Liverpool U21s succumbed to the 4-1 defeat of Bolton Wanderers last night in the Papa John’s Trophy Group D fixture.
With history of an unimpressive record in the competition since its inception three years ago, a match-day squad comprised of lesser utilised players in need of game-time perhaps did not provide favourable circumstances in a quest for three points.
Six of the starting eleven had two starts or less before last nights fixture – including captain, Nat Phillips who was keen to gather some competitive rhythm.
But it did not deter the Young Reds in their footballing ambitions. Zip and purpose when moving the ball; while Bolton proved too strong for Liverpool in decisive areas, a hard fought fixture gives Barry Lewtas food for thought moving forward. On the whole, the players can be pleased.
After a disappointing performance against Manchester United, another heavy defeat may invoke similar negative reactions, however, there are positive facets of the game that Lewtas may look to utilise moving forward as the U23 side is chopped and changed throughout the season.
The good work of Tyler Morton remains an ever-present in recent weeks while it was promising to see his midfield counterpart, Dom Corness, feature in some incisive play in only his third start of the season. Nat Phillips will be grateful to have 90′ minutes under his belt. Jarell Quansah managed to complete the match after returning from torn ankle ligaments at the weekend.
But It was Elijah Dixon-Bonner, though, who shone the brightest light for The Reds attack.
Naturally a central midfielder, the former Arsenal man would be the focal point going forward at the tip of the midfield diamond and essentially a false-nine.
The aim would be to locate Dixon-Bonner in space between the lines, in which he snuck his way into with far too much regularity for the Bolton defence. A constant option.
It did not seem unnatural for the 20 year old to commit to this side of the game, many a time either attempting to spin into the vacated space behind the midfield line before finding his winger or dribbling towards goal himself. At times, Dixon-Bonner would simply look to retain possession with a simple back-pass before hurrying off to find further space to hurt the opposition.
And it worked, to a varying degree. Four times in the first-half Liverpool had carved open space in-behind the Bolton back-line in dangerous areas, without being able to capitalise. Impressive runs from Woltman and Mabaya showed that if the team are on the same wavelength, it may well be a sustainable method of chance creation in the future.
Not only is Dixon-Bonner one of the more physically capable members of the side meaning he can either hold of his man or draw a free-kick rather than being eased of the ball, but most impressive would be the speed in which Dixon-Bonner performed his next action in order to disrupt the backline. Even when the execution was lacking, Dixon-Bonner remained persistent in his approach.
A fine display would be capped of by a goal that again highlighted an ability to find space. After finding a pocket, directing his run into the box and twisting away from a Bolton defender, Dixon-Bonner trickled his shot into the net. This was not-long-after missing a sitter from just outside the six-yard box.
Although sounding counter intuitive, the missed chances are less of a worry than being able to regularly create and work as an attacking attacking unit. And Dixon-Bonner an integral part of Liverpool’s success.
But tactics, while important, take more of a backseat at this level; line-ups will depend on what is deemed best for player development.
In recent weeks, Mateusz Musialowski has been trialled in a similar role at both U19 and U23 level with varying degrees of success. Max Woltman played as the focal point for Liverpool U18s but this season has started predominantly out on the left wing, although often fluid. It is up to Lewtas and co. to decide how to allocated minutes with a view to the future of said players. At the very least, should Liverpool ever lack a striking option, Dixon-Bonner is in the frame should he need be.
A situation that may well be looked back upon as a flash in the pan experiment – or Barry Lewtas making use of the players at his disposal with a number of players away on international duty – but Dixon-Bonner did himself no harm.
What next for Dixon-Bonner?
The London-born midfielder joined from Arsenal at the age of 14 and has since worked his way through the youth ranks. Part of Liverpool’s FA Youth Cup winning team and an England U16 captain; Dixon-Bonner has adorned a few accolades at youth level.
First-team progression or senior football in general, has not quite yet fallen in the way of Dixon-Bonner – which was what the club had aimed to eradicate this season.
With permission to seek out senior football, an unsuccessful trial at Portsmouth paved a Summer journey back towards Merseyside as another season of development football beckoned.
Good attitude is a necessity for any young footballer, however many have sulked and downed tools when not afforded opportunities.
But Dixon-Bonner continues to put in the arduous hours and grafts on the pitch. Previous performances have not quite matched up to last nights showcase of quality, but he has never shirked his work and has the potential to use aspects as a foundation to build on.
Staff are impressed with Dixon-Bonner’s attitude to the extent that this season he has regularly been invited up The AXA first-team facilities when the numbers are not there, which in turn may eventually improve him as a player.
At the very least, should a move in January be the preferred option, anyone potential lookers in January will certainly have raised an eyebrow, if not both, at last nights performance.