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Liverpool given scare by stubborn Shrewsbury but avoid FA Cup shock

Liverpool given scare by stubborn Shrewsbury but avoid FA Cup shock
Liverpool 4-1 Shrewsbury: Goals from Kaide Gordon, Fabinho and Roberto Firmino earned the Reds victory after Daniel Udoh had given the visitors a memorable lead

For Shrewsbury, there were seven minutes to savour, for Kaide Gordon one moment that he may recall for a lifetime. The side 15th in League One, and 50 places below Liverpool in the pyramid can cherish the thoughts of the brief time they led at Anfield.

Daniel Udoh’s goal proved less historic than Gordon’s first for Liverpool, making him the second youngest scorer in their history, behind only Ben Woodburn, and capping his Anfield bow. Fabinho’s brace and Roberto Firmino’s cheeky comeback goal ensured a shock was avoided. Jurgen Klopp, returning to the touchline after a week in isolation, could see a patched-up team progress while offering hints of optimism for the future.

Some of it revolved around Gordon, the youngest member of a distinctly junior side. With Mohamed Salah absent at the Africa Cup of Nations, he took the Egyptian’s berth on the right flank and inherited his habit of scoring with his left foot. A bright display by Curtis Jones, who was catapulted to prominence by a previous FA Cup run, may have more immediate implications as Liverpool look to navigate a month without Salah and Sadio Mane.

Shrewsbury were aggrieved they faced a youthful Liverpool team in 2020 when Klopp took the senior side on a winter break. This time other reasons accounted for the presence of six starters aged 20 or under.

Their absentees numbered in double figures, with a combination of Covid, Afcon and injuries. That the missing senior figures also included Trent Alexander-Arnold, Diogo Jota, Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Neco Williams and Joe Gomez helped explain why Thursday’s Carabao Cup semi-final against Arsenal was postponed. With Takumi Minamino and Firmino making their returns as substitutes and the Brazilian latching on to Ibrahima Konate’s scuffed shot to backheel in Liverpool’s third goal, their problems may be easing.

In a sense, however, the most significant striking injury bulletin concerned Udoh. A fitness doubt was passed fit and a veteran of non-league went on to cause Liverpool more problems than many a Premier League attacker has.

The Nigerian has taken a circuitous route to Shrewsbury, representing 10 clubs outside the EFL. Formerly of Worcester, North Greenford, Hoddesdon, Ilkeston and Halesowen, among others, he scored at Anfield. Liverpool’s strongest department should have been a combination of two senior centre-backs but when Nathanael Ogbeta crossed, Udoh stole in behind Konate to stab in a shot. Irrepressible and forceful, Udoh was terrific.

Shrewsbury’s travelling fans celebrate Daniel Udoh’s opener

Shrewsbury had the ball in the net a second time, though an offside flag curtailed Ryan Bowman’s celebrations of an emphatic header. Well organised and with two physical strikers, Shrewsbury acquitted themselves well and Bowman could have equalised just before half-time.

By then, however, Liverpool led. Gordon’s golden moment eased nerves. He has the preternatural assurance and delicacy of touch to suggest he has class. He accepted Conor Bradley’s pass in the box, shifted the ball from his right foot to his left and placed his shot in. At 17 years and 96 days, he had scored in front of the Kop. The assist came from a comparative veteran of 18. They have a combined age that is younger than James Milner.

Then came the most blatant of handballs from Ethan Ebanks-Landell, raising his arm high above his head in a bid to stop Virgil van Dijk from meeting Andy Robertson’s free kick. Fabinho dispatched the resulting penalty and doubled his tally from close range in injury time.

Fabinho, Van Dijk and Robertson were the three senior figures. Indeed, Caoimhin Kelleher was the fourth oldest member of the fourth youngest team in Liverpool’s history.

The other goalkeeper, Shrewsbury’s Marko Marosi, made a fine save from Gordon after 19 minutes and a much better one from Elijah Dixon-Bonner after 50, denying a second youngster a first Liverpool goal. For Gordon, though, it could be the first of many.