UNITED KINGDOM, May 15 – Jordon Ibe’s superb goal gave a much-changed Liverpool side a 1-1 draw at West Bromwich Albion on Sunday’s final day of the Premier League season.
Three days before the Reds face Sevilla in the Europa League final in Basel, their manager Jurgen Klopp made 11 changes for their final domestic outing of the campaign.
They fell behind on 13 minutes to a fine West Brom goal that was finished off by Venezuelan international Salomon Rondon.
But Ibe’s solo effort levelled the scores 10 minutes later as most of Klopp’s likely European starters were rested.
Emotions were high before the game as West Brom paid a touching tribute to the victims of the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster following their families’ momentous inquest victory.
There were 96 empty red seats in the away end, each bearing the name of a fan who died, and before kick-off West Brom captain Darren Fletcher and former Liverpool striker Rickie Lambert, now with Albion, laid floral tributes in front of the visiting supporters.
There was little incident of note in the opening stages, but the game was then enlivened by three pieces of fabulous skill from young attacking players.
First Jonathan Leko, West Brom’s 17-year-old wideman, created the opening goal for Rondon.
Leko pounced on Joe Allen’s poor pass, rode two firm challenges to stay on his feet and then fed Rondon with a perfect pass.
The Venezuelan then produced a fine, low finish past Adam Bogdan.
Cameron Brannagan tried to replicate Leko with a strong, weaving run at the heart of the West Brom defence, but his low shot was tame and comfortable for Ben Foster in the home goal.
But Ibe made no mistake on 23 minutes with a fantastic solo effort to level the scores.
– Testimonial pace –
He left Jonny Evans standing on halfway, close to the right touchline, before darting 50 yards, through the West Brom defence and past Jonas Olsson.
He then kept his composure to place a firm, low shot past Foster.
On the half-hour, Allen tried to make amends for his earlier error, but his long-range shot was dragged well wide.
Then came a disappointing moment for another youngster as Liverpool full-back Brad Smith was booked for diving after a powerful run at the West Brom back four brought him one-on-one with Jonas Olsson.
The second half also began at near testimonial pace, with both sides lacking the urgency to create openings.
Craig Gardner was first to try his luck with a long-range shot that flashed well wide.
Then Rondon had the first of several chances as he met a fine free-kick from Gardner with a glancing header that struck the woodwork.
It was Rondon again who threatened to score when a Gardner corner was flicked on to the far post.
The big striker failed to make a clean contact with his first shot, but he recovered for a second, which Bogdan turned around the post superbly for another corner.
West Brom continued to look more likely scorers as they pegged Liverpool in their own half for long spells, but they could not force a breakthrough.
And in the closing moments Christian Benteke should have made the most of a two-on-one break with fit-again substitute Jordan Henderson unmarked in the centre.
But the big striker lost his way and was tackled by Gareth McAuley.