Ngog brace inspires Liverpool
David Ngog's brace helped Liverpool make a solid start to their Europa League campaign by beating Steaua Bucharest 4-1.
By Danny Wright
Last Updated: 17/09/10 10:15am
David Ngog's brace ensured Liverpool made a solid start to their UEFA Europa League Group K campaign by easing past Steaua Bucharest in a 4-1 victory at Anfield.
The Reds enjoyed a dream opening by going in front after just 25 seconds thanks to Joe Cole, who ran clear into the box to steer a finish past Ciprian Tatarusanu as Liverpool seized the early initiative.
But Steaua drew level against the run of play on 13 minutes when Cristian Tanese sent a deft chip over the head of Pepe Reina from Bogdan Stancu's delightful pass to leave the Merseysiders silenced.
Roy Hodgson's team plugged away at the Romanians and restored their lead when Ngog stroked home a 56th minute penalty after Sotirios Kyrgiakos had been fouled in the box.
Steaua fell further behind when substitute Luca Leiva cracked home a superb drive from 25-yards to wrap up victory in the 81st minute and Ngog struck again in stoppage time after powering through the defence to drill into the bottom corner.
Hodgson risked criticism with his team selection, which had just three survivors from the weekend's goalless draw at Birmingham with neither Fernando Torres nor Steven Gerrard in the squad.
Hung in the balance
The Reds boss' decision, with a huge game at Manchester United on Sunday, was ultimately justified but for a 30-minute period either side of half-time when the match hung in the balance.
Prior to the game Hodgson had stressed Steaua, the 1986 European Cup winners, would provide a tough test but it took precisely 28 seconds for his words to be disproved.
Octavian Abduran, under pressure from Cole, left his back-pass woefully short and the midfielder nipped in to sidefoot a shot past goalkeeper Tatarusanu and in off the far post.
The Romanians were reeling and Kyrgiakos had a downward header from Maxi Rodriguez's corner blocked by Eric Bicfalvi and Jay Spearing fired a long-range shot over.
But Liverpool could not press home their advantage and a defensive lapse in the 13th minute allowed Steaua to equalise.
Kyrgiakos and Kelly allowed Tanase to nip in between them to collect Bogdan Stancu's through-ball and he neatly chipped over Reina.
The goal gave the visitors the confidence they needed to start knocking the ball around as Liverpool lost their way.
Cole, released down the middle by Spearing, but with no-one in support, had to shoot from distance and that - and subsequent efforts from range from Ryan Babel and Rodriguez - failed to trouble the goalkeeper sufficiently.
It was a sign of the way things were going that when Spearing implored his team-mates to "pick it up" the call was heard all around a half-full Anfield, who responded with an encouraging round of applause.
Abduran's foul on Rodriguez earned him a booking and Liverpool a 25-yard free-kick just before the interval but Paul Konchesky shot well wide.
Cole was Liverpool's most inventive player, although he did not have much competition in that department, and his good work in holding the ball up early in the second half allowed Rodriguez to fire in a shot straight at Tatarusanu.
They were gifted the chance to go ahead in the 55th minute when Pantelis Kapetanos pulled back Kyrgiakos as he challenged for Rodriguez's corner.
When Ngog stepped up to take the spot-kick - the last one at Anfield was missed by Cole against Trabzonspor - there was an audible groan.
However, the young French striker shrugged off the concerns of the Kop to expertly dispatch the ball into the left-hand corner before wheeling away with a celebration which may have included a gesture towards his doubters.
It was the 21-year-old's fifth goal of the season and fourth in five European games so far.
Raul Meireles almost marked his first start since arriving from Porto last month with a goal as his 30-yard volley was kept out by Tatarusanu's low dive to his right.
Hodgson made his first change of the night when he sent Leiva on for Babel, moving Cole out to the left and pushing Meireles further forward.
The substitute has an instant impact as he picked up a weak clearance 25 yards out to drive a shot past Tatarusanu with nine minutes to go.
Ngog fired home his second in injury time to give the scoreline a more convincing appearance.It was a night when all the manager's decisions proved to be right. However, making all the right calls at Old Trafford on Sunday will be a much bigger challenge.
|Liverpool||Team Statistics||Steaua Bucharest|
|1||1st Half Goals||1|
|8||Shots on Target||2|
|7||Shots off Target||1|