A Liverpool striker scored his first ever hat-trick for the club, before the U23s crashed out of a European competition, whilst a promising midfielder signed his first professional contract.

Matty Virtue was on target but Liverpool U23s crashed out of the Premier League International Cup after suffering a late 2-1 defeat against Porto at Leigh Sports Village on Wednesday

BIRKENHEAD, ENGLAND (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Virtue, who had been on-loan at League Two side Notts County, put the Reds ahead in the first half after brilliant work from U18 regulars Adam Lewis and Liam Millar.

READ MORE: Liverpool Academy Round-Up: U19s Defeat Manchester United To Progress In Europe

However, Bruno Costa smashed home an equaliser in the 65th minute, and just as Neil Critchley’s side thought they had hung on, Santiago Irala headed in a winner in the 94th minute to send Porto into the semi-finals of the competition.

Liverpool: Ward, N. Williams, Masterson, Johnston, Gallacher, Dixon-Bonner, Virtue, Lewis, Millar, Adekanye, Gomes (Sharif, 87).

That heart-breaking defeat came just four days after Dominic Solanke scored his first hat-trick for the club as the U23s qualified for the Premier League Cup Round of 16 with a 4-0 win over Stoke.

Solanke struck in the 25th minute and again five minutes before half-time to give Liverpool a comfortable lead at the interval, before completing his hat-trick with just over 20 minutes to go.

Bobby Adekanye added gloss to what was already a convincing scoreline with a fourth in the 84th minute, but Liverpool ended the game with ten-men after Herbie Kane saw red.

Although Solanke took the plaudits, Curtis Jones created two assists and there were also showings from Joe Gomez and Nathaniel Clyne, who played the full 90 minutes at St George’s Park.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Liverpool: Grabara, Clyne, Gallacher, Gomez, Johnston, Dixon-Bonner (Lewis, 56), Camacho (Adekanye, 68), Kane, Solanke, Jones, Dhanda.

READ MORE: Nathanial Clyne Returns to a very different situation

Elijah Dixon-Bonner started and played 56 minutes in the win, and his performance came just days after he signed his first ever professional contract with the club after moving from Arsenal.

The midfielder has been a regular in the U18s this season, and Critchley has hinted that Dixon-Bonner may be getting more game time as the season enters its run-in.

He told liverpoolfc.com: “Elijah has shown a real maturity in his play and it’s a big challenge for him because he’s a young boy stepping into a senior environment and he has adapted really well.”

“I’m sure he will get more opportunities. He’s got things to work on, he knows that, and we will help him adapt, but so far him and the other young players have done themselves no harm at all.”

The U23s manager has also heaped praise on young defender George Johnston, who partnered the experienced Gomez in defence.

“George is very consistent and that is the biggest compliment you can pay to him,” he added. “He very rarely makes a mistake. He is always there, you can depend on him, he’s very reliable, very assured and he is a coaches’ dream.”

Johnston has also described working alongside England youth international Gomez as a ‘massive help’ and said: “He constantly talks to you and tells you what to do, he helps your positioning, he is comfortable on the ball and he makes you feel comfortable as well.”

Elsewhere, Liverpool U18s secured a morale-boosting 2-1 victory over Wolves at the Kirkby Academy on Saturday afternoon, with Steven Gerrard fielding four debutants for the Premier League clash.

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND – Tuesday, December 19, 2017: (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Remi Savage and Jack Bearne were on target to put the Reds in control of the tie, before Kieran Feeney pulled back a late consolation in injury-time, but Liverpool rose to second in the table.

Liverpool: Jaros, Clayton, R. Williams, Savage, Boyes (O’Rourke, 83), Larouci, Clarkson, Brookwell (Cain, 90), Sharif, Bearne (Walls, 71), McAuley.

After what was described as a ‘tough month’ for the Academy, Gerrard was pleased to see his side back to winning ways and said: “We were after a response and a reaction.”

“We had a very, very young team and squad to pick from, but they’ve done excellently. I’m really proud of them and it’s nice to get back to winning ways.”

The U18s were without midfielder Edvard Tagseth for the game, because the young Norwegian has been ruled out until May with after suffering a reported stress response injury in his left leg.

READ MORE: Can Danny Ings be an asset for Liverpool this season?

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