From mini-derby delight to Derby despair, Liverpool's youngsters ended a rollercoaster week on a low note.

The Reds under-23s surrendered an early lead to fall to a 2-1 defeat at Derby County in their Premier League 2 meeting on Friday evening.

In the impressive surrounds of Loughborough University Stadium, Jake Cain fired a brilliant free-kick for the opener on 12 minutes as the visitors dominated early on.

But Derby, who drew 3-3 at Manchester City last week, hit back with two goals in eight minutes on a frustrating night for Barry Lewtas's side.

The first, on 24 minutes, saw a swift move from right to left end with Josh Shonibare curling home from inside the area.

And then Conor Bradley's brilliant tackle on Shonibare fell kindly for Jack Stretton to finish first time from close range.

Cain more than able

It wasn't difficult to pinpoint Liverpool's best performer on the evening.

Having proven the matchwinner against Everton at the Academy last Sunday with a first-minute goal, Cain again didn't waste any time making his mark.

After Jack Bearne had been upended 25 yards from goal on 12 minutes, Cain curled in a sumptuous left-footed free-kick that went in off the post beyond Derby goalkeeper Emmanuel Idem.

And the midfielder, who only turned 19 earlier this month, impressed with his all-round game, notable given he was in an engine room alongside Leighton Clarkson and Ben Woodburn.

Cain's deliveries from corners caused consternation while his ability to pick a pass created a fine first-half chance Bearne couldn't quite convert.

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Nor does the teenager shirk his defensive duties, racing back into the area to make a vital interception before the break as Derby wrestled the early initiative from the Reds.

With a tireless engine, an ability to run from deep meant he was a constant threat as Liverpool pressed for an equaliser during a largely one-sided second half.

Cain had been one of the standouts when more than holding his own in the hustle and bustle of midfield on senior debut in the FA Cup win over Shrewsbury Town in February.

On this early evidence, he will be one to keep an eye on this season.

Savage lesson for defender

With Morgan Boyes on loan and Rhys Williams joining Billy Koumetio and Sepp van den Berg in training with the first team, there was a new look centre-back pairing with Tom Clayton moving from left-back to join Remi Savage.

Savage, similar to a number of Liverpool youngsters on show, is making the step up from U18s this campaign.

And this game will have demonstrated the change in standard for the 18-year-old - who signed his first professional contract in June - with matters just that little bit quicker, that little bit more intense.

The teenager was guilty of dallying on the ball in the build-up to Derby's equaliser while hesitation in allowing a long ball to bounce almost allowed the home side in again during the second half.

Learning such lessons is what Academy football is about. Savage, whose swift progress through the ranks highlights his ability to acclimatise, will have taken note.

Bradley, Liverpool's youngest starter at 17 years old, impressed at right-back while Owen Beck, one of two changes to the starting line-up along with returning goalkeeper Vitezslav Jaros, was similarly effective on the left side of defence.

Striker light

This was a game crying out for Paul Glatzel or Joe Hardy.

Instead, the striking duo remain on the sidelines, both a couple of weeks away from a return to action as they overcome minor injury niggles.

Hardy had been signed in January to address a lack of a dedicated striker for the U23s during the first half of last season.

Luis Longstaff was one of several players to fill the breach during that period, and has started this campaign reprising the role.

It isn't, though, his natural game. And for all their fine build-up play at times, Liverpool lacked a real cutting edge.

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They weren't without chances, Woodburn hitting the inside of the post, Clarkson testing the keeper and substitute Fidel O'Rourke unable to react quickly enough to a fine Cain ball late on.

But in truth the longer the game progressed, the less likely an equaliser seemed.

One welcome bonus, however, was Abdi Sharif emerging from the bench late on to make his first competitive outing in more than a year after overcoming a cruciate ligament injury.

Many of the Liverpool players will be in action again on Tuesday, when an U21 side visits Wigan Athletic in the EFL Trophy.

LIVERPOOL: Jaros; Bradley (Sharif 81), Clayton, Savage, Beck; Clarkson, Cain, Woodburn; Bearne (O'Rourke 85), Longstaff (Dixon-Bonner 73), Millar. Sub: Winterbottom.