FA Cup: Ruben Neves strike against Liverpool earns  Wolverhampton Fourth-round Spot

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Ruben Neves’ superb second-half strike sent Wolves through to the FA Cup fourth round at the expense of a Liverpool side that featured three teenagers making their full debuts.

Reds boss Jurgen Klopp made nine changes to his starting XI, which included 17-year-old midfielder Curtis Jones and 18-year-old Rafael Camacho.

Dutch defender Ki-Jana Hoever joined them – at 16, the club’s third youngest debutant – in the 68 minute following an injury to Dejan Lovren.

Wolves found it difficult to trouble the inexperienced backline until the 38th minute when Raul Jimenez fired them ahead following an error by midfielder James Milner.

Divock Origi levelled for the visitors six minutes after the break with the side’s first effort on target, when he fired a brilliant strike through the legs of Leander Dendoncker and past goalkeeper John Ruddy.

But that parity lasted four minutes as Neves launched a venomous dipping shot from 31 yards that beat Simon Mignolet at his near post.

Xherdan Shaqiri’s free kick, magnificently pushed on to the post by John Ruddy, was the Reds’ only other effort of note.

Wolves, who knocked Liverpool out of the FA Cup for the second time in three seasons, will be away to the winners of the tie between Stoke and Shrewsbury in the fourth round.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp will have been dismayed with the way his first-team hopefuls performed for much of the match.

His strike force of Daniel Sturridge, out of contract in the summer, and Belgian Origi failed to gel, managing only one pass between them in the first half and only one touch in the opposition’s penalty area.

Absent was the running into pockets and slick passing made into a fine art form by their regular attacking trio of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, and instead the makeshift XI littered the pitch with misplaced balls.

Liverpool did improve slightly after the break. Origi’s goal should have given them that much-needed impetus, but before they could pressure the home side again, they fell behind again.

The Reds came agonisingly close to equalising a second time when Shaqiri’s fantastic free-kick was tipped on to the post by an equally brilliant save from Ruddy.

Klopp brought on big guns Salah and Firmino with 20 minutes to go, but the pair could not inspire a late fightback.

Wolves, like Liverpool, were sub-standard for much of that opening period. The onus was them to test the Reds’ inexperienced defence, and it seemed as if they would head into the break with only one effort on target – Jimenez’s 34th-minute strike which was easily held by Mignolet.

However, seven minutes before the interval they made the breakthrough which came, ironically, from a mistake by Liverpool’s most experienced player on the pitch.

Milner, inside his own half, failed to control a pass from Alberto Moreno and Jimenez seized upon the loose ball. The Mexico international surged into the Liverpool area before he whipped a low shot past the reach of Mignolet.

That was an excellent individual goal, but Neves’ was better. The Portuguese player, who has made a habit of scoring stunners, picked up the ball from more than 30 yards before launching an effort which Mignolet barely had time to react to.

Camacho produced a competent display at right-back and Jones produced one good run and cross during the first half.

But most impressive was Hoever, who joined the Reds from Ajax in the summer. Thrown into the cauldron after Lovren’s hamstring injury, Liverpool’s youngest player in FA Cup history, grew into his role alongside stand-in centre-back Fabinho.

He also produced one of the moments of the match when he raced out from defence to set up a Liverpool attack.

The Dutch player could become a fans’ favourite if he gets given more first-team chances.

Klopp said he was left with little choice but to play teenager Hoever.

“It doesn’t make sense to bring in a 16-year-old boy from the start,” said the German. “You don’t bring him, you wait until he is completely ready, but he did well.

“That’s how it sometimes starts – when you are really needed, then it is only about if you are good enough – and not how old you are.”

 

 




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