Liverpool’s stand-in manager Neil Critchley hailed his ‘magnificent’ youngsters after they fell to a 5-0 defeat to Aston Villa in the Carabao Cup.
The Reds were forced to send a starting team with an average age of just 19 as their commitments to the Club World Cup in Qatar clashed with the quarter-final tie.
It meant, despite Aston Villa making ten changes from their last Premier League lineup, the hosts breezed to victory thanks to goals from Conor Hourihane, Jonathan Kodjia and Wesley.
But Critchley was pleased with what he saw given the disparity - and was left with ‘immense pride’ after the performance.
"I thought we were magnificent,” he told Sky Sports. “We were fantastic from the start, we had a couple of chances from the first whistle. We were really unfortunate to concede and find ourselves 2-0 down. It was an incredible night and no one wanted it to end. The support we had was unbelievable.
"Some of them showed the potential to one day play for us, or in the Premier League. They will know it was just part of their journey. My overwhelming feeling was one of immense pride."
The Liverpool Under-23s boss, who was acting as manager in Jurgen Klopp’s absence, also revealed Dean Smith and John Terry - the opposing manager and assistant - spoke to his players after the match.
He added: “They said 'keep going, good luck' and wished us the best. The moment I will remember and the players will remember for the rest of their lives.”
Hourihane opened the scoring with a wicked free-kick before Ahmed Elmohamady’s cross was deflected into his own net by Morgan Boyes just minutes later.
Kodjia then bagged twice in the eight minutes before the interval before Wesley wrapped up proceedings in injury time.
And the Republic of Ireland international said his side were pleased to be in the Carabao Cup semi-finals after a ‘lose-lose’ game.
“It was not easy,” Hourihane added. “They are a young team and they would have been bang up for it but our quality came on in the end.
“It was lose-lose as everyone expected us to win.
“All in all it’s nice to get through. It’s great to get into the semi-final. We’ll see who we get.”
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