Saturday 24 February 2018

Klopp's babies shine while main men rest up

West Brom 1 Liverpool1

Liverpool's Brad Smith and West Brom's Jonathan Leko battle for the ball. Photo:Paul Burrows/Reuters
Liverpool's Brad Smith and West Brom's Jonathan Leko battle for the ball. Photo:Paul Burrows/Reuters
Liverpool's Christian Benteke breaks away from West Brom's Claudio Yacob at the Hawthrons. Photo: Paul Burrows/Reuters
Liverpool's manager Jurgen Klopp applauds his players during the Barclays Premier League match at The Hawthorns. Photo: Clint Hughes/PA
West Bromwich Albion's James McClean (right) and Liverpool's Cameron Brannagan battle for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match at The Hawthorns. Photo: Clint Hughes/PA

Steve Madeley

With a moving nod to the past, sharp focus on the future and minimal interest in the present; Liverpool's Premier League season ended with the handbrake on at The Hawthorns.

With his club's gaze fixed firmly on Basel on Wednesday and the final of the Europa League, Jurgen Klopp collected a point of little relevance at West Brom with a line-up that will bear no relation to the side that will tackle Sevilla in midweek.

West Brom led through Salomon Rondon's 13th-minute goal and did enough in the second half to deserve a winner, but Rondon was unable to add to his 10 goals for the season.

That left both sides content with a point from a game that lacked any real intensity but featured a fine equaliser from Jordon Ibe.

The travelling Reds supporters could look forward to the week in the knowledge that their manager had, sensibly, risked none of the key figures from his European side.

And they caught a glimpse of the youngsters that could be stars in the longer term.

They included Danny Ings, making his first appearance since October, and Ibe, who bagged a magnificent first Premier League goal.

They also witnessed in a touching gesture from West Brom, who marked the Liverpool fans' victory in the recent Hillsborough inquest with 96 unoccupied red seats and a pre-match floral tribute.

"We made a few changes - 11," smiled Klopp, whose senior players trained at Melwood while the second string played in the Midlands.

"It absolutely made sense because it's perfectly clear you cannot play here with 50 pc concentration.

"I know about playing finals and it would have been quite difficult for the players. It was clear it was going to be quite intense.

"The young boys did really well and we played football. The problem would be if we came with other players and they were already with their mind on the next game. That would be absolutely normal, we cannot change this."

Jordan Henderson made his comeback after more than a month out with a knee injury and could now figure in midweek, although Klopp was cagey about the England man's hopes of starting in Basel.

After an uneventful opening spell, it was West Brom's new young hero who brought the crowd to life by creating the opening goal on 13 minutes.

Jonathan Leko, a 17-year-old forward signed by Albion as a schoolboy after arriving from DR Congo as a refugee, seized on Joe Allen's poor pass, rode two challenges with fine balance and picked out Rondon.

The Venezuelan still had plenty to do but made his low, drilled finish look easy.

But Ibe then went one better with a wonderful solo goal to level the scores on 23 minutes.

His superb dummy on the right touchline left Jonny Evans for dead, with the Liverpool wideman racing 50 yards into the box, side-stepping Jonas Olsson and placing a shot past Ben Foster.

At times the match resembled a testimonial but there were moments of promise in a largely uninspiring second half.

Craig Gardner delivered an excellent free-kick from which Rondon glanced a header against the far post.

It was the same combination again when Gardner's corner found Rondon, whose first shot was fluffed but whose second effort drew a smart save from Adam Bogdan in the Liverpool goal.

The game appeared to be petering out until the closing stages, when Christian Benteke should have engineered a Liverpool winner when he burst away with Henderson unmarked inside him.

But the Belgian's indecision allowed Gareth McAuley to get back and make a challenge to protect West Brom's point and leave manager Tony Pulis reflecting on a satisfactory season, even if there is discontent among some fans about the lack of entertainment.

"It's fantastic," he said. "It's the only West Midlands club in the Premier League next year, so we've got something to be proud of.

"We have finished 14th in the Premier League and that's great credit to the players and everyone connected to the football club.

"The problem you get sometimes is that people can get a little bit blasé about things or complacent, because you just have a look at the size of the teams who have gone down this year, then look what we've done." (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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