Europa League Qualifier – Result
FK Rabotnicki 0
There was something of a pre-season or even testimonial feel to the game at Anfield last night, although there may well have been more people in the ground for a testimonial, but Liverpool’s players had to make sure they didn’t treat it like one and slip up.
As it was that wasn’t very likely; Rabotnicki were underdogs playing without the spirit that underdogs usually bring to Anfield. David Ngog took his tally for the season to three, the other two having been scored against the same opposition, before earning the penalty that Gerrard converted to make it 2-0 on the night and 4-0 on aggregate.
Ngog is still some way short of the finished article and missed a couple of chances to score, including one where he tried squaring to Gerrard instead of having a shot – a testimonial moment – but it’s never been claimed he is the finished article. Fernando Torres is said to be over his injury but clearly will be kept under close observation by the new medical team before he’ll be allowed to play 90 minutes, especially as the first 90 minutes of the league season will be against Arsenal.
Without new signings Ngog will be the only real option to cover for Torres, but there’s no shortage of choice now when it comes to wider or deeper attacking positions. Two of the newest ones made their competitive debuts last night and although it’s early days Joe Cole looks to have begun a special relationship with the Anfield crowd. He earned it too, his cross for Ngog’s opener one of the highlights of a memorable debut. The other debutant was Milan Jovanovich; he certainly put the effort in and looks a promising acquisition.
Roy Hodgson also used the game as an opportunity to give Daniel Pacheco a start and although the youngster won’t be completely delighted with how his night went it’s easy to forget how early he is into his career and he’s at least had a taste of what he’s got to fight for this season.
Another of the attacking options at Hodgson’s disposal is Steven Gerrard who played a deeper role than he has for the past couple of seasons but was able to get forward on a regular basis and make a difference. Two more options for the forward roles came onto the pitch late on – Maxi Rodriguez and Alberto Aquilani – with Dirk Kuyt and Ryan Babel looking on from the stands as they get back to fitness following their late summer breaks.
Despite his transfer to Fiorentina having fallen through Emiliano Insua wasn’t used, Hodgson instead giving Martin Kelly a game at left-back. Until or unless new funds are brought into the club Hodgson has to sell before he can buy and needed the money from the sale of Insua to be able to seal a deal for the left-back he’d been hoping to bring in, although he did get Fabio Aurelio to sign a new two-year deal after he’d gone out of contract over the summer.
Hodgson seems to have got moral back to a high and whatever happens with the ownership situation he seems intent on making the most of what is still an undoubtedly strong squad if injuries don’t interfere with his plans too much.
The prize for the win was to go into the draw for the next round – the play-off round – earlier today. That prize for the Reds turned specifically to be a trip down memory lane to face Trabzonspor of Turkey, Liverpool victims in 1976 en route to Rome and that first European Cup triumph of 1977. Bob Paisley’s team won that tie 3-1 on aggregate, having been 1-0 down after the first leg in Turkey. This is only the Europa League, known as the UEFA Cup in those days, but fans will expect Roy Hodgson’s players to take it as seriously Bob Paisley’s men took their task 34 years ago.
Back to the modern day and the good-feeling going into last night’s game was boosted by the hope that there might finally be a break in the ownership storm of the past couple of years. The current owners seem to be coming to the end of their tenure and there’s a cautiously optimistic feeling that the next incumbents will bring a bit of a golden sky with them. But for 90 minutes it was all about football and the red-shirted players on that pitch, all of whom did their best to excite and entertain.
And ultimately, that’s what it’s all about really.
Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Cavalieri; Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Kelly; Gerrard (Aquilani 62), Lucas (Spearing 73); Pacheco, Cole, Jovanovich (Maxi 67); Ngog
Unused subs: Gulacsi, Kyrgiakos, Wilson, Eccleston
Rabotnicki (4-3-3): Bogatinov; Dimovski, Belica, Fernando, Adem; Tunevski, Gligorov, Todorovski (Petkovski 88); Ze Carlos (Mojsov 62), Fabio Silva (Marcio 81), Wandeir
Unused subs: Kandikijan (g), Petkovski, Sinkovic, Roberto Carlos, Sekulovski
Booked: Ze Carlos
Referee: Peter Sippel (Germany)