Several injuries, hour-long delays and young debutants; It was a showing of mental fortitude that Liverpool had managed to come from two goals behind when Oakley Cannonier’s 89th minute equaliser nestled lightly against the net – and for many, a sigh of relief.
With the mid-week UEFA Youth League tie in mind, Marc Bridge-Wilkinson handed a number of debuts in the Liverpool squad. Francis Gyimah and new signing, Bobby Clark were handed a first involvement while Wellity Omoruyi and Iwan Roberts would earn a first start of the season. Omoruyi and Gyimah both U16 players.
After prodding and prying, Liverpool took the lead through a James McConnell header. Forest reacted aptly and sprang into life, grabbing a two-goal cushion with an Esapa Osong double and a Ben Hammond tap-in. While certainly good value for a lead, Liverpool will mark down Forest’s goals down to learning on the job, with individual errors involved. Bobby Clark volleyed home just before half-time, which came 10 minutes later than scheduled due to injuries to Gyimah and McConnell. A trip to the hospital would be quickly scheduled for McConnell as a precaution, that lead to a delay of 45 minutes for the resumption of the second half, as an on-site ambulance is a necessity. A number of big saves from Forest’ keeper, Bott, would further frustrate a stop-start Liverpool until Cannonier finally put Forest to the sword and headed home a Luca Stephenson flick from close range.
AS IT HAPPENED
Learning on the job is part and parcel of academy football, so the impressively regimented Nottingham Forest would always frustrate a group of players of whom many were playing together for the first time and still adapting to the U18 level. The lessons learned in todays 3-3 draw with Nottingham Forest adds more education to a players’ football schooling than the 5-0 rout of Manchester United.
Forest held shape well and picked moments to press with Osong at the heart of Liverpool’s headache. Forest expanded and contracted well, managing to plug the holes that Liverpool looked to play through as they struggled in the first phase of play.
Flashes of promise would be found as Harvey Blair remained persistent in running in behind but to little avail, as he could not be found as Forest remained stubborn.
A breakthrough though, would not be far away. And in what is a familiarity for Liverpool’s fans, a goal was sourced via right-back. Not for the first time this season, stand-in right-back Terence Miles picked up the ball on the right and showed the precision in his quality, leaving with McConnell little to do other than calmly head home.
Esapa Osong, ensured that Forests’ hard-work wouldn’t be wasted. A dribble before finding his winger out-wide, gave Osong space to dart into the box and turn home the return ball into Davies bottom corner. And doing so in style. Before rolling into the net, Osong sold three defenders for a dummy, who were eager to dive in.
Soon after, seeming to transcend everyone on the pitch with his first half-performance, Osong bore down on goal once more, rather easily after turning debutant, Wellity, high on the left. Racing into acres of space with no Liverpool player close enough to react, Osong dispatched into the net as calmly as the first, beating Davies at his near-post.
And then came the blot on the blue-print.
Having already lost debutant left-back Francis Gyimah forcing an early change, McConnell found himself on the end of a thunderous challenge that left him dazed and unable to continue. It wasn’t so much a subtle change, but turning the plan on its head after stand-right back, Miles, became stand-in left-back and Melkamu Frauendorf dropped to right-back. Although, right-back seemingly provided favourable avenues to Frauendorf’s skillset, giving him the space to run into ahead of him. Balagizi and Pilling on.
Blair came close with a well-timed near-post run effort that was quickly jumped on by Bott with Balagizi having a close range effort blocked.
Debutant Clark, rifled home after a failed clearance fell just inside the box which Clark volleyed home, hard and low.
Liverpool took the initiative with Balagizi the creative hub, swathing between lines and looking to combine play with switches out wide. Luca Stephenson had the difficult job of being the only natural and defensive minded midfielder due to injuries. Although no stranger to the task, when surrounded by a number of players debuting the importance of reacting quickly heightens and the captain showed the capability to do so. With Liverpool dominating the ball, Forest’s counter-attack threat was quelled by a number of last ditch tackles.
Wellity, after a difficult first-half, continued to be targeted by dangerman Osong, doing a markedly better job on the Forest forward. Being able to adapt on the job and not making the same mistakes stands Wellity in good stead moving forward, ushering Osong out-wide on a number of occasions. Of course, he would be aided by Stephenson and Balagizi.
Bobby Clark had threatened momentarily in the first-half as he adapts to his team-mates, and came to the fore in the second. Balagizi’s raking ball from deep found Clark in the box who plucked it out of the air with a sumptuous touch. Quickly surrounded, a lay off to Pilling only hit a Forest body.
Goalkeeper, Bott, quickly became a man-of-the-match contender.
Frauendorf was denied from close range, before Blair hit a curling effort towards goal from 25 yards, destined for the top-corner. At full stretch, Bott clawed away. It would be a hat-trick of saves when substitute, Cannonier was quickly hounded down by Bott, failing to get enough contact on his effort from 6 yards out forcing Bott into a low-palmed-save.
Cannonier’s impact was instantaneous. The dizzying runs, and stop-start movement handed him a glut of chances that could have ensured a hat-trick after replacing Blair in the 63rd minute. As well as the aforementioned, Bobby Clark’s flashed cross was hit over by Cannonier from 6 yards out.
To add to the occasions checklist, Zach Abbot soon saw a contentious red-card, after adjudged to have handled the ball high up the pitch that would have ensured a clean run on goal for Clark. It would by 5 minutes of 10-men for Forest, who would be desperate for a value victory.
But Cannonier would add the last, emotive touches to an extremely eventful football match,
A cross, a minute from the regulated 90 minutes, so Luca Stephenson rise above a number of red shirts to nod towards an unmarked Oakley Cannonier. Five goals in two outings before this, having not yet scored meant one thing; Oakley was getting his goal. Stephenson’s cross meant Cannonier only had to guide the header back towards goal with the lightest of headers.
Next, Liverpool participate in the prestigious UEFA Youth League tournament, against AC Milan. 13:00, Live on BT.