Caoimhin Kelleher was the penalty shootout hero once again for Liverpool as the Carabao Cup holders scraped into round four with a spot-kick victory over Derby.
Normal time ended goalless at Anfield with Paul Warne’s League One opponents holding firm against a much-changed Liverpool side, with Jurgen Klopp making 11 changes.
Heroics from Derby goalkeeper Joe Wildsmith were needed in normal time and a shootout save from Liverpool teenager Stefan Bajcetic looked to be sending the Rams to victory.
But Kelleher produced three expert saves from Conor Hourihane, Craig Forsyth and Everton loanee Lewis Dobbin – despite Roberto Firimino missing his penalty for Liverpool – leaving Harvey Elliott to score the winning kick.
Full debuts were handed to 19-year-old summer signing Calvin Ramsay, 17-year-old Bobby Clark, 18-year-olds Stefan Bajcetic and Melkamu Frauendorf and Layton Stewart, the senior player of the group in 20.
The five other senior outfield players had made just 25 starts between them this season and Joe Gomez accounted for 11 of those.
Derby, 46 places below their hosts, knew their best chance was to frustrate and hope to take an opportunity when it came, so when Liverpool entered their half they dropped into a back five, sometimes six, and the inexperienced midfield and forward line struggled to come up with a solution.
In truth, Liverpool looked like they were treading water until the introduction of the three senior players off the bench with 25 minutes to go.
Half-chances came and went as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain volleyed narrowly wide after Craig Forsyth only half-cleared a corner with his head, Stewart sliced over in front of goal from Fabio Carvalho’s cross and Kostas Tsimikas snatched at a shot after goalkeeper Joe Wildsmith flapped at a cross.
Physicality was a problem for Liverpool and that was highlighted when the fleet-footed Carvalho broke down the left only to be eased off 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’s dad Srdan at Celta Vigo during the 1996-97 season – but while he had the energy, unfortunately for Liverpool he did not have 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 only 15 minutes of football to his name before this game, who did not exert enough influence in midfield.
Derby captain Max Bird dragged wide their best chance early in the second half after some penalty-area pinball and, although Oxlade-Chamberlain’s deflected shot and Carvalho forced saves from Wildsmith, Klopp sent for his big guns with 25 minutes to go.
The intensity and quality was immediately lifted and the introduction of winger Ben Doak, two days short of his 17th birthday, for his debut added some directness to Liverpool’s right-hand side.
Elliott was denied by a reflex save 10 minutes from time having been picked out by Oxlade-Chamberlain’s ball over the top, Wildsmith then reacting similarly to keep out a Firmino header.
In between, Derby substitute David McGoldrick’s downward header proved easy pickings for Kelleher but, ultimately, neither goalkeeper was tested enough until Liverpool’s came to the fore when it mattered.