U18s boss Neil Critchley: "Plenty left to play for despite FA Youth Cup loss"

Liverpool U18s manager Neil Critchley has insisted his side have plenty to play for this season, despite being knocked out of the FA Youth Cup on Friday night.

The Young Reds could not edge past Birmingham City in the Fifth Round, despite taking them to extra-time. Jerome Sinclair's individual brilliance put the hosts ahead after half-an-hour before George O'Neill levelled the scores before half-time. Sam Deadfield gave the Blues the lead at Chester FC's Deva Stadium, before substitute Ovie Ejaria made it 2-2 with 13 minutes left. 

But it was the visitors who emerged victorious, when Kieran Dunbar was the first to a rebound inside the area, securing a narrow 3-2 win for Birmingham.

Yet Critchley, who came to Melwood from Crewe Alexandra's Academy last summer, feels his side have a lot left to achieve this season despite the disappointment of Friday night's result. 

"We were one nil up and in complete control, they hadn’t been near our goal really and then we make a needless mistake and they’ve equalised out of nothing," said 36-year-old Critchley. "Then we didn’t defend well at a throw in (to go 2-1 behind) but our response after that was first class, fantastic. We put everything into the game and deservedly equalised."

"I felt we could have won it in normal time but for all our possession and all our play we probably didn’t work the goalkeeper enough. Great credit to them, they were well organised, well set up, plenty of bodies behind the ball and wholly committed."

Regardless of the blow of elimination from a prestigious competition at youth level, Critchley insisted there were still positives to take from the loss.

"Tonight’s a really frustrating game for us and a big disappointment in lots of ways. In lots of ways the performance was much better than against Derby (5-2 win in round four), how we played, but the scoreline went against us.

"I can’t fault the lads‘ commitment and the effort, they put so much into the game. I thought their desire and the way we tried to play and tried to win the game was first class. Some nights you get them nights and it was unfortunate it’s one of them for us," he said.

Critchley added: "Lots of them boys will be involved in the under 19s Youth Champions League against Benfica away in February, the last 16 of that competition, so that will be a big game.

"You saw lots of the boys being involved with the under 21s against Man United on Monday night. Lots of the boys will hopefully push on and get an opportunity to play at that level which will give more of our boys from under 16 the chance to play at under 18. You saw Trent (Arnold) come on tonight as an under 16 and another boy Herbie Kane was in the squad."

In addition, Critchley was impressed with the performance of Ovie Ejaria, who came on for the injured Jerome Sinclair shortly in the 63rd minute and made his mark. Ejaria was at the heart of Liverpool's creativity in the final third, scoring a well-worked second goal and almost adding to his tally in extra-time.

The 17-year-old midfielder, who joined from Arsenal last summer, is another 

who replaced the injured Jerome Sinclair in the 63rd minute and found himself at the heart of much of Liverpool’s best chances for the rest of the night, including scoring an excellent second goal and almost snatching a very late equaliser.

The 17-year-old midfielder was recruited last summer after nine years with Arsenal, is clearly well-thought of by Critchley, who said: "He’s got a lovely profile, he’s got some terrific talent, a special talent. We’ve been encouraging him to get forward and get into the box more because he doesn’t probably score enough goals for the ability he’s got.

"He scored that lovely second goal, real composure in the box and he had the chance right at the death to equalise, It would have been nice for him to get that one. But we love having Ovie with us and look forward to working with him in the future."