Empty stadiums, isolation from friends and family and endless restrictions. The Young Reds have battled their way through a season like no other to provide vibrancy and hopefulness in a tough year. Today a fantastic crop of players recorded a fantastic achievement as they deservedly reached the final of the FA Youth Cup.
Substitute Melkamu Fraundorf’s late winner gives Liverpool the chance of silverware after a rocky first half threatened to fell Liverpool onto the sword of the underdog.
As equally energetic as they were organised, Ipswich took the lead after a cross deep into the box was headed home by Edwin Agbage. Mateusz Musialowski, a constant danger throughout, finished a swift shimmy past a bystander with a deflected shot from the edge of the box levelling proceedings at Portman Road.
The Pole was substituted shortly after for match-winner, Melkamu Frauendorf, who picked up a bobbling loose ball in the box before finding the bottom corner taking a deflection from the Ipswich goalkeeper.
It was not the vintage Liverpool we had seen this season but it was enough.
And over the course of the campaign, thoroughly deserved.
Ipswich started the game with the vigour and intensity expected with no let up.
Strong in duels, quick to close down space and a focus on interchange on both wings, Liverpool were perhaps not accustomed to playing Ipswich’s three-at-the-back formation.
Elkan Baggott in particular stood out for The Tractor Boys. Confident and composed in possession and dominant off it. Baggot was an important cog in Ipswich’s strong first half.
The opening exchanges saw Ipswich fashion the more promising chances without creating anything significant, with wingbacks Agbage and Armin sending in a number of testing crosses.
It was not the start that Liverpool had wanted with a few nerves creeping into the calmest of players who made uncharacteristic mistakes in possession.
Musialowski was Liverpool’s danger man as they sought out an avenue to take a hold of the match.
Liverpool’s first chance of the game fell to James Balagizi after the affectionately named ‘Mati’ was stopped in his tracks after a slaloming run with Balagizi volleying over the subsequent loose ball.
Musialowski was in full flow. Right? Left? The Pole threatened to go either side before beating his man and forcing Ridd into a save from range.
Mati found himself in the middle of action again after he was cleverly teed up Morton on the edge of the box, jinking away from his man and again forcing a save from the keeper.
The chances on another day might’ve been finished but Liverpool had not created anything clear cut with Ipswich continuing to threat out wide.
Ipswich got what they deserved after Edwin Agbaje met Gibbs inviting cross, heading on to the knee of Harvey Davies, bouncing onto the crossbar with Davies unable to prevent the ball from crossing the line.
A sucker punch goal for Liverpool to concede, right on the halftime whistle.
Liverpool’s first half woes were nearly instantly diminished when Max Woltman found himself bearing down on goal after Tyler Morton had headed in behind a sleeping Ipswich defence, only to fire over the bar.
Woltman couldn’t find the clinical edge he has gained of late but his non-stop running in his industrious style of play is pivotal to how Marc Bridge-Wilkinson wants this Liverpool team to play.
The second half saw a slight shift in approach from Liverpool as fullbacks Bradley and Norris came to the forefront. Both high, both wide, both attacking the space in in-between their respective wingback and centre back. The width offered also provided more space in the middle of the pitch for Liverpool to control possession as Ipswich’s backline became stretched.
Typically, fullback found fullback after Norris’ powerful burst into the box and subsequent cutback was fired over by the onrushing Bradley.
The Young Reds thus enjoyed more meaningful possession than in the first half with Bradley and Norris threatening and giving space for Musialwoski to thrive in. A Liverpool goal was forthcoming, although Ipswich did remain a threat in transition with all three centre backs confident in their ability to play from the back to their robust wingbacks. Stephenson, Koumetio and in particular Quansah provided smart cover and stepped in when necessary to prevent further Ipswich threat.
Norris was excellent in particular.
Liverpool’s goal was signed, sealed and delivered by Musialowski… via deflection.
Dancing feet and a burst past his man on the edge of the box saw his shot deflected hit the top corner with a sigh of relief heard from Ipswich to Merseyside. Liverpool were level.
The scorer was apt, the ball at Mati’s feet resulted in imminent Ipswich panic. He bounced past players tonight.
Therefore it was surprising when the BT Sport Man Of The Match was to be brought off during Liverpool’s search for a winner for fellow attacker Melkamu Frauendorf. But there is a reason why Marc Bridge-Wilkinson is employed by one of the biggest clubs in the world.
The German youth international raced towards goal, eating up turf on the left with the ball at his feet, finding Max Woltman in the inside channel who just couldn’t find room to angle a shot. The ball bounced away from the striker, only for the eyes of Frauendorf to light up, striking a well hit effort in to the bottom corner, again, via the goalkeeper. The winning goal.
Ipswich gave plenty of reason for fans to be optimistic and will consider themselves unfortunate not to take the game to extra time.
It was not pretty, it was not perfect, but it was a great showing of character and perhaps a warning for the final. Having played a stellar campaign thus far, each player can be supremely proud of themselves after a fantastic season.
It is quite safely one of the strongest crops Liverpool have had for quite some time. Strong in both ability and unity with a real togetherness evident throughout the side.
Congratulations to everybody involved. It is more than deserved.
James Norris: The second half shift in attacking impetus was largely down to the robust energetic play of Norris. His crossing is always a weapon while an astute dribbler, picking his moments carefully to power through an opening. Always an option.
Elkan Baggott: The Indonesia U19 international showed why he has already played senior football this season with a dominant display. The centreback tossed the ball around the pitch at a whim with the confidence to match his technical ability. A fantastic showing.
Jarell Quansah: Imperious in the second half when mopping up a number of longballs with quick acceleration and smart reading of the game. The captain stood up when it was important while also showing off his distribution in balls out wide to both full backs. A key facet to Liverpool’s game in the second half.