Liverpool U23s suffered a 2-1 defeat against their Manchester United counterparts in an absorbing Premier League 2 match at Anfield on Friday night.
Adam Lewis put the young Reds in front with a stunning free-kick at the Kop end midway through the second half but the visitors landed a sucker-punch of two goals in as many minutes to snatch all three points late on.
Neil Critchley was able to bolster his XI with the first-team experience of Danny Ward and Ben Woodburn as they sought a response to their 4-0 reversal at Leicester City on Monday evening.
As a precursor to the much-anticipated Premier League clash between the senior sides on Saturday, the game was an entertaining and keenly-fought one in front of 5,049 spectators.
It is hard to understand how the first half passed by without a mark on the scoresheet.
Barely 30 seconds had elapsed when Zachary Dearnley completed a one-two with Callum Gribbin and raced clean through in the right channel.
But Ward stood firm at his near post to block the United forward’s low effort with his leg and prevent Liverpool from facing an immediate deficit.
The goalkeeper would have been helpless had any opposition player managed to connect with Tahith Chong’s excellent rolled cross along the six-yard area, however.
In response, Woodburn had a low thump pushed away from danger by Kieran O’Hara after Liam Millar shifted past his marker on the left flank, scampered towards goal and squared the ball.
A more balanced period of play followed the frantic early exchanges, but the chances came thick and fast once more as the interval neared at Anfield.
Ethan Hamilton’s curler from range was well handled by Ward before Rafael Camacho created space at the other end for a high cross-shot which O’Hara felt compelled to claw away.
It was United who went closest to an opener, though. Dearnley was denied by a crucial Nathaniel Phillips block as he shot on the turn 20 yards from goal, while Hamilton watched a strike whistle narrowly wide via a deflection in stoppage-time.
The pace of the action dropped a touch when the sides returned for the second half but the ebb and flow of attacks continued with no let-up.
The young Reds were indebted to another brilliant block by Phillips – returning from injury – to again thwart Dearnley as he tried to turn home a pass from Tosin Kehinde.
And they capitalised with 65 minutes on the clock in memorable fashion.
It seemed unlikely that Lewis could do anything but cross from a free-kick position on the right hand side but the 18-year-old produced a fine effort that soared over O’Hara’s head, clipped the left post and found the net.
Back came United and Chong had claims for a penalty dismissed when he tussled with the Liverpool scorer in the area, before a vital double-save by the outstanding Ward.
Dearnley’s low drive was first repelled from the middle of the goal and the Welshman reacted quickly to keep out the follow-up, high to his left, from Joe Riley.
Riley did level soon after, however. The full-back was afforded time and space to move into shooting territory and swept an 80th-minute equaliser inside the right post.
And the visitors completed a turnaround two minutes later as Neco Williams fouled Josh Bohui inside the box and Gribbin stepped up to inflict a harsh defeat on Critchley’s charges.
Liverpool U23s: Ward, N. Williams, Lewis, Phillips (Gallacher, 61), Masterson, Christie-Davies, Camacho, Woodburn (Gomes, 89), Millar, Jones, Dhanda (Adekanye, 73).
Unused substitutes: George, Dixon-Bonner.