Liverpool 4 Shrewsbury 1
Shrewsbury Town had their moment, a lead at Anfield that lasted all of seven minutes, but an inexperienced Liverpool team found a mature response.
Jürgen Klopp’s side ultimately thwarted any fleeting hopes Steve Cotterill had of an upset as young Kaide Gordon and the not-so-young Fabinho plus Roberto Firmino eased the Premier League hosts into round four.
Klopp was free to lead Liverpool again having been in isolation with Covid since before the draw at Chelsea. The Liverpool manager rejoined the group at their hotel on the morning of the game and with positive tests continuing to effect the squad, along with injuries and the Africa Cup of Nations, was required to improvise with his team selection.
Four teenagers – the full debutant Max Woltman, Kaide Gordon, Conor Bradley and Tyler Morton – started in a side that included the experience of Virgil van Dijk, Andy Robertson and Fabinho. That insurance policy was seriously examined in the first half by Shrewsbury’s disciplined and supremely well-organised game plan.
Liverpool unsurprisingly dominated possession against the League One side but toiled to find a way through a five-man visiting rearguard protected by a compact three-man midfield. Gordon forced Shrewsbury goalkeeper Marko Marosi into a low save from the edge of the area and van Dijk headed over from a Robertson free-kick. Otherwise, it was laboured performance, and flat tie, until Cotterill’s side stunned Anfield by taking the lead from their first attempt on Caoimhin Kelleher’s goal.
Nathanael Ogbeta, Shrewsbury’s left wing-back, served notice of the threat he posed a minute before the breakthrough when skirting around Bradley and sweeping an inviting cross through the Liverpool area. No team-mate was on hand to capitalise on that occasion. Seconds later, having controlled a cross-field ball from Ethan Ebanks-Landell expertly on his chest, Ogbeta again attacked Bradley before curling another delightful cross behind Ibrahima Konate.
This time Daniel Udoh was alert to the wing-back’s intentions and, arriving unmarked in the six-yard box, steered the ball beyond Kelleher to the wild delight of a 6,000-strong away crowd.
Klopp looked stunned at the ease with which Shrewsbury sliced through his team. They responded sharply, however, and quickly drew level with a goal made in their academy. Morton and Elijah Dixon-Bonner combined to release Bradley in space on the right. The Northern Ireland international picked out Gordon inside a crowded penalty area and the gifted forward’s quick feet enabled him to open up space for a cool finish beyond Marosi. At 17 years and 96 days, Gordon overtook Michael Owen to become the second youngest goalscorer in Liverpool’s history behind Ben Woodburn.
The hosts overturned the deficit to lead at half-time through a Fabinho penalty. Given how well their team had defended for 44 minutes, it was a galling way for Shrewsbury to concede. Ebanks-Landell had van Dijk on his back as the pair challenged for Robertson’s free-kick inside the area but no convincing reason to meet the ball with a raised arm. Referee David Coote immediately pointed to the spot and Fabinho sent Marosi the wrong way from it.
Shrewsbury maintained their shape and strategy throughout the second half but a lack of composure in front of goal cost them several opportunities to capitalise on the counter-attack. The clearest threat arrived consistently from Liverpool. Marosi denied Dixon-Bonner at close range moments after the restart but was beaten for a third time by a cheeky finish from substitute Roberto Firmino.
Bradley claimed his second assist of the contest when he hooked the ball back from the by-line for Konate. The defender’s attempted shot was deflected on to Firmino via a Shrewsbury boot and, facing away from goal, the Brazilian back-heeled past the exposed Shrewsbury keeper.
Fabinho claimed his second of the game, and Liverpool’s fourth, with an emphatic finish into the roof of the net from Kostas Tsimikas’ injury-time free-kick.