Europa League - Liverpool leave it late

Eurosport - Thu, 18 Feb 22:39:00 2010

David N'Gog spared Liverpool's blushes as Rafa Benitez's side left it late to defeat Unirea Urziceni 1-0 in the first-leg of their Europa League last 32 tie.

2009-10 Premier League Liverpool's David Ngog (right) celebrates scoring his sides first goal of the game with teammate Fabio Aurelio - 0

Former Israeli international Ronny Levy was appointed Unirea boss on December 31 but arrived at Anfield for his first match in charge as a result of the Romanian winter break.

And Levy's defensive game plan looked to have worked to perfection until N'Ggog headed home with nine minutes remaining.

Liverpool are enduring a season to forget, fighting for fourth place in the Premier League and having exited the Champions League at the group stage.

And, after crashing out of the FA Cup at the hands of Championship side Reading, the Europa League represents their only chance of silverware this season.

Benitez recognised that and fielded a near full-strength side despite facing a crucial league match against Manchester City, who currently occupy fourth spot, at the weekend.

But, despite completely dominating possession, the home side failed to break down a resolute Unirea side in a dour opening 45 minutes.

The best move of the half came as a result of an excellent show of skill from N'Gog, who received the ball on his chest on the edge of the box before turning and shooting just wide of Giedrius Arlauskis's post.

Both Liverpool and Unirea found themselves in the Europa League courtesy of third-place finishes in Group E and G of the Champions League respectively.

But the Anfield crowd expected the Reds to steamroll their opponents, who won the Romanian league for the first time last season, and began to let their frustrations known as the clock ticked down.

Liverpool were playing higher up the pitch in search of the breakthrough and Fabio Aurelio's piledriver from 30 yards forced a fine save from Arlauskis.

But the likelihood of a winner looked increasingly unlikely until the 75th minute introduction of 19-year-old Spaniard Daniel Pacheco.

Ryan Babel, another substitute who added impetus to a Liverpool starting 11 which lacked imagination, played a diagonal ball to the back post which Pacheco headed back across goal and N'Gog nodded home as a collective sigh of relief rang around Anfield.

But Liverpool will need to find another gear if they are to get the better of Unirea when the tie goes back to Romania for the second-leg on February 25.

George Scott / Eurosport

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