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Youngsters Kelleher, Jones both 8/10 as Liverpool reach UCL's last 16

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Nicol: Kelleher was cool as a cucumber for Liverpool (1:11)

Steve Nicol praises young Liverpool goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher for keeping a clean sheet vs. Ajax. (1:11)

Liverpool sealed qualification into the last 16 of the Champion League with 1-0 win at home to Ajax on Tuesday night.

In a closely-fought contest, both sides had opportunities to snatch the win. However, after the likes of Diogo Jota and Sadio Mane faltered in front of goal, it fell to Curtis Jones of all players to break the deadlock. The 19-year-old had previously struck the post in the first half, but on the hour mark, he expertly converted Neco Williams' cross past a helpless Andre Onana.

While the goal did momentarily settle Liverpool's nerves, a late Ajax onslaught forced a number of fine saves out of Caoimhin Kelleher -- making his first Champions League start -- but Liverpool held on for an important three points.

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Positives

Defensively, Liverpool were superb. Up against a prolific Ajax attack, the home side remain poised and organised, even as the shots rained down in the closing stages.

Similarly, the contributions of the fresh-faced academy graduates like Kelleher, Jones, and Williams, will also please Jurgen Klopp. Kelleher kept a clean sheet while the latter two combined for the side's only goal.

Negatives

As much as we may associate the Premier League champions with goals, they've struggled to put the ball in the back of the net in their past three outings. Wasteful finishing was on display once again tonight, as it took a mistake from the Ajax keeper for Liverpool to be able to take the lead. The Reds' form in front of goal will no doubt return at some point, but of late, Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino have all been wasteful in front of goal.

Manager rating out of 10

8 -- Showed faith in youngster Jones -- which paid off handsomely. The midfielder's opening goal helped his side to solidify their status at the top of the group, at a time of the game when it could have gone either way. The German manager's centre-back pairing also functioned well, while the decision to go with Kelleher in-between the sticks was similarly justified. Solid selection by the boss for a solid night's work.

Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best, players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Caoimhin Kelleher, 8 -- The young Irishman looked remarkably composed in his first Champions League start. He made a handful of excellent stops and wasn't afraid to claim loose balls in the penalty area.

DF Neco Williams, 7 -- Grabbed an assist after his floated cross caught out Onana, and was converted by Jones at the back post. Defensively he was also much improved compared to some of his recent outings.

DFJoel Matip, 8 -- One of Liverpool's most impressive performers. In a defensive capacity, very little got past him, while his strides out of the back with the ball proved -- as always -- to be very effective in launching attacks.

DF Fabinho, 7 -- Looks to be a natural defender, despite it very much being his secondary position. The Brazilian read the game beautifully tonight.

DF Andrew Robertson, 6 -- Appeared to pick up a slight knock early in the game, one which dampened his overall play for large spells. An energetic, if slightly underwhelming display from the Scot.

MF Jordan Henderson, 7 -- Patrolled the midfield well from the No. 6 position, seldomly giving the ball away, and remaining tactically disciplined throughout.

MF Georginio Wijnaldum, 7 -- Was more creative tonight than we are perhaps used to seeing. The Dutchman played a number of excellent through balls to the forwards -- chances that were ultimately squandered.

MF Curtis Jones, 8 -- Liverpool's matchwinner on the night. His cute side-footed goal was a piece of fantastic improvisation -- and was well earned after his previous effort from range cannoned off the post.

FW Diogo Jota, 6 -- Lively but wasteful in key moments, as all too often his first touch let him down. The Portuguese forward has set a very high standard in recent weeks, but couldn't quite maintain such form this evening.

FW Mohamed Salah, 7 -- Got into good areas time and time again, only for his teammates to ignore his fine movement. Perfectly teed up Firmino in the closing stages, only for the shot to be saved.

FW Sadio Mane, 6 -- Frustrating from the outset. His direct runs and movement were a constant menace, but all that good work was undone by bad decision-making in the final third. The Senegalese forward could really do with a goal.

Substitutes

FW Roberto Firmino, 6 -- Looked sharp but missed a gilt-edged opportunity to double his sides lead.

DF Rhys Williams N/R -- Replaced Salah with minutes remaining.