Job done for Reds in Romania
Hodgson's gamble pays off as Liverpool qualify for knock-outs
By Elliot Ball. Last Updated: December 2, 2010 8:43pm
Jovanovic: Headed Reds ahead after good play by Babel
Liverpool have reached the last 32 of the Europa League after playing out a 1-1 draw against Steaua Bucuresti.
The Reds required a draw at the Stadionul Ghencea on Thursday to progress in the competition and Milan Jovanovic put them on their way with a bullet header on 19 minutes from Ryan Babel's cross.
Roy Hodgson's much-changed side were looking good for three points heading into the break but a Jose Reina blunder just after the hour mark allowed Eder Bonfim to grab Steaua a deserved equaliser.
The result assures Liverpool's safe passage into the knock-out phase as Group K winners and Steaua also boosted their hopes with the stalemate and remain in second place ahead of FC Utrecht and Napoli, who played out a 3-3 draw.
Reds boss Hodgson put his faith in fringe players and reserves having travelled to eastern Europe without eight first-teamers, only three of whom were injured, and he was rewarded by the likes of Jovanovic and Babel.
Neither has made much of an impression to date in their Anfield careers, although Jovanovic admittedly has only had a little more than four months to settle in.
However, they both did a decent enough job on a night when they could easily have gone missing again.
The same could not be said of Joe Cole, returning from a five-week lay-off with a hamstring injury.
Hodgson had admitted before the game the England international was low on confidence after a suspension and injury-interrupted start to his Liverpool career and that showed in his performance.
Despite playing in his supposedly favourite position behind the striker Cole cut a peripheral figure and was unable to affect the game in any way before he was replaced 15 minutes from time by David Ngog.
The opening exchanges were unremarkable except for plenty of non-harmful Steaua possession and Reina, captaining the side in the absence of the injured Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher, being targeted by a fan with a laser pen.
It was the second occasion this season the Spain international has had to contend with the irritation, the first coming in their Europa League play-off against Trabzonspor in August.
A complaint to Turkish referee Bulent Yildirim and a stadium announcement thankfully appeared to halt the offender.
By that time, however, Steaua should have been ahead but Eric Bicfalvi headed over left-back Lasmin Latovlevici's cross from eight yards.
It proved to be a costly miss as Liverpool took the lead with their first chance in the 19th minute.
Jovanovic, whose only previous significant contribution since joining in the summer was to score in the ill-fated Carling Cup exit to Northampton, started and finished the move.
The Serbia international, who has been linked with a move back to former club Standard Liege despite only leaving in the summer, worked the ball out to Babel on the right.
When the Dutchman crossed to the far post Jovanovic headed home and celebrated by kissing the badge on his shirt, pointing at the handful of travelling Liverpool fans and then the floor - intimating that he wanted to stay at Anfield.
Babel almost had a hand in creating a second goal but his pass which picked out Cole on the penalty spot was mis-controlled and Daniel Pacheco eventually bundled a shot wide from the edge of the area.
But Liverpool had a lucky escape in the dying seconds of the first half when in-form striker Bogdan Stancu, scorer of 12 goals in 17 league appearances, somehow stabbed wide from eight yards when it seemed easier to score.
Early in the second half Reina saved low from Geraldo Alves' header and tipped Stancu's shot, which looped up off Fabio Aurelio, over the crossbar.
The Steaua striker played a significant part without actually touching the ball in the home side's 61st-minute equaliser.
Stancu was positioned in front of Reina - played onside by Danny Wilson - when Eder Bonfim launched his header but the goalkeeper, distracted by his opponent's presence, allowed the ball to squirm out of his grasp, through his legs and over the line.
Sotirios Kyrgiakos powered a header at the crossbar and over from Aurelio's corner as the visitors responded.But ultimately Liverpool were happy to hang on for a third point in as many Group K away matches, maintaining their unbeaten run in Europe this season, and that was enough to achieve their objective.
|Steaua Bucharest||Team Statistics||Liverpool|
|0||1st Half Goals||1|
|4||Shots on Target||1|
|12||Shots off Target||4|
Thu 2nd Dec - Group F
CSKA Mosc5 - 1Lausanne Sports
Palermo2 - 2Sp Prague
Thu 2nd Dec - Group J
B Dortmund3 - 0Karpaty Lviv
PSG4 - 2Sevilla
Thu 2nd Dec - Group K
Utrecht3 - 3Napoli
S Bucuresti1 - 1Liverpool
Thu 2nd Dec - Group L
CSKA Sofia1 - 2Besiktas
Rapid Vienna1 - 3FC Porto
Thu 2nd Dec - Group D
Villarreal3 - 0Din Zagreb
PAOK S'nika1 - 1Club Brugge
Thu 2nd Dec - Group E
Sh Tiraspol1 - 1AZ Alkmaar
BATE Borisov1 - 4Dynamo Kiev
Europa League Group A
Europa League Group B
Europa League Group C
|1||Red Bull Salzburg||5||15|
Europa League Group D
Europa League Group E
Europa League Group F
|2||Maccabi Tel Aviv||5||8|
Europa League Group G
Europa League Group H
Europa League Group I
|3||Vitoria de Guimaraes||5||5|
Europa League Group J
Europa League Group K
|3||Sheriff Tiraspol (Mol)||5||3|
Europa League Group L
|3||Maccabi Haifa (Isr)||5||2|