Liverpool Under-21s suffered a heavy but harsh defeat to Bolton Wanderers on Tuesday night to all but confirm they would exit this year’s Papa John’s Trophy at the group-stages.
Elijah Dixon-Bonner scored a consolation for Barry Lewtas’ side, who included first teamer and former White Nat Phillips as captain, midway through the second half, but it wasn’t enough to stage a late comeback as the League One outfit clinched a comfortable 4-1 win.
Despite the emphatic nature of the scoreline, a young Liverpool side did perform well at the University of Bolton Stadium as they passed the ball around well, but lacking a killer edge in the final third, inexperience cost them as Ian Evatt’s side ran out winners thanks to goals from former Premier League striker Nathan Delfouneso, a brace from substitute Amadou Bakayoko and a Jarrell Quansah own goal.
The Reds started well as both sides exchanged early efforts from distance, Delfouneso firing straight at Marcelo Pitaluga from an acute angle before Quansah burst forward and saw a curling strike gathered by Gilks.
But after an even opening quarter, Bolton began to turn the screw with Liverpool having Phillips to thank for the scores remaining level with the centre-back, who would see a shot of his own blocked at the other end minutes later, putting his body on the line to block a fierce, first-time Josh Sheehan shot.
However, the Reds’ salvation did not last for long as Delfouneso headed the hosts ahead shortly before the half-hour mark, getting in front of his man to knock home a well-executed Harry Brockbank cross from close-range.
Elias Kachunga could have doubled Bolton’s lead soon after when receiving the ball outwide on the right, only for his drilled effort to fly narrowly wide of the far post.
Liverpool finished the half strongly as they put together a great passing move only for substitute Isaac Mbaya, who had replaced the injured Matteo Ritaccio midway through the half, picked the wrong final ball and failed to pick out a team-mate with a low cutback when he was well-placed to shoot himself.
The Reds then looked to pounce on two poor kicks from goalkeeper Matt Gilks but were unable to take advantage, with Dixon-Bonner shooting wide across goal after being fed on the edge of the box by Dominic Corness.
Liverpool continued to press either side of the interval and created a number of half-chances without threatening Gilks, with Tyler Morton failing to break into the box when running onto a Phillips through-ball, Max Woltman seeing a low cross cleared before miscontrolling a long pass after a swift counter-attack looked to expose Bolton.
And that lack of killer-edge cost the Reds on the hour-mark as the Whites doubled their lead with substitute Bakayoko converting from close-range, tapping home a low Liam Gordon cross following good play from Delfouneso.
Phillips nearly scored an own goal moments later, heading behind at the near post when stooping low from a corner before Pitaluga produced a fine reflex save to deny Bakayoko from close-range.
However, the Brazilian could do little to keep out Bolton’s third as Quansah inadvertently deflected a low cross into his own net.
Dixon-Bonner missed a great chance to pull one back midway through the half after finding himself unmarked at the far post, nudging the ball wide when he should have at least hit the target from a Morton cross.
But he made amends soon after, doing well to turn Alex Baptiste before drilling across goal into the bottom corner.
Lewtas sent on in-form Under-18s striker Oakley Cannonier with 15 minutes left on the clock as Liverpool looked to stage a late comeback, however, any such hopes were quickly extinguished when Pitaluga brought down Mitchell Henry inside the box.
Bakayoko stepped up to take the spot-kick and while the Brazilian got a hand to what was a weak effort, it still squeezed in to restore Bolton’s three-goal lead.
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There was still time for Morton to fire a free-kick over the crossbar before Cannonier rushed a strike after getting in behind the host’s defence, scuffing his effort wide when well-placed.
And that was the closest Liverpool came to a late consolation as the defeat leaves them bottom of the group.
However, Lewtas’ side do live to fight another day in the tournament, just, courtesy of Port Vale’s last-minute winner against Rochdale, meaning they could still mathematically progress, even if it would require an unlikely set of results and hefty goal difference swing on the final matchday next month when the young Reds travel to Port Vale.
LIVERPOOL (4-4-2): Pitaluga; Wilson (Koumetio 67), Phillips, Quansah, Gallacher; Morton, Ritaccio (Mabaya 25), Corness, Dixon-Bonner; Bearne, Woltman (Cannonier 75). Subs: Kelly.
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