MK Dons 0-2 Liverpool: Youngsters turn on the heat as Reds cruise into fourth-round
Photo: Getty Images - Chloe Knott

Youth and experience came to the fore at the Stadium MK as Liverpool cruised into the fourth round of the Carabao Cup following a comfortable 2-0 victory against MK Dons.

James Milner opened the scoring before setting up KI-Jana Hoever - a player almost half the age of the Liverpool skipper on the night - as the 17-year-old defender plundered home an accomplished header to bag himself his first-ever goal for the club making the Dutch youngster the fourth-youngest scorer in the club's history.

Both parties can be seen as winners on the night, especially with the home side reaping the benefits of the European champions coming to town as the visit of the Premier League leaders attracted a sell-out crowd of 28,521, a 300 per cent increase from their previous home match, a 1-0 defeat to Southend on Saturday.

This meant it was hardly surprising that chants of “you’re only here to see the European champions” being flung around the groud which was not entirely misplaced in this perspective despite not one of Liverpool's Champions League final XI members making the trip to Buckinghamshire as Jürgen Klopp looked to seriously test the bulk of his squad. 

In fact, quite surprisingly there were only six of Klopp's senior players included in the matchday squad, with four of the club's most exciting youngsters being given their first competitive starts for the Reds.

The most noticeable of those young debutants was none other than Harvey Elliott. Never before in Liverpool's illustrious history had a player of his age - 16 years and 174 days - been thrown into the deep end right from the off in a competitive match and it was a testament to Klopp seeing if the former Fulham youngster would sink or swim.

Here the prodigy made his first senior appearance since departing Craven Cottage to join his boyhood club, it wasn't even the first major record for the teenager to break with Elliott also recently becoming the youngest ever player to ever feature in the competition last season.

The much-awaited bout of Golden Boy Rhian Brewster was finally in action after becoming a national phenomenon following his efforts in inspiring England U17's to become World Cup champions in 2017, grabbing the Golden Boot award along the way. 

Irish goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher was also being given his first Liverpool start after impressing on several occasions for Neil Critchley's U23's side. With Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino all given the night off by Klopp, Liverpool's attacking trident was led by a trio of teenagers with Brewster and Elliott joined by 18-year-old and U23's captain Curtis Jones.

The story of the match

The hosts made six changes of their own following the defeat to Southend defeat, with the Dons looking to repeat history with a similar giant-killing display that saw them stun the world by obliterating Manchester United 4-0 in the same competition back in 2015.

The hosts even threatened to repeat history early on when Conor McGrandles had the goal gaping at his mercy only to smash his effort over the bar after Sam Nombe and robbed Dejan Lovren from possession. It was the Croatian international's first start of the season for the Reds and his rustiness showed against the impressive Nombe. 

Two minutes later Liverpool went even closer after Milner glided forward from his once familiar left-back position smashed across a low trickling ball towards the back post which just eluded the foot of the oncoming Elliott. 

The agony in Elliott's eyes was clear to see and it was obvious how desperate the teenager was to announce himself to the club he has adored throughout his young life.

However, confidence is not something that is lacking from the youngster's game, nor quality and he continued to torment and cause chaos down on the right channel. Elliott then produced a mouth-watering passage of skill after nonchalantly rolling the ball between two Dons players, darting infield and measuring out a sumptuous cross towards Milner who failed to direct the header home and missed the target.

This seemed to energise the visitors and gift the young starlets with belief. Jones began to show his worth in the first half showing flourishes of brilliance from the Liverpool local lad and even produced a venomous shot that forced a decent save from Stuart Moore.

The youthful promise was beginning to glisten but amid all the youthful promise on display, Liverpool required their seasoned veterans to eventually get the ball rolling. When a poor clearance fell straight to the feet of Milner just on the crisp of MK Don's box, the Liverpool captain decided to attempt to strike gold and rifled a shot that was too hot to handle for Moore who fumbled Milner's token gesture over his goalline. 

Paul Tisdale appeared bemused on the sidelines and despite being outplayed by the exuberance of Klopp's youthful side, the Dons manager knew his team were still in this. The 46-year-old was right to think so having previously held FIFA's Coach of the Year in the FA Cup with his Exeter City side back in January 2016.

After play had resumed in the second half Liverpool should have had the game quickly put to bed after Elliott burst clear once again but struck his shot into the side netting. The hosts, to their credit, briefly hinted at signs of a comeback, Jordan Bowery looking to level the odds after seeing his strike kiss the outside of the post before being cleared by Liverpool's defence. 

In the end, it wasn't to be for Tisdale and his side after Hoever tidied up matters for Liverpool and dealt the Dons their final nail in the coffin with a wonderfully worked goal. Milner created the move with a hanging cross that stayed in the air for what felt like an eternity before the 17-year-old leapt between George Williams and Joe Walsh to head superbly into the net for his first Liverpool goal. The travelling Kop made their feelings clear at the delight felt for one of the club's most promising young players. 

MK Dons still refused to give in and inflicted some late scares of their own, Kelleher was able to keep his clean sheet in-tact after foiling Bowery's shot before Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain danced upfield before cannoning a long-range that struck the outside of the post. 

The victory ensured Liverpool progress to the fourth round of the Carabao Cup for the first time in three seasons and their reward is a home tie against Arsenal in the following round in a few week's time. 

The major question now will be whether Klopp will be keen to reward the faith of his players who certainly played above their years tonight.

 

 

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