Saturday, 20 September 2014

Gerrard Secures Last Gasp Victory

After a five year absence from the Champions League, Liverpool began their campaign with the visit of Bulgarian champions Ludogorets Razgrad who were making their debut in the competition.

The Anfield crowd unveiled a superb mosaic before the game which featured the five European Cup wins and they could have an early reason to celebrate when Steven Gerrard swept in a dangerous free kick only to see it cleared by the Ludogorets defence.

The absence of star striker Daniel Sturridge meant that there was pressure on Mario Balotelli to spearhead the attack and he came close to an opening goal when a pass from Adam Lallana found the Italian but the Ludogorets defence held firm to prevent him getting a shot at goal.

Ludogorets responded with a chance for Virgil Misidjan whose effort was deflected behind for a corner by Adam Lallana and the England midfielder as involved again a minute later as he latched on to rebound from Mario Balotelli's blocked shot before Raheem Sterling looked to tap past Milan Borjan only to be caught offside.

Aleksandar Alexandrov swept in a dangerous free kick and found Cosmin Moti but the defender's headed effort went wide and Liverpool responded with a chance of their own as Mario Balotelli drifted across the box before hitting a shot at goal but could only find the arms of Milan Borjan.

Liverpool looked to make a bright start to the second half but when Phillipe Coutinho aimed a shot at goal he could only find Milan Borjan who made a comfortable save before both sides had chances in the space of a minute.

Javier Manquillo clipped a shot over the bar just yards away from the goal and the result was a a counter-attack from Ludogorets which saw Junior Caicara fool the Liverpool defence before forcing Simon Mignolet into a good save.

Ludogorets confidence grew when a pacy run from Roman Bezjak put him in on goal but his shot crept over the bar having beaten Simon Mignolet which seemed to spark a response from Liverpool as a swooping cross from Javier Manquillo found Fabio Borini who forced a good save from Milan Borjan.

The visitors threatened again with nine minutes remaining as Yordan Minev sent a shot wide of the post before Marcelino looked to advance on goal only to be denied by a superb last ditch tackle from Alberto Moreno. The Spanish defender was influential in Liverpool's next move as he sent a cross into the Ludogorets area and found Mario Balotelli who collected the ball before hitting past Milan Borjan to open the scoring with his first Liverpool goal.

Liverpool looked to be on for a perfect start to their group stage campaign but were caught out in the 90th minute when a stunning run from Dani Abalo saw him carve through the Liverpool defence before rifling a shot past Simon Mignolet to level the score and surely secure a draw for the Bulgarians.

Ludogorets' joy evaporated in the final minute of injury time when a strong run from Javier Manquillo saw him advance on goal only to be brought down on the edge of the area by Milan Borjan which resulted in a penalty for Liverpool which Steven Gerrard converted successfully to secure a 2-1 victory.