Caoimhin Kelleher was the penalty shootout hero again for Liverpool as the Carabao Cup holders progressed to the fourth round with a spot-kick win over Derby.
Normal time ended goalless at Anfield, with Paul Warne’s League One opponents holding firm against a very different Liverpool side, with Jurgen Klopp making 11 substitutions.
Derby keeper Joe Wildsmith’s heroism was needed in normal times and a shootout save from Liverpool teenager Stefan Bajcetic appeared to send the Rams to victory.
But Kelleher produced three expert saves from Conor Hourihane, Craig Forsyth and Everton on loan Lewis Dobbin – although Roberto Firimino missed his penalty for Liverpool – leaving Harvey Elliott to score the winner.
Full debuts were given to 19-year-old summer signing Calvin Ramsay, 17-year-old Bobby Clark, 18-year-old Stefan Bajcetic and Melkamu Frauendorf and 20-year-old senior player Layton Stewart.
The other five senior outfielders had only made 25 starts between them this season and Joe Gomez had 11.
Derby, 46 places below their hosts, knew their best bet was to frustrate and hope to seize an opportunity when it presented itself, so when Liverpool entered their half they fell into a back five, sometimes six, and the inexperienced midfield and forward line struggled to find a solution.
In truth, Liverpool looked like they were treading water until the introduction of the three senior players from the bench 25 minutes from time.
Half chances came and went as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain flew narrowly wide after Craig Forsyth only half cleared a corner with his header, Stewart clipped in front of goal from Fabio Carvalho’s cross and Kostas Tsimikas caught a shot after goaltender Joe Wildsmith had batted. to a cross.
Physicality was an issue for Liverpool and that was highlighted when Carvalho, at fleet foot, broke down down the left to be relieved of the ball and onto the floor by Eiran Cashin’s shoulder charge.
Bajcetic played with his socks down like Thiago Alcantara – whose father Mazinho played with Bajcetic Srdan’s father at Celta Vigo during the 1996-97 season – but while he had the energy, unfortunately for Liverpool, he didn’t lacked the passing range of the more experienced Spaniard to unlock a stubborn defence.
But it was more of a missed opportunity for the likes of Oxlade-Chamberlain, with just 15 minutes of football to his name before that game, which didn’t exert enough influence in midfield.
Derby captain Max Bird took advantage of his best chance early in the second half after a pinball in the penalty area and, although a deflected shot from Oxlade-Chamberlain and Carvalho forced Wildsmith to save his big guns , Klopp fired his big guns with 25 minutes remaining.
The intensity and quality were immediately lifted and the introduction of winger Ben Doak, two days shy of his 17th birthday, on his debut added a certain openness to Liverpool’s right side.
Elliott was denied by a reflex save 10 minutes after being picked off by Oxlade-Chamberlain’s ball over the top, with Wildsmith then reacting in the same way to deny a header from Firmino.
In between, the downside header of Derby substitute David McGoldrick proved an easy choice for Kelleher but, ultimately, neither keeper was sufficiently tested until Liverpool came first. plan when it mattered.
Klopp: Kelleher must maintain these numbers!
Kelleher has now saved six penalties in a shootout, the most in club history after overtaking Pepe Reina’s tally of five. He has been involved in eight League Cup matches, four of which have been a shootout and he has won all four.
“He’s still got a lot of goalkeeping years ahead for him, so if he can keep that record, it would be outstanding and completely crazy numbers. He’s done really well,” Klopp said.
Derby boss Paul Warne refused to be put down after his defeat. “Life is too short, careers are short, games are over in the blink of an eye and I thought other than the first 10 minutes where we showed Liverpool too much respect, I thought the guys had competed as well as they could,” he said.
“I can’t be prouder. After 10 minutes it felt like an hour and then after that the game was gone. We created a few chances on the counter and our goalkeeper made some amazing saves for keep it aimless.
“Once there are penalty shootouts, it’s just a lottery. I don’t know if I would like to take a penalty. There’s no shame in penalty shootouts.”