Harry Wilson was the star of the show as Liverpool’s under-23 side beat Manchester City at Prenton Park thanks to a late scorcher from Yan Dhanda.
Playing at the tip of a midfield diamond containing Marko Grujic, Wilson was a clear stand-out with some excellent dribbling and passes. Captaining the team, the Welsh international looked confident and sharp.
It was the visitors who saw the biggest chance early on, when a long ball over the top of the Liverpool backline had to be cleared away for a corner. Marko Grujic was on hand to clear from the resulting set-piece.
Danny Ings, appearing as he tries to regain fitness to return to the first-team fold, had an even better opportunity three minutes later as he played a one-two on the edge of the box, but he delayed too long in shooting, and his eventual strike was blocked.
The first fifteen minutes were fairly even, with both sides having similar amounts of possession, but already Wilson was beginning to show his class.
Before the twenty minute mark, City had the ball in the back of the net through Brahim Diaz but it was ruled out for offside. Worryingly for Liverpool, they had been undone by one long pass, and were relieved to see the flag raised.
Ings had two more huge chances – even more clear-cut than the first that was blocked – but failed to score with either.
First, he was played in by Wilson, but bizarrely tried to square for Grujic when inside the six yard box, and then a long ball from Corey Whelan over the top played him in again, but he could only lift an effort over the onrushing goalkeeper, and the crossbar.
Wilson, now running the match from the number ten position, won a free-kick with an excellent dash forward with the ball glued to his feet. He took the kick from twenty yards himself, and hit the post with a low drive.
On the half-hour mark, he pulled a shot wide of the target from the edge of the box, but by now it was one-way traffic.
Liverpool, though, did look susceptible at the back whenever City found the chance to attack, and Kamil Grabara had to make a superb save from City’s number seven when he was straight through on goal and should have scored.
Grujic teed up Ings for another opportunity ten minutes before the break, but the striker could only volley high over the top.
Ings looked rusty and went off injured soon after, replaced by Yan Dhanda, although that transpired to only be precautionary. After such a bad period with various long-term issues, many were fearing the worst.
Rhian Brewster turned in the penalty area – again set up by Wilson – and forced a good save low to goalkeeper Grimshaw’s left.
Manchester City had a period of sustained pressure for a few minutes before the half-time whistle blew, but the game had been controlled by Liverpool. The Reds were on top.
The second period saw heavy rain pour from the sky, and some sloppy passes were perhaps explained by a more testing surface.
Liam Coyle misplaced a pass which led to Grabara punching a cross clear, before City got in behind, but a fortunate error in control gifted Liverpool a goal-kick.
Grujic won a corner with a deflected effort from the edge of the area, and headed Wilson’s corner goalwards from the resulting dead ball, but it was easily stopped.
Phil Foden, City’s number ten, began to cause some problems, but that did not last long, with Lloyd Jones able to snuff out danger effectively. Jones was effective throughout, with the only blip a booking for deliberate handball.
Cameron Brannagan came on for the impressive Coyle with half an hour to go, but made little impact. How much of a future he has with Liverpool remains to be seen.
Just prior to the seventy minute mark, Yan Dhanda’s free-kick was tipped wide, before City had a couple of chances themselves at the other end, including Diaz going straight through on goal and shooting too early when he had more time than he realised.
Grabara made a good save, but he should not have been given the chance.
Wilson shot over from twenty yards in a rare error of judgement when he had other options, and then went down in the area, with nothing given.
With Liverpool looking short of ideas and a little jaded, Bobby Adekanye replaced Brewster, but still the hosts were squandering the ball too often, lacking the composure they had showed earlier in the match.
Grujic was strong to win a free-kick on the edge of the area, with Wilson’s shot ending up just over the bar, but it was looking like petering out into a goalless draw.
Yan Dhanda, the early substitute, though, had other ideas.
In the 89th minute, he beat one man on the left side, before chopping inside onto his right foot and unleashing an unstoppable shot into the far top corner of the Kop end goal, worthy of the watching Steven Gerrard and Robbie Fowler.
Until that moment, he had been largely frustrating, but showed a moment of quality to deservedly win the game. It was a goal worthy of winning any game, but Liverpool had done enough to deserve the points anyway.
In injury time, a cheap free-kick was awarded to Manchester City, but Liverpool defended that and the corner kick that followed to hold out for the victory.
Yan Dhanda will rightly take the headlines for his late goal, but Harry Wilson will be more than content with his performance, especially after only returning from injury a short while ago, which he sustained in pre-season.
Along with Marko Grujic, he was by far the best player on the pitch, and will surely get a chance for the senior team at some point this season, perhaps as early as the Carabao Cup tie at Leicester City in a fortnight.
Liverpool’s under-23s face West Ham United away a week on Monday, before returning to Prenton Park to play Tottenham Hotspur on Friday, September 22.