MIDFIELDER Joe Cole scored the quickest European goal in Liverpool’s illustrious history to set his under-strength side up for a 4-1 victory over Steaua Bucharest at Anfield.
The England international took just 25 seconds of their opening Europa League Group K match to find the net for his first strike since joining on a free transfer from Chelsea in the summer.
Cole said afterwards: “It’s massive, you’ve got to win your home games. It was a tough game tonight and a good result.
“I’m happy to get the first goal for the team. Teams come here, they put a lot of work in stopping us playing in the first half.”
Cristian Tanase equalised for the Romanians in the 13th minute but David Ngog took his tally to five in as many games in this competition and substitute Lucas Leiva scored the other for a victory which was not as easy as the scoreline suggested.
Manager Roy Hodgson risked criticism with his team selection, which had just three survivors from the weekend’s goalless draw at Birmingham with neither Fernando Torres nor Steven Gerrard in the squad.
The Reds boss’ decision, with a huge game at Manchester United on Sunday, was ultimately justified but for a 30-minute period either side of half-time when the match hung in the balance. Liverpool could not press home their early advantage and a defensive lapse in the 13th minute allowed Steaua to equalise.
Kyrgiakos and Kelly allowed Tanase to nip in between them to collect Bogdan Stancu’s through-ball and he neatly chipped over Reina.
Cole, though, was Liverpool’s most inventive player, although he did not have much competition in that department, and his good work in holding the ball up early in the second half allowed Rodriguez to fire in a shot straight at Tatarusanu.
They were gifted the chance to go ahead in the 55th minute when Pantelis Kapetanos pulled back Kyrgiakos as he challenged for Rodriguez’s corner.
When Ngog stepped up to take the spot-kick – the last one at Anfield was missed by Cole against Trabzonspor – there was an audible groan.
However, the young French striker shrugged off the concerns of the Kop to expertly dispatch the ball into the left-hand corner before wheeling away with a celebration which may have included a gesture towards his doubters.
It was the 21-year-old’s fifth goal of the season and fourth in five European games so far.
Raul Meireles almost marked his first start since arriving from Porto last month with a goal as his 30-yard volley was kept out by Tatarusanu’s low dive to his right.
Hodgson made his first change of the night when he sent Lucas Leiva on for Babel, moving Cole out to the left and pushing Meireles further forward.
The substitute has an instant impact as he picked up a weak clearance 20 yards out to drive a shot past Tatarusanu with nine minutes to go.
Hodgson was true to his word as he used the latter stages to give experience to youngsters Dani Pacheco and Nathan Eccleston, players who will have an important role to play in this competition.
Ngog fired home his second in injury time to give the scoreline a more convincing appearance.
It was a night when all the manager’s decisions proved to be right.
However, making all the right calls at Old Trafford on Sunday will be a much bigger challenge.
LIVERPOOL: Reina, Konchesky, Agger, Kyrgiakos, Kelly, Meireles, Cole (Eccleston, 88), Maxi Rodriguez (Pacheco, 85), Babel (Lucas, 79), Spearing, N’Gog
STEAUA BUCHAREST Tatarusanu, Emeghara, Abrudan, Latovlevici, Geraldo, Radut (Surdu, 73), Tanase, Angelov (Bonfim, 52), Bicfalvi, Kapetanos, Stancu
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