How does anyone present at this game hope to reflect on it? It was astonishing. Like most others around me, I attended to support ‘the kids’, though never in my wildest dreams truly believing they could ever get a positive result against an, albeit modest, but nevertheless seasoned outfit like Shrewsbury.
The average age of the home team was only 19 (four of them under 17!). You have to seriously consider the implications of that. The evidence was in front of our eyes in the pre-match warm-up. At one end of the pitch it was clear the players in red were nothing but boys; frail teeny-boppers; too young to go in pubs.
At the other end, the Shrewsbury players came over as fully-grown men, which they were, but in some cases almost the proverbial ‘man-mountains’. There was no way Liverpool could match them physically.
Yet, when the game began, the young Reds passed the ball around much like the absent first-teamers who, Milner apart, had seemingly been despatched on holiday for a winter break. The ball was moved compellingly from side to side, forward and back; possession was so much the norm, it seemed to come second-nature to them.
Shrewsbury might have had a big physical advantage but, truth was, they couldn’t get the ball! The fans kept looking at each other with near astonishment that these lightweight youngsters could be so in control. All that was missing was an instinct for goal!
At one point late on, Elliott broke from his own half, almost Mo Salah style, with THREE team mates for company and not an opponent in sight. He should have gone straight on, but chose to pass and did that badly. It was then you had to reconcile the reality that for all his silky skills and close control, the lad was still only sixteen, his lack of experience there for all to see.
Half-chances came and went, in most cases spurned through a lack of killer instinct. Shrewsbury, for all their age and physical advantage, were made to look so very ordinary though, truth was, it was more that Liverpool were so good. You know, if this same eleven were to play Chelsea in the next round, I swear they’d give them a game!
The goal, when it came, was courtesy of a colossal blunder by the visiting centre back. Anfield, packed to the rafters, took off. How many other clubs could draw in a crowd of over 50,000 for such an apparent unattractive, low-key fixture? City can’t fill the Etihad for the Champions League! In the event, we all felt so privileged to be present.
As for the media – for Sky and the BBC; for the Guardian, the Telegraph and the Mail, to name a handful – they’d been itching for any opportunity to have a go at Klopp and now were being forced to hang their heads in shame at their criticism of the Manager’s absence.
He thinks the world of these youngsters who have been nurtured to tremendous effect by Neil Critchley and whose players they are. So why should Klopp get involved? The proof of the pudding was in the eating. In the post-match interview it was possible to see the pride oozing from Critchley’s face. And rightly so.
At its relative level, this was up there with the very best achievement the first team have ever conjured up. It was a breast-beater; truly a night to remember!
Stand-out performances: Neco-Williams and Chirivilla. What is Klopp going to do with these two? There are a few Premiership outfits who put them straight in their team right now!