Downing rescues Rodgers as Liverpool win
A super 20-yard strike from Stewart Downing got Brendan Rodgers's career as Liverpool manager off to a winning start as his side chalked up a 1-0 away win against Belarussian outfit FK Gomel in the opening leg of their Europa League third round qualifying match.
Downing’s goal, which came after he cut inside from the right wing and hit a glorious left-footed shot into the top corner, put the shine on an otherwise unremarkable performance by the Premier League side, who lost Joe Cole to injury early on.
On numerous occasions in the first half Liverpool looked exposed at the back, with the lively Aleksandr Alumona going close on several occasions, but it was Syarhey Kozeka’s second-half shot that crashed off the right post with 25 minutes remaining that gave the home side their best chance.
After a stuttering North American tour that failed to produce a single victory, there was pressure on Rodgers to get his competitive tenure as Liverpool boss off to a winning start. The inclusion of the now fully-fit Steven Gerrard, new signing Fabio Borini and Joe Cole showed that this was the case.
Cole was easily Liverpool’s best player in the opening portion of the first half, and his team-mates certainly felt the loss of the former England international when he left the field nursing an injury to his right leg after 23 minutes.
His departure seemed to be the catalyst that Gomel needed to push forward in search of goals. Certainly their Russian striker Aleksandr Alumona, signed just 10 days ago, played superbly. He twice tested Brad Jones inside the first half-hour, but was unable to convert his best chance when Glen Johnson superbly got his body across a left-footed shot to block the effort.
Johnson had actually brought about the chance in the first place after a miscommunication between himself and Jones allowed Zdmitry Platonov’s upfield ball to sneak past both.
Alumona and co resumed as they left off, and with 25 minutes to go Syarhey Kozeka crashed a powerful shot off the post, Alumona and Platonov both failing to net with the rebound.
Just four more minutes had elapsed when Downing put Liverpool ahead, and it was this brief moment of excellence that seemed to spur them into attack mode. The introduction of Lucas in place of Henderson freed up Gerrard to push forward and this resulted in half chances for both the England captain and Borini before the final whistle.
That both failed to add to the scoreline won’t have been of too much bother to Rodgers. That Liverpool will head home with a precious away goal will be of great comfort. Anfield next week will be a very different prospect.