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Kop factor spooks Shrews as Liverpool young guns progress

Shrewsbury 0 Liverpool 1

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Liverpool’s U-23 coach Neil Critchley celebrates with Adam Lewis. Photo: Reuters

Liverpool’s U-23 coach Neil Critchley celebrates with Adam Lewis. Photo: Reuters

REUTERS

Liverpool’s U-23 coach Neil Critchley celebrates with Adam Lewis. Photo: Reuters

What was all the fuss about? Far from undermining the FA Cup, Liverpool's youngsters delivered one of the most romantic tales of recent years.

The European champions progressing into the fifth round of the FA Cup with victory over Shrewsbury Town is hardly a surprise in normal circumstances.

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Shrewsbury Town’s Ro-Shaun Williams scores an own goal in his side’s FA Cup replay with Liverpool. Photo: Reuters

Shrewsbury Town’s Ro-Shaun Williams scores an own goal in his side’s FA Cup replay with Liverpool. Photo: Reuters

Action Images via Reuters

Of course, it was not as trivial as that. The scenes at the final whistle were akin to the Barcelona victory last May, exhausted red shirts receiving the adulation of the crowd.

The records will forever show how close Shrewsbury pushed the world and European champions, defeated by a Ro-Shaun Williams own goal early in the second half.

Wherever Jurgen Klopp was sitting watching this performance by a side with an average age of 19, his smile will be as beaming as much as any victory in this extraordinary season.

How they deserved it, and how Shrewsbury were left regrets.

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Liverpool's Ki-Jana Hoever fends off Shrewsbury Town's Callum Lang. Photo: PA

Liverpool's Ki-Jana Hoever fends off Shrewsbury Town's Callum Lang. Photo: PA

PA

Their manager Sam Ricketts claimed the absence of Klopp and his holiday-making senior stars cost his club £500,000.

Ricketts' challenge was to ensure his players did not play the venue or the jersey in front of them. But it was difficult to avoid the possibility they may have been more intimidated than necessary.

The visitors showed little ambition, as if they were trying to withstand Mo Salah rather than Canadian international Liam Millar.

The game was evolving as a poor advert for League One, Ricketts' side struggling to knit any passing patterns or pressurise an inexperienced defence, albeit we should note Ki-Jana Hoever and Sepp Van Der Berg are Dutch internationals and their technique demonstrated as much.

The gulf between the powerful and the rest is undeniably vast in resources, but many of the Liverpool team last night will forge their career in the lower levels.

There were times when it was the difference in coaching that was most obvious. This side was far weaker than that which played in the first tie, but at half-time Ricketts must have been demanding far more. There was the twist. In normal circumstances a goalless first half at Anfield for a side of Shrewsbury's standing would have been worthy of applause. On this occasion you felt it was the visitors who had to turn up after the break.

For Neil Critchley there must have been a sense of familiarity. The last time he took charge his youngsters dominated possession but showed their inexperience in each penalty area, unable to penetrate or resist pressure.

From the early stages it looked like a similar pattern might emerge, the thrust lacking where required in the final third. Right back Neco Williams went close in the first half with a drive across Max O'Leary, and Shrewsbury centre-back Ro-Shaun Williams and Ethan Ebanks-Landell looked uncomfortable every time Curtis Jones hovered with menace.

Shrewsbury's Williams left his mark on Jones with a hand on his nose, accidentally, and the youngest player to ever captain a Liverpool senior side took it on himself to leave his mark on the fixture - his backheels and a rabona cross a demonstration of his confidence.

Delivered

Ricketts must have delivered strong words at half-time as his players finally stopped being so deferential in the second half, no longer enablingLiverpool to control the tempo. However, Ireland youngster Caoimhín Kelleher was an assured pressence between the posts for the hosts.

Liverpool should have taken the lead early after a wonderful passing move again led to Welsh international right-back Williams, whose shot was saved by O'Leary.

Then momentum shifted and Shrewsbury thought they had struck just before the hour when Daniel Udoh broke clear on the left and David Edwards' shot was parried to Shaun Whalley, who headed in.

His celebrations ended when the video assistant referee intervened. Anything the first team can get with VAR, the juniors can master, the cynics observed.

The confidence of Shrewsbury grew with the standard of football, the 8,000 packed in the Anfield Road away section increasingly convinced Stamford Bridge would be their next destination. But The Kop was sent into raptures when Neco Williams' cross was misjudged by Williams and headed past O'Leary under pressure from Harvey Elliott.

The bid for five trophies in a season goes on. The regret for Liverpool is what difference even one first teamer would have made - Adam Lallana or Takumi Minamino, for example. Would it have hurt so much to compromise?

© Daily Telegraph, London

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