The scoreline may have suggested another difficult night for Liverpool in the EFL Trophy.
But there was plenty of encouragement for the young Reds despite a 4-1 defeat at League One side Bolton Wanderers on Tuesday.
Elijah Dixon-Bonner scored for an under-21 side helmed by Barry Lewtas, who enjoyed good possession and created chances as they responded well to the dismal Premier League 2 showing at Manchester United at the weekend.
However, they were undone by Bolton veteran Nathan Delfouneso scoring in the first half, and substitute Amadou Bakayoko netting twice after the break either side of a Jarell Quansah own goal.
Having spent much of his formative career at Bolton, Nat Phillips was back in familiar surrounds here.
But the situation was somewhat less recognisable for the centre-back as he lined up as an overage player.
Phillips, one of the breakout stars of last season under Jurgen Klopp, has yet to kick a ball for the first team this campaign.
And if this was a chance to stretch his legs, there was another bonus in turning to the 24-year-old.
The Reds’ U23s had seen first hand on Saturday the difference 35-year-old Paul McShane has made to Manchester United’s Academy, offering experience and composure as the home side cruised to a 3-0 win.
And it was 18-year-old centre-back Jarell Quansah, making his first start of the season after a pre-season injury, who was the main beneficiary of the knowhow of his elder defensive partner, albeit unfortunate to deflect Bolton’s third into his own goal.
Phillips did what Phillips does, his searching passes from the back close to creating first-half openings for Max Woltman and Tyler Morton, and getting his body in the way of a goalbound Josh Sheehan drive.
With one more game in this competition to come at Port Vale next month, there could be another opportunity for a similar experiment – and not necessarily just with Phillips.
Get all the latest Liverpool breaking news, team news, transfer rumours, injury updates plus analysis of what’s next for the Reds.
You’ll also get the latest transfer talk and analysis every day for FREE!
Morton makes mark as Dixon-Bonner shines
Phillips wasn’t the only player in the starting line-up with recent first-team experience.
Tyler Morton, who has long shown promise as he made his way through the Academy ranks, was impressive on his debut as a second-half substitute in the Carabao Cup win at Norwich City last month.
And here the 18-year-old midfielder was able to show his range of passing from the base of a midfield diamond with which Liverpool played for the majority of the game.
With the Reds probing for significant periods, Morton’s creativity was also on show, not least when creating a second-half chance spurned by Dixon-Bonner.
Dixon-Bonner, who had a trial at Portsmouth in the summer, was Liverpool’s best player on the night when starting as the false nine, competitive when dropping into the engine room and lively in possession.
At 20, he was one of the older members of the Reds team, and that showed.
Deserved, then, was his strike midway through the second half, even if it took a deflection to deceive Bolton goalkeeper Matt Gilks.
It was also some reward for the 50 or so travelling fans who made the journey from Merseyside to watch a match played in genuinely dreadful conditions.
As with their opening EFL Trophy group game at Rochdale, Liverpool were far from at full strength.
International call-ups had robbed Lewtas of the likes of Kaide Gordon, Conor Bradley, Owen Beck, James Norris, Luke Chambers and Tom Clayton.
The absence of Harvey Davies meant there was another opportunity for Marcelo Pitaluga in goal.
The Brazilian, for the most part, had a good night, confident and composed in dealing with the aerial threat and solid with his kicking.
And he wasn’t to know Bakayoko was offside when he made a superb close-range save to deny the substitute shortly after half-time.
Senior football, though, can be unforgiving, and Pitaluga paid for a brief hesitation when bringing down Mitchell Henry inside the area, although he almost saved Bakayoko’s resultant spot kick.
He, like his team-mates, will continue learning from these kind of encounters, exactly the reason the Reds entered the competition.
Liverpool U23s are next in action on Saturday, October 16 when they host Arsenal in Premier League 2 at the Academy.
LIVERPOOL (4-4-2): Pitaluga; Wilson (Koumetio 67), Phillips, Quansah, Gallacher; Morton, Ritaccio (Mabaya 25), Corness, Dixon-Bonner; Bearne, Woltman (Cannonier 75). Subs: Kelly.
#1 Football Merchandise & Souvenirs Store Liverpool Shop Chelsea Shop Manchester City Shop Arsenal Shop Tottenham Hotspur Shop Manchester United Shop Leicester City Shop Newcastle United Shop West Ham United Shop Barcelona Shop Real Madrid Shop
liverpool gifts, liverpool shop, liverpool store, liverpool superstore, liverpool merch, liverpool merchandise, liverpool souvenirs