Caoimhín Kelleher keeps clean sheet as Liverpool cruise through

Young Irish goalkeeper pulled off some impressive saves in win over MK Dons

Liverpool’s goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher during the Carabao Cup, Third Round match against MK Dons at Stadium MK, Milton Keynes. Photo: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

Liverpool’s goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher during the Carabao Cup, Third Round match against MK Dons at Stadium MK, Milton Keynes. Photo: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

 

Milton Keynes Dons 0 Liverpool 2

Liverpool cruised into the fourth round of the Carabao Cup thanks to a combination of youth and experience. James Milner opened the scoring at Stadium MK before setting up a goal for Ki-Jana Hoever, a player almost half his age. The 17-year-old Dutch defender finished the chance like an accomplished striker, heading powerfully into the net.

The visit of the Premier League leaders attracted a sell-out crowd of 28,521, an increase of more than 300 per cent on the turnout for MK Dons’ last match here, Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Southend. So chants of “you’re only here to see the European champions,” would hardly have been misplaced, except that none of the players who started last season’s Champions League final made the trip to Buckinghamshire. Instead, and notwithstanding the six distinguished senior players that were included in the visiting ranks, this was more like a preview of Liverpool’s future, with five of the club’s most exciting youngsters making their first starts.

Never before in Liverpool’s rich history has a player as young as Harvey Elliott – age 16 years and 174 days – begun a competitive match for the club’s senior team. Here the prodigy made his first senior appearance since joining in the summer from Fulham, with whom he already made history last season by becoming the youngest player ever to feature for anyone in this competition. The other debutants were 20-year-old goalkeeper Caoimhín Kelleher and the striker Rhian Brewster, who has been tipped for stardom since winning the golden boot while helping England Under-17s become world champions two years ago. With Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané all left at home, Liverpool’s attack was led by a trio of teenagers here, with Brewster and Elliott joined by 18-year-old Curtis Jones.

Milner puts Liverpool 1-0 up. Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images
Milner puts Liverpool 1-0 up. Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images

MK Dons, with six changes from the Southend defeat, were determined to be more than supporting cast members in the Liverpool road show. The hosts nearly stole the limelight with a nice attack in the 11th minute, which ended with Conor McGrandles whacking a shot just over the bar from 12 yards after Sam Nombe had relieved Dejan Lovren of the ball. Two minutes later Liverpool went even closer, with Milner dancing forward from left-back to smash a low pass across the face of goal. This looked like being Elliott’s moment to announce himself to the masses – but he slammed his shot against the bar from six yards.

But evidently Elliott does not lack confidence. Nor quality. He continued to threaten down the right with skill and enterprise. He produced a marvellous piece of play in the 26th minute, trapping the ball out wide before spinning past a defender, darting infield and measuring out a cross to Milner, who sent a plunging header inches wide.

Between those two chances there were some flourishes from Jones, who forced a save from Stuart Moore after making space for a crisply struck shot.

On the half-hour Milner presented Brewster with a chance to open the scoring but the teenager could not get a decisive connection on the cross from just a few yards out.

Amid all the youthful promise on display, Liverpool needed luck and a veteran to break through. When a poor clearance fell to Milner just outside the corner of the home box, his shot seemed like little more than a token gesture until Moore fumbled it over the line.

At half-time Paul Tisdale could at least tell his team that although they had been outplayed, they were still in the game. Elliot should have taken it away from then within five minutes of the resumption but fired into the side netting after another weak defensive clearance. The hosts briefly hinted at a comeback, Jordan Bowery poking a shot off the outside of the post from close range. But Hoever soon tidied up matters for Liverpool with a wonderful goal. Milner created it by hanging up a cross to the back post, where the 17-year-old leapt between George Williams and Joe Walsh to head superbly into the net from eight yards.

MK Dons inflicted some late scares, with Cork native Kelleher making two late saves. First Kelleher saved a fierce 20 yard drive from Jordan Bowery in the 71st minute and then the 20-year-old produced a stunning save with his legs to deflect away a close range header from Bowery five minutes later. – Guardian

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