Caoimhin Kelleher was once again the penalty shootout hero for Liverpool as the Carabao Cup holders scraped into the fourth round with a win over Derby.
The regular time ended goalless at Anfield with Paul Warne’s League One opponents holding out against a much changed Liverpool team, with Jurgen Klopp making 11 changes.
The exploits of Derby goalkeeper Joe Wildsmith were needed in regular playing time and a rescue from Liverpool teenager Stefan Bajcetic looked to send the Rams to victory.
But Kelleher produced three expert saves from Conor Hourihane, Craig Forsyth and Everton mercenary Lewis Dobbin – despite Roberto Firimino missing his penalty for Liverpool – giving Harvey Elliott the winning kick.
The full debut was awarded to 19-year-old summer signing Calvin Ramsay, 17-year-old Bobby Clark, 18-year-old Stefan Bajcetic and Melkamu Frauendorf and Layton Stewart, the group’s 20-year senior player.
The five other senior fielders had only made 25 starts this season and Joe Gomez accounted for 11 of them.
Derby, 46 places below their hosts, knew their best chance was to frustrate and hoped to seize an opportunity when it presented itself, so when Liverpool got into their half they sank into a back five, sometimes six, and the inexperienced midfield and the front line struggled to come up with a solution.
In reality, Liverpool looked like they were treading water until the three senior players got off the bench with 25 minutes to go.
Half chances came and went as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain narrowly volleyed wide after Craig Forsyth had cleared just half a corner with his head, Stewart cut in front of a cross from Fabio Carvalho and Kostas Tsimikas grabbed a shot after goalkeeper Joe Wildsmith fluttered at a cross.
Physically was a problem for Liverpool and that was highlighted when the agile Carvalho broke through the left wing and was then kicked off the ball and to the ground by Eiran Cashin’s shoulder strike.
Bajcetic played with his socks down like Thiago Alcantara – whose father Mazinho played with Bajcetic’s father Srdan at Celta Vigo during the 1996-97 season – but while he had the energy, unfortunately for Liverpool he didn’t have the passing range of the more experienced Spaniard to unlock a tenacious defense.
But it was more of a missed opportunity for players like Oxlade-Chamberlain, with just 15 minutes of football to his name for this game, which didn’t exert enough influence in midfield.
Derby captain Max Bird dragged his best chance early in the second half next to a pinball machine in the penalty area and although Oxlade-Chamberlain’s deflected shot and Carvalho forced Wildsmith’s saves, Klopp sent his big guns with 25 minutes to go.
The intensity and quality were immediately heightened and the introduction of winger Ben Doak two days before his 17th birthday for his debut added some immediacy to the Liverpool right.
Elliott was denied by a reflex that was denied 10 minutes before time after being picked out by Oxlade-Chamberlain’s ball over the top. Wildsmith then reacted the same way to keep out a header from Firmino.
In between, Derby substitute David McGoldrick’s downward header proved easy for Kelleher, but in the end neither keeper was tested enough until Liverpool came to the fore when it mattered.