Articles

Reds comfortably ease through in the Europa League

IF only everything in life was so easy; having arrived at Anfield talking about takeovers, Liverpool's supporters scuttled from the famous old ground last night discussing a walkover.

While boardroom battles, finance deals and ownership offers will inevitably dominate the landscape for the immediate future, it was a relief that Reds all over the land could debate about nothing more complicated or taxing than a facile win.

Booking their place in the Europa League play-off stage with the minimum of fuss, sticking two more unanswered goals past FC Rabotnicki, this was a throwback to the good old days when there was nothing more taxing to think about than fitness, form and fixtures.

Unfortunately – or fortunately depending on which way you look at it – the situation surrounding the club will remain muddied until Tom Hicks and George Gillett disappear into the sunset and Liverpool are finally under new ownership.

Yet for 90 minutes here, a healthy crowd turned up to watch a team in Red ease past inferior opposition and forget about their troubles in the process; it might not have been vintage – nor should it be at this stage of the season – but how it was welcome.

Not least by the new manager.

As with everything he has done during the early weeks of his tenure, Roy Hodgson got the tone exactly right, billing the second leg of their Europa League third round qualifying tie his “mini debut”.

He will have overseen more vigorous training sessions in the period since he took over from Rafa Benitez but, at the same time, Hodgson will have taken huge satisfaction that his dress rehearsal went without a hitch thanks, in the main, to two men.

Step forward Joe Cole and Steven Gerrard. If the gulf between the sides was glaringly obvious in Skopje last week, it was even more apparent here as Hodgson – for the first time in pre-season – was able to name a starting XI that was top heavy with senior names. Anfield was far from full but those who passed through the turnstiles last night were anxious to get a glimpse of what the future might be like under the new man, particularly when Gerrard and Cole are working in tandem.

Though enthusiasm must be reined in due to the standard of the opposition, the early signs were encouraging; a little flick here, a back-heel there, when they decided to move through the gears, Rabotnicki heads were sent spinning.

Should they click together as Hodgson and every other Liverpudlian hopes, it is certain they will create an avalanche of chances for Fernando Torres – if the Reds do not have the depth of squad that many would hope, there is some consolation their front three stands up to the closest scrutiny.

Inevitably, the two England internationals were involved in the opening goal; having won a corner with a shot from distance, Gerrard sped over to one corner of the Anfield Road to take the set piece quickly and found Cole lurking on the edge of the area.

Instantly taking control, a change of feet gave him a yard to fire in a cross and he did not disappoint, David Ngog powering a header past the helpless Martin Bogatinov to give Liverpool the luxury of treating the final 68 minutes as a training exercise.

Ngog, the scourge of Rabotnicki in Macedonia, should have already opened his account by that point but the ball got caught between his feet and allowed Bogatinov to pilfer the ball from his feet after – who else? – Cole and Gerrard had thrillingly combined.

Normally you would lament missing such a glorious opportunity but the only person who had reason to quibble on this occasion was the young Frenchman, as he had squandered a chance to improve his goals to games ratio.

He might not have been as clinical as in the first game – the Parisian could have had four by the final whistle – but this was another smart effort and he has clearly made an impression on his new manager, as Hodgson made a point of singing Ngog's praises in his programme notes.

“It was pleasing to see David score both goals (in Skopje),” he wrote.

“He had trained and played very well in Bad Ragaz and we have tried to encourage him to use his strengths in a way that will help the team It was good he got his rewards, as without goals you don't get headlines."

This flurry of action will have worked wonders for his confidence and should he maintain his progression, more chances will come – for good measure, he was the man brought down just before half-time for the penalty that gave the scoreline a more realistic look.

While some of his team-mates buzzed around by the penalty spot, hoping they might get the nod, there was never any doubt that Gerrard would take it, just as there was never any doubt that the skipper would convert from 12 yards, rolling his effort nonchalantly past Bogatinov.

Attacking The Kop in the second period, you might have expected Liverpool to run up a cricket score but curiously, they failed to add to their tally, despite the best efforts of Cole, Dani Pacheco and, when he came on, Maxi Rodriguez.

Making his first appearance since returning from the World Cup, the popular Argentine showed a series of deft touches, one subtle pass almost creating a goal for Cole – who will have impressed England's general manager Franco Baldini, sat in the director's box – but his shot skidded wide.

The flow of the game had been disrupted by a succession of substitutions and, perhaps, Liverpool let slip their concentration as Rabotnicki came close to pilfering a consolation strike when Filip Petkovski struck a post in injury time.

Mind you, even if they had troubled the scorers, nothing would have deflected from the fact this night belonged to Cole and Hodgson. Bigger tests of course, will lie in store.

LIVERPOOL (4-4-1-1): Cavalieri: Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Kelly: Cole, Lucas (Spearing 73), Gerrard (Aquilani 62), Jovanovic (Rodriguez 67): Pacheco: Ngog.

FC RABOTNICKI (4-3-3): Bogatinov: Dimovski, Lopes, Belica, Adem: Tunevski, Grigorov, Todorovski (Petkovski 88) : Ze Carlos (Mojsov 62), Vanidair, Fabio (Marcio 81).

Goals – Ngog (22), Gerrard (40)

Bookings – Ze Carlos (20), Mojsov (89)

Attendance – 31,202

Copyright - Liverpool Echo

Referee – Peter Sippel (Germany)

Article links

Players

Archives

We've got all the results from official games, appearance stats, goal stats and basically every conceivable statistic from 1892 to the present, every single line-up and substitutions!