No matter the age group, you don’t want to lose a Merseyside Derby — and the passion on both sides showed it.
Like many a senior match lately, the mini-Derby was delayed by 10 minutes as a large number of fans were stuck outside the ground in Southport, though it’s unclear if this was a ticketing-related delay or a delay based on COVID protocols. Either way, a heartening number of fans made the trip to support the youngsters in the first Merseyside Derby of the season.
The Liverpool U23s dominated the first half, with both Kaide Gordon and Sheyi Ojo causing a number of problems for Everton on either flank. The experience and confidence of the Liverpool centerbacks Rhys Williams and Billy Koumetio came in handy during the few counter-attacking chances the Everton youngsters’ managed, but it was the Everton goal that looked firmly under threat.
The young Blues had some trouble playing out of the back, and misplaced passes led to a few Liverpool chances and last-ditch clearances by Everton — including one off the line by Joe Anderson off a promising shot by Matt Woltman.
After Everton’s most promising break was flagged for offside, Liverpool once again pinned the Blues back in their own half, and Joe Anderson was once again forced into a panicked clearance — this time over his own crossbar, though Anderson didn’t look to have much say in where he was putting the ball.
Following a second clearance off the line and a subsequent effort pulled wide by Gordon, Ojo finally breaks the deadlock in the 39th minute. Ojo, who looked bright throughout the half, put a low finish under the goalkeeper from just inside the area.
The second half started well, if slightly less attacking, with Liverpool taking advantage of Everton mistakes — the young Blues, who must have come out in the second half knowing they would need to be better on the ball, managed to lose possession three times in the opening minutes.
Williams was immense early in the center off defense, with Everton finding themselves unable to win anything in the air. While Liverpool are less front-footed than in the first half, they nonetheless increase their lead through a Kaide Gordon effort that the goalkeeper perhaps should have saved.
Fifteen minutes into the second half, Everton manage their first effort on goal: a quite tame effort that is easily saved.
After substitutions that injected some energy into the Blues’ side, Raphael Garcia scored his first ever Premier League 2 goal after going through on goal to push Everton back into the game. The substitute will be happy with his composure, as he had a lot of time 1v1 with the goalkeeper after his tight run was ruled onside.
Undeterred, the Reds almost restored their two-goal lead through Jake Cain, who puts an errant clearance over the bar. Minutes later Gordon has another chance, which is this time saved by Zek Luk Leban. At this point even the Everton commentators were forced to concede that Gordon “has a bright future in front of him; [he is] a really very good player” (though they unfortunately appeared convinced his first name was Kaiden, rather than Kaide, throughout).
By midway through the second half the game felt more open: even if the Reds had more of the chances — and created better chances — Everton found themselves with hope a few times, and the Reds’ play felt far less assured. While the first half felt calm and confident, by the final 20 minutes the match felt like a contest.
The phase of an open contest was neatly put to bed at 78’ as Max Woltman turns a Conor Bradley cross into Liverpool’s third goal on the evening. Though Everton had one final chance that came to naught, the scoreline accurately reflects the feeling of the game.