Cole 1, Ngog 55 (pen), 90, Lucas 81
If at half time if you had told me that this game would end with the above score I would have raised my eyebrows.
Steaua put up a good show which in the first half had silenced the unusually sparse crowd and, despite the perfect start, dampened our threat. However, after the break we were different proposition. The surge to victory started with a debatable penalty which eventually saw Steaua running out of steam in a way that wholly contradicted their first half performance. The penalty was probably key however the cartelist was surely Roy Hodgson’s half time team talk?
Despite all the pre match warnings about weakened sides HRH’s final selection didn’t look at all bad. Clearly it wasn’t our best but I liked it as, despite the obvious omissions, it looked positive. Koncheski probably welcomed the opportunity to regain some match fitness so was sensibly included. Ditto Joe Cole in the hole. Martin Kelly, who always does something noticeable when he plays, made a welcome appearance at right back. Agger, having missed out on Sunday, was bought into the centre. His partner was Kyrgiakos who has seemingly been called back from heading towards to out door? Midfield saw the full debut of Meireles alongside Spearing with Ngog, Rodriguez and Babel further forward. Gerrard and Torres looked on from the stand.
I don’t know who writes Joe Coles scripts but he is in the wrong business. If we were having any nerves about tonight game this was quickly dispelled. Whilst many of the crowd were still finding their seats Joe Cole seized on some early doors dallying by Abrudan in The Steaua defence and picked his pocket to “pass” the ball past the surprised but advancing keeper off the post for his first competitive Liverpool goal.
Clearly a goal to settle the nerves and any doubts about the strength of HRH’s selection however, perhaps it’s not always a good thing to score so early? After a period of trying to settle, the Romanians suddenly got angry and alarmingly slicing through the heart of our defence with a few simple passes. Tanase finished the job with a deft little dink over the advancing Reina. It was a poor goal to concede, Jay Spearing’s slip didn’t help but Tanase had three players around him yet none could stop him, which even allowing for the makeshift line up.
After that the realisation dawned. Steaua proved to be difficult opponents playing with good movement and a confidence that underlined their experience in Europe. They were keen to take the ball forward, especially on the break, in a manner that suggested they weren’t overawed or afraid to take us on and go for the result. No wonder that after the goal we were limited to a series of harmless long range efforts from Spearing, Cole and Maxi.
The second half was a different proposition, but we needed a break to set things in motion. Maxi sent a corner over from the right and Kyrgiakos was, in attempting to thunder a header towards goal, was pulled from behind by Kapetanos. The Greek made an obvious and overly dramatic meal of it but it was the right decision, wasn’t it! After the Trabzonspor game Joe Cole stayed put. So in the absence of the usual penalty taking suspects, David Ngog took on the mantle and coolly sent the keeper the wrong way to keep up his good European scoring record this season.
Despite this there was still no room for compliancy. Although we were better and more disciplined the Romanians suggested, via their response to our first goal, that they were capable of getting another equaliser. Thankfully, before they could rally, Lucas, on for quiet Babel, put the game beyond doubt. The Brazilian seized on a ball that had broken free on the edge of the area after Joe Cole had been stopped by the Romania defence. His first touch was a tad slack put it ran on nicely enabling him to put his foot though and produce a rasping drive that gave the keeper no chance and saw him smiling long after everyone had stopped cheering his effort. Great stuff and a pleasing outcome for someone who many still have very little praise for. Ngog enhanced his increasing case even further by tip toeing through a series of now fruitless and hapless Steaua challenges to fire low into the left hand corner to finish things off.
A satisfying result in which the manager played a significant part not only through selecting a side to do the job whilst resting key players but also providing the guidance at the break to ensure that they saw it through. However, as ever, thoughts already turn to Sunday. Even as I write this I’ve got that feeling!
Liverpool: Reina, Konchesky, Agger, Kyrgiakos, Kelly, Raul Meireles, Cole (Eccleston 88), Maxi (Pacheco 85), Spearing, Babel (Lucas 78), Ngog Substitutes: Jones, G Johnson, Carragher, Lucas, Shelvey, Pacheco, Eccleston
Steaua Bucharest: Tatarusanu, Emeghara (Nicolita 20), Abrudanyellow card, Latovlevici, Geraldo, Radut (Surdu 73), Tanase, Angelov (Eder 52), Bicfalvi, Kapetanos, Stancu Substitutes: Lungu, Gardos, Eder, Nicolita, Gomes, Apostol, Surdu