CAOIMHIN KELLEHER must feel like he owns the Carabao Cup after another incredible hands-on display.
Last February it was the young Republic of Ireland goalkeeper who won the trophy for Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool.
He didn’t save one of the 10 penalty kicks fired at him by Chelsea, but he slotted from the spot himself to grab the glory of the 11-10 drama.
Last night he saved three times in a dramatic shoot-out before Harvey Elliott finally ended opposite number Joe Wildsmith’s crazy night – the having himself saved from Stefan Bajetic.
In the end most of those with Anfield breathed a huge sigh of relief after Klopp’s men just – but only just – saved themselves from humiliation.
Kelleher, 23, first made a name for himself almost two years ago, keeping a clean sheet in a 1–0 Champions League win over Ajax with No 1 Alisson injured.
The Brazilian was rested for the third round clash with the Rams – Kelleher part of Klopp’s all – change side from the one that beat Tottenham 2–1 on Sunday.
And he again showed why the German believes he would already be his side’s first chice were it not for the presence of Alisson.
He reacted brilliantly to deny Connor Hourihane, Craig Forsyth and Lewis Dobbin – and he had to.
For apart from Wildsmith’s save from Bajetic, substitute Roberto Firmino fired wildly over the bar.
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David McGoldrick and Louie Sibley scored for Paul Warne’s battlers, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Darwin Nunez countered before Elliott finally sent Klopp’s men through.
The German tried his own hand at further education in the clash – and mostly it didn’t work out.
Yet of the five youngsters given their full debuts, Calum Ramsey did come through with flying colours.
There has been quiet excitement within Anfield since the Scottish right back arrived from Aberdeen for £6million in the summer.
And his first start suggested boss Klopp and his coaches are right to believe they have their hands on a new star.
Ramsey, given his first taste of the big time in a three – minute sub appearance in last week’s 2 – 0 Champions League win over Napoli, looked like he was born to play at Anfield.
On an otherwise scrappy night amidst Klopp’s Liverpool-lite, the right back was the stand-out performer.
It can surely only be a matter of time before he is tapping on Trent Alexander-Arnold’s shoulder. And guess what?
Even if he was only up against Paul Warne’s League One doughty battlers, he showed that he can defend as well as, like TAA, power forward.
Ramsey, 19 was one of five youngsters to be given full debuts by Klopp as well as Layton Stewart (20), Bobby Clark (17), Melkamu Frauendorf (18) and Stefan Bajcetic (18).
There were part of an all – change side from that which offered hope of a Prem renaissance with Sunday’s 2–1 win over Tottenham.
Other than Ramsey, however, the kids showed that they were not quite alright yet.
Stewart should have put away a 32nd minute chance carved out for him by the more experienced but equally youthful Fabio Carvalho.
What had been a pretty tepid clash warmed up considerably after the break – a bit like Wildsmith’s hands would become.
The Rams goalkeeper had hardly been over-worked but as Liverpool lite began to get the taste for the action he reacted brilliantly to keep out one of the older bods in Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
The 29-year-old let fly from 25 yards and his shot looked like missing the target but a deflection forced a fine parry from Wildsmith.
He also got down well to deal with a strike from Fabio Carvalho.
Roberto Firmino, Darwin Nunez and Harvey Elliott came on as a triple change in the 66th minute yet the Rams – and especially Wildsmith, were not for folding.
Indeed Wildsmith almost put his shoulder out reacting to a shot from Elliott – having dived one way then arching back to get a crucial touch on the 82nd minute effort.
And all the way through the Rams fans roared their heads off. The holders hadn’t lost a tie in the competition since a defeat to Arsenal on October 1, 2020 and were facing a side fighting that lies seventh in the third tier of English football.
Derby also gave up a two-goal lead to National League Torquay United in Saturday’s 2–2 FA Cup first round tie.
Yet the away section was a 5, 567 sell – out of those who saw a real shaft of light after all the dark times the club has been through over the past couple of years.