberto Firmino (Liverpool) right footed shot from the left side of the box is close, but misses to the left. Assisted by James Milner.
Foul by Xherdan Shaqiri (Liverpool).
Mamadou Dialla Sylla (Aston Villa) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt saved. Divock Origi (Liverpool) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the top centre of the goal. Assisted by Thiago.
Substitution, Aston Villa. Edward Rowe replaces Jake Walker.
Substitution, Aston Villa. Sil Swinkels replaces Callum Rowe.
Substitution, Liverpool. Divock Origi replaces Sadio Mané.
Substitution, Liverpool. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain replaces Mohamed Salah.
Foul by Roberto Firmino (Liverpool).
Dominic Revan (Aston Villa) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Offside, Liverpool. James Milner tries a through ball, but Sadio Mané is caught offside.
Corner, Liverpool. Conceded by Dominic Revan.
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