Jack Stephens the latest Southampton star as Liverpool left stunned

It was Alan Hansen who once famously declared "You don't win anything with kids," before Manchester United's class of '92 went on to prove him wrong by securing the 1996 Premier League and FA Cup double.

If Hansen watched his beloved Liverpool being dumped out of the EFL Cup by Southampton on Wednesday night -- robbing Jurgen Klopp of the chance to win his first trophy in English football -- his words would have come back to haunt him again.

For Southampton's 1-0 victory, securing a 2-0 aggregate scoreline, was built on a rock solid defence, with academy graduate Jack Stephens very much at the heart of it.

This time last year it is unlikely anyone outside of Hampshire would have heard of Stephens, who is now looking forward to a big Wembley final before even making his full Premier League debut. In fact, when the teamsheets were released a little over an hour before kick-off with injured captain and star player Virgil van Dijk absent, Liverpool fans were buoyant at their chances of overturning a first leg deficit to set up a likely capital showdown with Manchester United.

Even some Southampton supporters called for manager Claude Puel to move Oriol Romeu from midfield to defence, or shift left-back Ryan Bertrand to play alongside Maya Yoshida in the centre.

But there was never any doubt in Puel's mind that if Van Dijk wasn't fit after hobbling out of Sunday's 3-0 win over Leicester with an ankle injury -- and the towering Dutchman is set for an extended spell on the sidelines -- he would put his faith in Stephens.

The England Under-21 international may have played more games as a loanee for League One strugglers Swindon than in the Southampton first team, but Puel had seen enough in training and during the cameo against Leicester to suggest the grounded youngster could handle the Anfield cauldron.

It was a bold decision from the Frenchman and one for which, as he basks in the glory of leading Southampton to a major final in his maiden season, he should be applauded. Particularly so, given the criticism he has encountered over his defensive playing style and constant tinkering with his lineup.

A faith in youngsters has been the main plus point from Puel's embryonic months in the job, epitomised by striker Josh Sims, 19, leading the breakaway move which led to Shane Long's dramatic last-gasp goal at Anfield.

While Southampton maintained Van Dijk had an outside chance of being fit, even leaking the fact he had travelled with the team to Merseyside to the media in a vain attempt to keep Liverpool guessing, Stephens knew from the moment the former Celtic ace limped away from St Mary's last week with his foot in a cast he would be asked to play the biggest game of his fledgling career.

Rather than being daunted by the enormity of the occasion and the task of leading Southampton to their first major Wembley final since 1979, Stephens turned from a boy into a man in the space of 94 never-to-be-forgotten minutes.

Making only his sixth appearance in a first team shirt, Stephens -- signed by Southampton from Plymouth as an up-and-coming teenager -- helped stifle a Liverpool attack containing Brazilian superstar Philippe Coutinho and England striker Daniel Sturridge.

Playing with a composure beyond his 22 years, Stephens, who celebrates his birthday on Friday, formed an unbreakable barrier alongside Yoshida, leaving those watching to ask, tongue-in-cheek: "Who needs Van Dijk?"

It could yet be a glimpse into the future with the £50million-rated skipper almost certain to be sold in the summer.

So while Klopp and his team of expensive purchases from Southampton were left to lick their wounds, Stephens and his teammates lapped up the celebrations in scenes rarely witnessed since their 1976 FA Cup final triumph over United.

Maybe you do win something with kids after all. In Stephens' case, you certainly win hearts.