Liverpool midfielder Tyler Morton was less than 10 minutes away from ensuring another landmark in his burgeoning career.
The 20-year-old had helped Blackburn Rovers, the Championship side where he is spending the season on loan from Anfield, into a 2-1 lead at Sheffield United in their FA Cup quarter-final last Sunday.
Then the home side equalised. And worse was to come when, after Morton went to ground during injury time when caught in the face by a flailing arm, the officials allowed play to continue and the Blades smashed in a dramatic winner to end the youngster's hopes of a Wembley appearance in the semi-final.
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"The head injury for Morton, they say it was only a finger in the eye, but he would have been standing in that zone where the goal came from," said Blackburn boss Jon Dahl Tomasson. "Imagine if it was something really serious?"
The subsequent intense debate over whether Morton could have played on and blame apportioned to the youngster was, to excuse a pun, an eye-opener for the Reds starlet. But it shouldn't be allowed to detract from an encouraging season at Blackburn, who could yet secure a Wembley place by winning through to the play-off final.
That FA Cup tie was a rare occasion this season in which Morton has captured the attention of Liverpool supporters this season, although the Reds coaching staff have been impressed with his progress. The plan is from him to return for pre-season training in the summer to prove he can be in Jurgen Klopp's first-team squad next season.
Indeed, it's easy to forget Morton was last term's breakthrough star from the Academy, forcing his way into the first-team set-up and making nine appearances, including starts in the League Cup, Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup.
But this campaign's emergence from the Academy of Stefan Bajcetic, also in midfield, has underlined how quickly the pecking order can change, especially at such a young age. Bajcetic is now seen as the future ahead of Morton. If not quite out of sight, out of mind, then certainly impressing elsewhere is not as immediately beneficial.
Nevertheless, Morton is enjoying one of the more profitable loan spells by a Liverpool player this term with most having found it difficult. Seven players were recalled early from their temporary deals midway through the campaign. At present, there are 13 Liverpool players out on loan.
One of the more curious experiences was that of 20-year-old Owen Beck, who joined Famalicao of Portugal in the summer but lasted just 46 days before switching to Bolton Wanderers, where he made just two League One starts and is now back with the Reds under-21s.
"Loan experiences are exactly that – they are experiences," says U21s coach Barry Lewtas. "Owen obviously really took the plunge and went to a different country in Portugal, which is definitely something to be commended, stepping out of your comfort zone.
"Things didn’t quite work out but then he went to Bolton Wanderers, who are in a fantastic run. Sometimes things don’t kind of pan out the way you want them to go but he has learned an awful lot both as a person and as a player."
With Beck away, 18-year-old Luke Chambers - who featured for the senior team in pre-season - stepped up to left-back with the U21s and impressed sufficiently to secure a loan move in January to Scottish Premiership side Kilmarnock, for whom he has started seven of eight games.
Liverpool, of course, have already benefited from a temporary spell at Blackburn in the form of Harvey Elliott, who spent the 2020/21 campaign at Ewood Park. However, history suggests loans are no guarantee of subsequent progress at Liverpool. In fact, they often mean the opposite.
Some, such as Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge, were already experienced players. But in terms of youngsters, besides Elliott there have been only a handful of qualified successes. Jay Spearing, following a period at Leicester City, went on to win the League Cup and appear in an FA Cup final with Liverpool, while Martin Kelly and Jonjo Shelvey moved to other Premier League clubs and Stephen Warnock went on to play for England.
Despite his FA Cup heartache, Morton still has much to play for over the final weeks of the season. And helping Blackburn back into the Premier League would be the perfect way to show he deserves to be there too - but with his parent club.
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