LIVERPOOL rubber-stamped their place in the last 16 of the Champions league thanks to an incredible blunder from Ajax keeper Andre Onana.
The Cameroon international allowed a cross from Nico Williams to float over his head – apparently deciding it was sailing out of lay – but he had not seen Curtis Jones sneaking in behind him.
The 19 year old Liverpool midfielder capped a fine performance by squeezing home a volley from a tight angle for his first Champions League goal.
But the sight of Onana holding his head in his hands in disbelief showed the Ajax stopper was due an assist for that match-winner.
It got even better for Jurgen Klopp’s injury-ravaged side, as Atalanta’s failure to beat Group D whipping boys Midtjylland meant Liverpool are certain to finish top of their pool.
The pre-match talk had centred around Liverpool’s choice of goalkeeper, with Caoimhin Kelleher given a shock Champions League debut
First choice Allison was ruled out by a slight hamstring strain, and Klopp said he had decided to play Kelleher ahead of usual stand-in Adrian because the Irish keeper is “a good shot stopper”.
He had plenty of opportunities to prove that as Ajax bossed proceedings until their own keeper’s incredible gaffe.
They twice went close to taking the lead just before Jones struck, although the visitors had certainly been given enough warnings that the young midfielder was a player they had to keep an eye on.
Ajax admitted before the game they were nervous about facing Liverpool’s goal-hungry front three. But the early threat also came from Jones.
He tried his luck after just two minutes as Liverpool stormed forward on a trademark counter-attack, but his shot flew straight at Onana.
The Ajax keeper was beaten all ends four minutes later as Jones let fly again, only to see his effort crash against the far post.
Ajax had certainly not come to Anfield looking to defend, as you might expect from a side who had scored 38 goals in their eight games since losing the reverse fixture against Liverpool 1-0.
That run included a 13-0 away win over Dutch League rivals Venlo four days the Liverpool game – and fans here have been talking about the glut of freak results since the coronavirus lockdown ended!
Brazilian striker Anthony should have done better with a shooting chance that sailed high into the empty stands, while former Everton misfit Davy Klaasen was clearly enjoying his return to Merseyside.
He sprayed a couple of superb crossfield passes to stretch the home defence, and almost sprang the offside trap on a couple of occasions.
Liverpool were playing a dangerous game there.
The Dutch side’s growing confidence was reflected as full back Noussair Mazraoui rampaged forward and unleashed a fierce drive which brought a fine diving save from Kelleher.
That brought a smile to Klopp’s face but it disappeared as Andy Robertson – the only member of Liverpool’s first choice back four not ruled out by injury – twice went down clutching his left foot.
The Scotland captain was able to carry on after having his ankle heavily strapped, but it was still a worrying sight for the Liverpool boss.
Liverpool had not offered much of a threat after that lively start, with Ajax enjoying almost two thirds of the first half possession. But the Reds stepped up a gear just before the break.
Diogo Jota was thwarted by a brilliantly-timed challenge from Edson Alvarez, while Perr Schurrs took a more physical approach when Sadio Mane burst past him.
The big central defender was lucky to escape with only a yellow card.
But Ajax continued to look easy on the eye, and they should have taken the lead five minutes into the second half.
Another well-worked move saw David Neres pick out Klaasen, but he sent his close range header flashing wide of the target.
They went close again with Mazraoui forcing another good low save from Kelleher, and Neres could not believe it when he sent the rebound crashing against the post.
That escape seemed to spark Liverpool into action – with a bit of help from the comedy keeper.
To be fair to Onana, he did redeem himself slightly, throwing himself bravely at the feet of Mo Salah and then diving full length to palm away a screamer from substitute Roberto Firmino.
Salah had a couple more chances to wrap it up for the home team as Ajax threw even more men forward, but he shot wastefully wide and then took far too long to pull the trigger.
And Kelleher justified his inclusion with a stunning point save from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar’s point blank header two minutes from time.
And suddenly, that smile was back on Klopp’s face.
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