Champions League: Liverpool share points with 2-2 draw at Ludogorets in Group B
Last Updated: 27/11/14 5:19am
Liverpool drew 2-2 away to Ludogorets to keep their Champions League hopes alive with one game left in Group B.
Prior to Wednesday night's game, Brendan Rodgers said 'our season starts now' - although it is unlikely he expected that to include a Dani Abalo goal for the hosts after three minutes in Sofia.
However, Rickie Lambert struck back with his first-ever Champions League goal five minutes later before Jordan Henderson gave Liverpool the lead in the 37th minute, after good work from a revitalised Raheem Sterling.
The visitors looked to be heading for all three points but up popped Georgi Terziev to level for the home side two minutes from time. Luckily for Liverpool and more than 2,000 travelling fans, Basel were unable to score against Real Madrid and a victory against the Swiss side at Anfield on Matchday 6 will see them through.
It was an open game, and surprisingly it was the home side that had the majority of the early chances, with Virgil Misidjan in particular causing Liverpool problems down the left-hand side.
Ludogorets paid no attention to their competitor’s European pedigree and captain Steven Gerrard was positioned at the tip of the diamond as Rodgers sent his team out looking for a win.
However, they were quickly behind as Marcelinho's shot from outside the area was fumbled by Simon Mignolet, who had not had chance to train on the pitch as Rodgers held a session at Melwood before the squad flew out to Bulgaria, and Abalo followed in to score.
Mignolet's already-fragile confidence became even more frayed and he later flapped at one cross, creating a moment of panic in a packed penalty area, and only managed to half-stop a bouncing free-kick from Fabio Espinho, while his nerves will not have been helped by Kolo Toure sliding a cross inches past his left-hand post.
But within five minutes of the opener, Liverpool were level when Lambert somehow managed to meet his own flick-on from Henderson's pump forward and nod in off the post.
Gerrard was finding more space in the Ludogorets half than he had done for most of the season in his own but it was Sterling's pace and perfect left-footed cross after being released by Lambert when the hosts lost possession on halfway which created the second for Henderson to convert at the far post in the 37th minute.
Being only the second Bulgarian team in history to make it to the Champions League, the home side had nothing to lose and they played some good football in front of their fans. It is not too much to say they could have beaten the Premier League team as they had the better of the early chances.
Sterling should have put the match beyond doubt 10 minutes from time when played through by Gerrard and Terziev's conversion at an 88th-minute corner took some of the shine off the result.
The Reds still haven't won a game this month and many will doubt if they can get a result when Basel visit Anfield in December on Matchday 6.
They have to win against the Swiss if they are to progress to the knock-out stages of Europe's top competition. If they do not, they will face competing in the Europa League - which many will see as failure.
GARY NEVILLE'S VERDICT
It’s ended the night in disappointment for them but I think that’s a step forward for Liverpool. You don’t go from being as bad as they were on Sunday, as low as they were, to straight away thinking they’re going to be fantastic.
It’s about small steps, and that was a small step tonight. They’re still in the Champions League, they’ve got Stoke, Leicester and Sunderland before they play the next game versus Basel and then against Manchester United.
They’ve got an opportunity to pick themselves up, thinking they’ve come away from there still in the Champions League. If they’d gone out tonight people would have been queuing up, probably including ourselves, to be very critical if Liverpool had lost. The pressure was building on the manager, building on the players, so I think that’s a small step forwards tonight and a good result for them.