DAVID NGOG struck twice as Roy Hodgson began his reign as Liverpool manager with a comfortable victory from a potentially tricky Europa League test last night.
The Frenchman found the net in each half as an under-strength Liverpool side overcame FK Rabotnicki with little alarm in the first leg of their third qualifying round tie in Macedonia.
With 17 days still to go before their Premier League opener, Liverpool were without 10 of their World Cup players but their blend of youth and experience coped well in a game of little drama. Hodgson’s decision to leave behind the likes of Steven Gerrard and Joe Cole was vindicated.
Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel, Sotirios Kyrgiakos, Alberto Aquilani, Lucas and Ngog were the established players to start, while new signing Milan Jovanovic was handed his debut alongside David Amoo, making his first senior appearance.
Diego Cavalieri, Martin Kelly and Jay Spearing made up the team but it was a sign of the times that the side on show at the Philip II Stadium — an old arena halfway through an impressive rebuild — was still worth £41m.
Liverpool, playing in black, began with Aquilani operating in an advanced role behind Ngog on a balmy evening in sweltering Skopje.
Rabotnicki had the first opportunity but Ze Carlos’ optimistic shot from a 40-yard free-kick was blocked by Lucas.
Liverpool’s first serious chance came when Kyrgiakos headed wide from an Aquilani corner.
The visitors took the lead in the 17th minute when Ngog raced through a static Rabotnicki defence to reach a Lucas free-kick.
The Frenchman ran into the box unchallenged and clipped the ball past a half-hearted attempt at a save from Martin Bogatinov.
Brazil-born Ze Carlos found space as Rabotnicki tried to respond but shot tamely at Cavalieri from distance.
Amoo showed a glimpse of his potential early in the second half as he set off on a run down the right after a neat turn on halfway.
The 19-year-old cut inside to beat one man and then went outside another but his cross was too long.
Another good run by Amoo created an opening for Lucas but the Brazilian’s touch let him down.
Liverpool then had an opportuity as Jovanovic set up Aquilani but he could not control and Lucas shot over.
Liverpool doubled their advantage just before the hour as Ngog volleyed in a fine second.
Kelly found space on the right and whipped in a ball which the striker nimbly turned in.
The referee played on when half of the floodlights went out with 10 minutes left and any fears the game might be abandoned were quickly dispelled as some of the failed power was quickly restored.
Many Rabotnicki fans knew the game was over, however, and had left long before the final whistle.
RABOTNICKI KOMETAL: Bogatinov, Belica, Sekulovski (Adem 43), Dimovski, Todorovski, Gligorov, Tuneski (Petkovski 77), Fernando Lopes, Ze Carlos (Mojsov 57), Da Silva, Wandeir.
LIVERPOOL: Cavalieri, Kelly, Kyrgiakos, Skrtel, Agger (Darby 72), Spearing, Aquilani (Dalla Valle 83), Lucas, Jovanovic, Ngog, Amoo (Eccleston 83).
Ref: Antonio Damato (Barletta).
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