Liverpool U21s turned in a gritty display to emerge 1-0 winners over Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium on Friday night.

Alex Inglethorpe's side took the lead in the 13th minute of play when Cameron Brannagan pounced to tap home what proved to be a priceless, decisive strike.

The Reds were forced to defend for long periods in the game, but they held firm and went on to control the closing exchanges to see out the victory.

It was their first domestic game since January 20. The youngsters travelled to Mexico for a round of friendlies, before their clash with Chelsea last week was postponed.

However, the U21s wasted no time in this fixture - Jack Dunn almost netted from the kick off when the ball broke to him on the edge of the box, but the young Scouser fired over the bar.

At the other end, the home side sent out a similar statement of intent when centre-back Mason Watkins-Clark rose higher than any Liverpool player to nod narrowly over from close range.

What became apparent from a very early stage in the game was that Stoke's No.9, James Alabi, was going to be a real handful. The powerful striker sent alarm bells ringing every time he picked up the ball.

He was a clear point of reference for his teammates, who would look to send in teasing crosses at any given opportunity. When Karim Rossi did so in the eighth minute, Alabi's dipping header forced Yusuf Mersin into a fine, instinctive save.

But Liverpool broke the deadlock with an incisive breakaway. Brannagan, surging forward from the centre-circle, started and finished the move. He slid a cutting pass into the path of Kristoffer Peterson to set the wheels in motion.

Peterson surged inwards from the touchline, picked out Jordan Lussey, whose side-footed strike was palmed clear by Daniel Bachmann, but Brannagan was at the far post to tap home for 1-0.

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Liverpool led, but Stoke were typically full of power and perseverance - and they forced Inglethorpe's side back into their own half.

Kevin Gomez-Nieto's rasping shot was pushed wide by Mersin, before Adam Thomas raced in between the lines to square for Rossi, who only needed to nudge the ball home, but failed to connect.

The Reds hit back when Pedro Chirivella, the youngster who joined from Valencia in the summer, fed Dunn with a delightful pass. The striker did well to jink inside, but he could only shoot over when it came to applying the finish.

There was real danger at the other end. Alabi, muscling Brad Smith off the ball, let fly with a ruthless strike which shuddered onto the woodwork and bounced clear.

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Liverpool looked more comfortable after the interval and the game came to life in their favour with around 25 minutes remaining.

Peterson won the ball back and fed Dunn, who shimmied away from one man before letting fly with a sensational left-footed drive, which rattled the crossbar with as much force as Alabi's earlier effort.

The Reds started to dominate. Peterson, back from his loan spell with Tranmere Rovers, began to get the better of his full-back and Inglethorpe's side swarmed forward in support of him, hunting down a second goal.

Dunn looked the most likely to get it - and almost did when he arrowed a vicious, swerving strike from a free-kick on the edge of the box, which sent Bachmann sprawling to his left to palm wide.

Liverpool U21s: Mersin, Sama, Smith, Paez, Jones, Lussey (Rossiter), Peterson, Chirivella, Bijev, Brannagan, Dunn.