This is what it must have been like when the Beatles burst through the doors at the Cavern Club. Say hello to Curtis Jones, the latest Liverpool poster boy to blow the mind. Only 18 years old, Liverpool born and bred, here he was sending the kids into the FA Cup fourth round with a goal of thrilling majesty, and against Everton’s first team to boot.
For all the riches available to the red men there is little like a kid from down the street letting off flares under lights at Anfield. Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman, Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard, Trent Alexander-Arnold, John, Paul, George and Ringo have all felt the love of the Kop. Though only his fifth first-team engagement, Jones looked in that class of performer from the first whistle. Mind you, he was not the only one playing a tune.
Jones scored the winning penalty in the chaotic Carabao Cup quarter-final against Arsenal to great acclaim but not like this. There was nothing on until he sent his tracer through the ether towards the Anfield Road. Jordan Pickford probably thought that is where the ball was heading until gravity drew it back along a lethal arc beyond his outstretched arm into the top corner.
“I just try to play my game. It’s frustrating to be on bench, getting a bit of a taste. In the end I’m begging to come on,” Jones said, “Hopefully I have put in a performance and ended it with a great goal.”
That’s one interpretation, Curtis. Jones made his Liverpool debut in this competition a year ago against Wolves and his league debut only last month against Bournemouth. He shone in the Carabao Cup at Villa Park before Christmas despite finishing the match a 5-0 loser. Here he left the pitch to a standing ovation.
Understandably Jurgen Klopp wanted to spread the love across the piece. “A sensationally good performance from an inexperienced team, a lot playing on this kind of stage in front of this crowd against this opponent for the first time. I loved it, every second of it,” he said, before adding this about the goalscorer.
“Unbelievable player. Scouser, very confident. He will be a Liverpool player, if nothing strange happens, 100 percent. That he scores that goal I am not surprised. He is for these situations. Still a lot to learn, a lot to improve. Sometimes people forget in training, he is 18. Unbelievable.”
The chances of Everton ending a 20-year barren stretch at Anfield were promising when the teamsheets appeared featuring a Liverpool shadow XI. Local fundraiser and Everton fan Speedo Mick picked up on this by cartwheeling down the touchline before kick-off in blue budgie smugglers and a Santa hat.
Little marks out the English character more than the eccentricities of those who would make themselves look daft for charitable causes. Every penny Mick raises on his interrupted walk from John O’Groats to Lands End will be spent in this fair city. £100k and counting. That, as it turned out, was as good as it would get for Everton.
If manager Jurgen Klopp, pictured, revealed where his priorities lay with a selection that gave a debut to Takimoglu Minamino and included Adrian in goal plus teenagers Jones, Harvey Elliott and Neco Williams, Carlo Ancelotti was not messing about, sending out a line-up close to full strength. Eight minutes in Liverpool lost James Milner to injury. It was some irony that the deployment of the wider squad should fail to safeguard the adults in whose interests the strategy was rolled out. To Liverpool’s credit, the change had nil impact on the game’s rhythm.
Just as they had against Villa, the kids stuck to the Klopp template of pass and move with intensity. Unlike the Villa Park experience this opponent was unable to “old man” them out of the contest. Though Everton created the better chances in the first half the composure was Liverpool’s.
The second period followed the pattern of the first. Ancelotti made the inevitable changes just past the hour introducing Fabian Delph and Moise Kean for skipper Seamus Coleman and Gylfi Sigurdsson respectively, hoping to inject a degree of purpose. No chance. Everton were too deeply intoxicated by the Liverpool spell.
With Liverpool packing Sadio Mane, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and captain Jordan Henderson on the bench in case of emergency, the feeling was it had to be now for Everton. Klopp did send on Oxlade-Chamberlain for Minamino but didn’t need him since Jones was the one from whom the magic flowed.
His goal left Everton with 20 minutes to rescue the match and their season, assuming winning trophies is still the point at Goodison Park. Given the 50 games that Liverpool have gone without losing after scoring first and the 20 years Everton have endured without winning here, the odds were always slim.