Liverpool U21s fell to their first defeat of the new season on Sunday as Middlesbrough left the Academy with a 4-1 victory.
It was a somewhat harsh scoreline for a Premier League 2 game where the young Reds had decent control in the first period and looked likely to go on and win.
But early goals from the visitors saw the contest change completely in the second half and they were well worthy of the three points in the end.
The big positives for the hosts were starts for Paul Glatzel and captain Tom Hill, plus a substitute appearance from Kaide Gordon, with all three making their way back from long-term injuries.
Liverpool started well in the Kirkby sunshine, getting in some good positions down the right and perhaps not making the most of some quality situations.
Boro were trying to steal possession and catch the Reds on the counter, creating a couple of half-chances, but it was the home side who always looked most likely.
A header from Melkamu Frauendorf flashed across goal from a corner on 15 minutes with no finishing touch applied, before striker Glatzel saw his effort saved by Nathan Fisher in the opposition goal.
Glatzel then turned provider, his low cross pushed away by Fisher’s hand with Hill waiting for a tap-in.
Frauendorf was a real influence on the match and he produced a superb break from a Middlesbrough corner, running from his own half to set up Glatzel with a squared cross – but a defensive boot prevented a certain goal.
It was almost half-time before Fabian Mrozek was needed for anything more than routine, getting down low to gather a snap-shot from Calum Kavanagh.
By Nick Taylor
That changed five minutes into the second half, though, as the visitors took the lead. A slip in defence allowed Isaac Fletcher a clear sight of goal and he made no mistake with a low drive past Mrozek.
Five minutes later, they had another. A swift exchange of passes around the box put Sonny Finch in and he scored in the same corner of the net, his last kick before being substituted.
Mrozek saved well from AJ Bridge as the away team grew confidence from their lead, and two quick goals followed to seal the game for Boro.
First a free-kick was not properly cleared and Nathan Simpson blasted home high into the net with 73 minutes on the clock. Six minutes later, Terrell Agyemang won a midfield tackle and put striker Kavanagh away to round Mrozek and stroke home.
Gordon had arrived from the bench for the last 20 minutes or so, a bright sign after 18 months out, and Hill was still going strong at the end, grabbing a consolation on 90 minutes.
In injury time, Liverpool substitute Josh Davidson was shown a straight red card for a challenge on Max Howells.
Liverpool U21s: Mrozek, Mabaya (Davidson, 64), Scanlon, Miles (Pinnington, 74), Chambers, Pilling (Spearing, 64), McConnell, Hill, Clark, Glatzel, Frauendorf (Gordon, 74).
Unused sub: Kelly.
Barry Lewtas’ side are next in action on September 19, when their EFL Trophy participation begins with a trip to Morecambe.
Kick-off at Mazuma Mobile Stadium is 7pm BST.