Steven Gerrard was left with mixed emotions after his Liverpool U18s side lost 3-2 to Arsenal in their 120-minute FA Youth Cup fourth-round tie at Anfield.
The Reds legend was proud of the effort and determination of his team on Saturday, but frustrated that they were unable to produce the equaliser in extra-time that their overall play merited.
With 11 players making their Anfield debuts, Robbie Burton had fired the young Gunners into the lead with a deflected effort, but 16-year-old Scouser Curtis Jones turned the tie around with two strikes.
Gerrard’s charges were five minutes away from victory but substitute Bukayo Saka ran through to finish emphatically, and in the first period of extra-time the same player set up Tyreece John-Jules for a Kop-end winner.
Reflecting on the defeat, the boss could not fault any of his players for effort.
“It was an unbelievable game and I think the supporters that came out saw a very entertaining game,” he told Liverpoolfc.com.
“Unfortunately, we are on the wrong side of the result but I can’t be too critical of the team because they emptied everything they have got in terms of effort, commitment and desire – they gave the club everything.
“Our performance was the complete opposite to Tottenham a few weeks back, so I’m very proud of them in that sense, but very disappointed and frustrated with the result because I don’t think there was much in the game between the two sides. It was a result that could have gone either way but congratulations to Arsenal and they are on the right side of it.”
Gerrard took pride from the fact his side gave everything in the search for an extra-time leveller, having already reversed a deficit during the 90 minutes.
He added: “We showed great character and determination to get back in the game. At the end we were 3-2 down and were the ones who were looking to try and get back in the match.
“There were people cramping up, people who had nothing left to give but we were the ones who were threatening Arsenal’s box with crosses, and as a coach that’s all you can ask for, for your team to fight all the way to the end, and we did that.
“I’ve learned a lot about the players over the 120 minutes. I’ve learned that a lot of them are capable of handling this stage and the game and I thought a few of them did really well.
“There’s a few of them who deserve individual praise – I won’t name any names – and there’s a few in there that the stage was a bit too big for and they got found out, but that’s why we wanted to provide this environment for them to find those answers, and we learned a lot.
“I’m hurting now and I’m disappointed. It’s straight after the game and it’s still a bit raw and the dressing room is silent and people are down, but I’ve said to them, ‘look, we can’t change it and we’ve got to bounce back and lift ourselves’. We’ve got an important league game coming up against Stoke City in 12 or 13 days so we need to be ready to go again and protect ourselves at the top of the league.
“Arsenal have got some really good players in the forward positions. I thought their No.7 was magnificent for them, their No.10 was a threat, their No.9, and they’ve got some pace and got some quick boys.
“We knew they were going to have moments in the game and cause us some problems but we caused them many problems as well. It was a fantastic, entertaining game and I could quite easily be speaking now with us having won the game 3-2. It was one of those days.”
On a personal level, the chance to take charge of a Liverpool side at his beloved Anfield was a humbling occasion for Gerrard.
“I enjoyed the experience,” he said.
“I would love to be standing here now as a winner so I’m very disappointed with the result, but the experience of coming back here I loved.”