In this week's Academy column, U21s boss Michael Beale reflects on a hectic week, the exciting form of Sheyi Ojo and how Jon Flanagan is inspiring the youngsters in Kirkby.

This has been a very hectic week to say the least and it ends with our third game in the space of seven days when we host Sunderland at Chester FC’s Lookers Vauxhall stadium on Sunday. We have a lot of good attacking players available to us at the moment and we are just trying to make sure everyone gets sufficient game time. What we have seen since the turn of the year is a real upturn in form and results because when you are training with full competition for places, every player is motivated to do well. The chances our young players have had under Jürgen Klopp at first-team level has given everybody a boost and they all want to show they deserve to play for Liverpool.

We started our week with an incredible game really when we beat Brighton 4-3 after extra-time to reach the semi-finals of the Barclays U21 Premier League Cup. It was actually a very good performance from ourselves and we were always in the game, even when we found ourselves 3-1 down. In recent games we have been very good defensively but against Brighton we conceded from two set plays and a penalty which was disappointing. It was great to see Ryan McLaughlin and Jerome Sinclair make a big impact coming off the bench because it showed how focused and committed they are. We started with young Brooks Lennon as our No.9 and he did ever so well and worked the back four with his non-stop running, and then we put Jerome on and he reaped the rewards from that. I was disappointed we had to play the extra-time because I felt we could have finished the game off before that, but you have to say coming back from 3-1 down shows great character and spirit. We now have a semi-final away to West Ham United to look forward to on a date to be decided. That will be a fantastic game because West Ham have got a huge reputation for youth development like ourselves. Their coach Terry Westley is my former youth coach at Charlton Athletic so it just shows you how sometimes these relationships can come up in football, so it will be great to see him. To play in a cup semi-final is something different at U21 level and it’s an exciting challenge for our young players and we are all really looking forward to it.

It is a big boost for us to have Ryan McLaughlin back after his injury problems. He went to Aberdeen on loan for the first part of the season which was a great experience for him and now he just needs as many minutes as he can get. We all know the talent Ryan has and how direct he can be. When he came on against Brighton I played him further forward just ahead of right-back Connor Randall, and what a combination that is for us. Ryan was outstanding and he is fighting fit now and also pushing hard for a place in the Northern Ireland squad for Euro 2016. He is certainly capable of making that squad and if he can stay fit then we believe he is a formidable player. Ryan deserves some luck on the injury front and fingers crossed hopefully he can push on between now and the end of the season.

On Thursday night we had another incredible game really when we came back from 1-0 down to beat Middlesbrough despite playing with 10 men for most of the game when Cameron Brannagan was harshly sent-off. We gave Jon Flanagan a full 90 minutes and what an inspiration he is. Jon brings energy and enthusiasm to everything he does. I cannot speak highly enough of his character and in training every day he gives it everything he has got and that is inspiring to everybody. He has slotted back into the first-team squad as though he has never been away which shows an unbelievable level of focus and application, when you consider how long he has been out. Jon is a lad we are very proud of at the Academy and he is a success story that we are looking to create as much as possible in the future.

Sheyi Ojo scored twice against Middlesbrough, including showing nerves of steel to score our winner in stoppage time from the penalty spot. Sheyi has really developed and is playing a much mature game since he has come back from his successful loan spell in the Championship with Wolves. Let’s not forget he is still only 18 but he is more aware of what assets he can bring to a game and what his strengths are. He is also working very well at what we are asking him to do when he is out of possession, and I am really pleased with him. Sheyi has got a lot of potential and you always want more because that is the nature of football and we know what he is capable of. He also scored a fantastic goal to get us level and I’m fully expecting him to get a lot more goals between now and the end of the season.

We are back in action on Sunday when we host Sunderland in front of the live LFCTV cameras at Chester’s Lookers Vauxhall Stadium, at 12 noon GMT. Games against Sunderland have been really tight. They beat us 1-0 earlier this season at the Stadium of Light when they put out an experienced team and we had a young side, including a couple of debutants from the U18s team. The last time we met them we beat them 4-3 in a thrilling cup tie in Hetton-le-Hole when Madger Gomes got our winner in extra-time. Sunderland are riding high in second place in the league and they are a strong team. We are obviously coming into the game on the back of playing extra-time last Sunday and after a tough game on Thursday with 10 men. So it’s a big ask for us in terms of our character, our energy levels and our focus, but at this moment I don’t fear playing against anybody. As long as we are committed and everyone shows the right application then we have more than enough talent to beat anybody.

We will be missing a couple of players on Sunday. Harry Wilson is sidelined with a broken toe and these things take a little bit of time. There’s no need to rush him back, we will let him recover and he will be back soon. Harry was getting back to his best after returning from his loan spell with Crewe Alexandra and he is a very creative player. We saw Matty Virtue being stretchered off during Thursday’s win over Middlesbrough and we are hoping for positive news as he is in great hands under Andy Renshaw and Richie Partridge who are outstanding at their job. It’s a real shame for Matty because he has been absolutely outstanding. Matty has caught a lot of people’s eye with his displays and football can sometimes be cruel, but we believe in these boys and we trust them. We will also have a couple of lads coming back and we have lined up a couple of friendly games so the likes of Jack Dunn can get a game after a little knock, and Lloyd Jones is also ready to return after recovering from the injury he picked up on loan at Blackpool which is great news.