Jake Cain’s superb stoppage-time strike earned Liverpool U23s a 2-1 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers on Monday night.
A strong young Reds team spent the majority of the Premier League 2 fixture at a blustery St George’s Park on top, and merited the lead given to them by Joe Hardy’s goal shortly before the hour.
However, having levelled through Chem Campbell’s 72nd-minute penalty against the run of play, Wolves threatened to snatch all three points as they applied pressure on the goal of Vitezslav Jaros, who made his first start of the season following an elbow injury.
But Cain, one of a number of Neil Critchley’s regulars making the return to U23s football following their FA Cup heroics, showcased his technical ability by half-volleying in a late, late winner from 20 yards.
Liverpool made a purposeful start and a sharp one-two with Harvey Elliott earned Curtis Jones a sight of goal inside the first two minutes, only for the captain to scuff his shot wide.
A clear-cut chance arrived soon after for the visitors, with a sliding Leighton Clarkson unable to make the required contact on Neco Williams’ inviting low cross at the back post.
Another slick move ended with Tony Gallacher over-running the ball after he’d collected Pedro Chirivella’s clever pass and strode into the penalty area, before Hardy dragged wide from Elliott’s cushioned, chested knock-down.
There was no let-up in tempo or intent from the young Reds, who continued pushing for the elusive opening goal.
Indeed, only the woodwork denied Jones what would have been a fine opener eight minutes before the break.
Chirivella arced a brilliant long-range pass into the skipper who, from an acute angle, clipped a delicate effort past Wolves goalkeeper Andreas Sondergaard that kissed the far post and rebounded to safety.
Elliott twice tested Sondergaard from outside the area - first from open play, then via a free-kick - prior to Liverpool finally, and deservedly, going ahead through Hardy.
Jones fed the onrushing Gallacher down the left and the full-back whipped in a cross that Hardy, on the slide, diverted home at the far post.
It was role reversal soon after as Gallacher found Jones’ surge down the left. The captain’s persistence enabled him to wriggle free of Owen Otasowie and Raphael Nya, before he curled a shot towards the top corner that Sondergaard tipped wide.
The pattern of the match indicated that the game’s second goal would be Liverpool’s too, but Wolves equalised out of nothing 18 minutes from time.
Sepp van den Berg was penalised when Renat Dadashov went down once he’d forced the defender to back into his penalty area, and Campbell duly converted the resulting spot-kick.
Buoyed, Wolves then chased a winner, with Jaros parrying Terry Taylor’s powerful drive away and Dadashov hitting the post from a tight angle.
Cain would have the final say, though, the Liverpool midfielder chesting down the ball before dispatching a sweetly-struck shot into the corner.
Liverpool U23s: Jaros, Williams, Hoever, Van den Berg, Gallacher, Chirivella (Dixon-Bonner, 83), Clarkson, Cain, Elliott, Jones, Hardy (Millar, 68).
Unused substitutes: Winterbottom, Boyes, Bearne.