An aberration from Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana gifted Curtis Jones his first Champions League goal and handed Liverpool qualification to the last 16 as Group D winners with a 1-0 victory at Anfield.
The focus had been all been on Caoimhin Kelleher making his competition debut between the posts for Jurgen Klopp’s side because of injury to Alisson Becker but the 22-year-old did not put a foot wrong.
Instead the spotlight fell on Onana, making his 23rd Champions League appearance, who inexplicably pulled out of claiming Neco Williams’ inswinging cross and Jones nipped in behind him to score the decisive goal just before the hour.
Liverpool needed only a draw from the fixture to secure progress to the knockout stage but Midtjylland getting a point against Atalanta guaranteed top spot, rendering next week’s trip to Denmark a dead rubber and giving Klopp some much-needed breathing room to rest some of his players.
Alisson is likely to be out for up to 10 days with a hamstring problem sustained at Brighton on Saturday, taking the injury count up to nine.
Klopp opted to play Kelleher, who had only four domestic cup appearances to his name, instead of established number two Adrian and was not disappointed as the Republic of Ireland Under-21 international produced several good saves, the best late on from experienced goalscorer Klaas Jan Huntelaar’s close-range header.
It was another positive on a night when the club’s academy youngsters stepped up to the plate.
Despite losing out in the possession stakes throughout, Liverpool took their chance when it came. Or rather when it was dished up on a plate.
Captain Jordan Henderson, who had spent the whole game guiding and cajoling Williams, cut the ball back to the young defender, who switched it onto his weaker left foot and sent over a deep cross.
Onana came for it and then left it, assuming it was drifting out of play. He had not counted on Jones stealing in beyond the far post to squeeze a shot home from a narrow angle.
It was the first time two teenagers had combined for a Liverpool goal in the Champions League and with his current injury crisis Klopp will hope it is not the last.
Onana tipped substitute Roberto Firmino’s shot onto a post but the damage had already been done and Kelleher showed him how it should be done with his point-blank save from Huntelaar.
Champions League round-up
Atalanta are second in Group B after Cristian Romero cancelled out Alexander Scholz’s opener in a 1-1 draw with FC Midtjylland.
Real Madrid slumped to a second shock defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk to slip to third in Group B. They were looking for revenge for October’s surprise 3-2 home reverse, but second-half goals from Dentinho and Solomon stunned them again.
Real have never failed to qualify for the knockout stages of a Champions League campaign in 24 attempts, but they have work to do now, while Shakhtar have a real chance of reaching the last 16 after climbing into second spot.
Borussia Monchengladbach stay top despite a 3-2 defeat at home to Inter Milan, who also kept their hopes of progressing alive on what promises to be a nailbiting final matchday.
Matteo Darmian and two from Romelu Lukaku gave Inter victory, with Gladbach’s goals coming from Alassane Plea.
A late Thomas Muller penalty earned Bayern Munich a 1-1 draw at Atletico Madrid, meaning the Spanish side must avoid defeat at Red Bull Salzburg in their final group game to progress. Joao Felix had put Atletico ahead midway through the first half against a largely second-string Bayern, who had already qualified.
At the other end of Group A Mergim Berisha scored twice as Salzburg beat Lokomotiv Moscow 3-1.
Manchester City won Group C despite being held to a goalless draw by Porto, who are also through, while two Dimitri Payet penalties gave Marseille a 2-1 win against Olympiacos.