We have finally reached the beginning of the season for the Liverpool U-18s! Marc Bridge-Wilkinson has taken the helm, and has guided them through an incredible preseason. However, one does not win titles in the preseason – they are won in the regular season, match by match. The first step in this direction was welcoming Stoke City to Kirkby, and what a welcome it was. The Reds did not miss a beat, enjoying a dominating performance over their guests.
Layton Stewart, have yourself a game, son! What an exciting talent, and a local Scouser to boot! Stewart struck three past Stoke and enjoyed himself an opening day hat-trick, matching the feat of his senior teammate (Salah). The first goal came in the 25th minute when Luca Stephenson did his best Hendo impersonation, winning a convincing tackle in the midfield and playing a lovely ball to Tyler Morton. Morton quickly found Stewart with one touch. Stewart found himself receiving the ball as he cut across the box, took one step to feint a touch, turned the other direction around his defender, and delightfully chipped it over the sliding keeper.
Stewart’s second came after another perfect challenge from Stephenson, which saw the ball reach Lee Jonas. Jonas slid it over to Luke Chambers, who then played a sweet 20 yard ball to Stewart. Stewart made a quick turn and moved past two Stoke defenders – the only thing the Potters were able do was bring him down illegally in the box. As the young Scouser stepped up to take the penalty, there was no doubt. He took it confidently, driving it to the bottom left as the Stoke keeper went the other way.
In the second half, Stephenson won a corner seemingly out of nothing, despite being trapped near the end line surrounded by two Stoke defenders. The ensuing corner saw Dominic Corness curl it directly into the goal. The wind certainly had an impact, but credit to James Balagizi for obstructing the Stoke keeper’s line of sight just enough to allow the ball to find its way into the net.
11 minutes later, our eyes were blessed with the goal of the season so far. Balagizi received the ball just before the halfway line, took a good forward touch, and laid off a nice pass to Stewart as Balagizi was fouled. On the advantage, Stewart took the ball straight at his defender, taking several touches and cutting inside on his right foot about 22 yards out. And as soon as you saw him cut inside, you knew something special was about to happen: Stewart used the space he had created, and fired a curling ball to the top right corner over the outstretched arm of the keeper. No chance. Hat-trick for the Scouser.
The young Reds found the back of the net one last time in the 84th minute, and would you believe that it was Corness directly scoring from a corner kick again?! I am no historical statistician, but two direct goals off of corner kicks in one half must be some sort of record. The Stoke keeper should have done better on both, but as a player you know that sometimes the best you can do is just put the ball where a play can be made, and good things can happen.
The match ended 5-0 and it is difficult to believe Bridge-Wilkinson could have asked for more out of his team. This was an absolutely dominating performance, as the Reds enjoyed 62% of the possession and seemingly were unbothered at the back. Keeper Jakub Ojrzynski was called on twice, but they were fairly routine saves. I cannot confirm whether or not he broke a sweat.
There is a slight cause of concern for Harvey Blair as the striker was subbed off for Melkamu Frauendorf in the first half after picking up a knock. He will have it assessed and we will hope to see him back on the pitch as soon as possible. The U-18s take on Manchester City on Saturday and hope to continue this excellent run of form.
2020-21 Season Leaders
Layton Stewart – 3
Dominic Corness – 2
Jakub Orjzynski – 1