Thursday, February 18, 2010

Liverpool 1 - 0 Unirea Urziceni

David Ngog's 81st-minute winner spared Liverpool's blushes as they began their Europa League campaign in disappointing fashion against Unirea Urzinceni.
The Romanian side's defensive approach looked like earning them a draw in the first leg of their last-32 clash.
Liverpool dominated possession but were unable to break down the visitors and created few clear-cut chances.
But, with time running out, Daniel Pacheco knocked down Ryan Babel's cross and Ngog headed in from close range.
Steven Gerrard went close to adding a second goal seconds later with a rasping shot that flew inches wide, but a second goal would have put an undeserved gloss on what became a difficult night for Rafael Benitez's side.
Liverpool's early exit from the Champions League had left them in Europe's second-tier competition for the first time since 2004 but Benitez backed up his promise to take the tournament seriously by fielding a strong line-up.
The Europa League is the Reds' last realistic chance of winning any silverware this season and their fans turned out in force too, with more than 40,000 at Anfield.
Sadly, they were not treated to much of a spectacle, mainly due to the ultra-defensive tactics employed by Unirea that stifled the hosts for most of the match.
Liverpool made a storming start to the game, and could have been ahead inside the first 30 seconds when Dirk Kuyt played in Steven Gerrard, who was denied by Giedrius Arlauskis.
But, from then on, chances were a lot harder to come by as the Romanian champions defended deep and in numbers.
Liverpool did have opportunities - Kuyt went close with a deflected effort that flew across the face of goal, Gerrard missed the target and Ngog turned to fire a shot inches wide - but Arlauskis was far from over-worked before half-time.
The game continued in the same pattern after the break, with Unirea rarely venturing forward but Liverpool seeming unable to find a way through their packed defence.
Martin Skrtel headed over from six yards out and Fabiano Aurelio forced Arlauskis into a fine diving save but, if anything, Unirea, who have not played for more than two months because of Romania's winter break, looked more comfortable as the game wore on.
It took two of Benitez's substitutes to combine and help make the breakthrough, with Babel's deep cross being headed back across goal by Pacheco for Ngog to turn the ball home.
The goal means Liverpool can head to Romania in confident mood for next week's second leg.
But, before then, they face another big Premier League test with a trip to Manchester City for a game that is likely to have a huge impact on their hopes of finishing in the top four and avoiding playing in this competition again next season.

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