Gerrard upbeat as Reds take first blood

STRIKER David Ngog’s goal nine minutes from time eventually broke the resistance of a determined Unirea Urziceni at Anfield in the Europa League last night.

And captain Steven Gerrard remains confident the Reds can win the Europa League despite struggling to beat the Romanians.

“They were very stubborn but we expected that. You could say maybe we needed to be a bit more clinical but I think we’ll get more joy away from home,” said Gerrard.

“But we were patient and the goal came. They’re going to have to come out and try and beat us in the second leg.”

Like Liverpool, Unirea finished third in their Champions League group, and Gerrard knows they will have to beat some big names if they are to make the final in Hamburg.

He continued: “The teams knocked out of the Champions League are fantastic teams and some of the top sides across Europe are in the competition so it’s going to be tough to win it but we’re confident we can go all the way.”

Their job would have been easier had Gerrard converted their first chance after just 25 seconds when Unirea lost possession straight from the kick-off.

Albert Riera and Dirk Kuyt linked up for the Dutchman to put the midfielder through but his side-footed shot was tipped over by goalkeeper Giedrius Arlauskis, who then punched away the Liverpool captain’s corner.

The game had taken on an attack versus defence training exercise feel, with Unirea rarely venturing forward.

When they did, with a counter-attack just after the half hour, Marius Onofras attempted an audacious lob over Jose Reina from the halfway line wide on the right but the Spain goalkeeper comfortably claimed.

Javier Mascherano’s 30-yard drive was deflected wide by Razvan Paduretu while Ngog’s shot on the turn from just inside the penalty area was also diverted wide.

Five minutes before half-time, Bruno Fernandes was booked for bringing down Gerrard as he looked to burst clear but Daniel Agger drilled the 35-yard free-kick straight into the Romanian side’s wall.

Heartened by their first-half performance Unirea looked more inclined to go forward after the break but it was Liverpool who had the first chance with Gerrard heading wide again from Jamie Carragher’s 52nd-minute cross.

Fabio Aurelio’s low drive was on target but he was denied by a good low save from Arlauskis.

The ineffective Riera was replaced by Ryan Babel for the last 28 minutes and he began encouragingly with two decisive runs, the latter resulting in a cross to Gerrard at the far post which the England international could not keep in.

Mascherano was booked for a foul on Iulian Apostol as Liverpool continued to labour. Martin Skrtel should have put the home side ahead in the 71st minute but he headed over Aurelio’s inswinging corner.

Benitez sent on reserve team striker Daniel Pacheco, making only his second appearance in Europe, for Alberto Aquilani with quarter of an hour remaining.

Mascherano was caught in possession by Apostol, who charged forward 20 yards before curling a shot woefully wide.

With nine minutes to go, the breakthrough finally came, with Pacheco playing an important part.

The diminutive Spaniard, possibly the smallest player on the pitch, outjumped his marker at the far post to head back across goal for Ngog to nod in from five yards.

LIVERPOOL: Reina, Carragher, Skrtel, Agger, Aurelio, Mascherano, Aquilani (Pacheco 75), Kuyt, Gerrard, Riera (Babel 63), Ngog (Lucas 89).

URZICENI: Arlauskis, Maftei, Galamaz, Bruno Fernandes, Brandan, Paraschiv (Vilana 86), Onofras (Marinescu 75), Paduretu (Rusescu 90), Apostol, Frunza, Bilasco.

Referee: Eric Braamhaar (Holland).

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