David Ngog banished Liverpool’s mounting frustration with a priceless late breakthrough against stubborn Romanian champions Unirea Urziceni at Anfield.

Rafa Benitez’s side had spent 80 minutes hammering away at the Unirea goal without reward when Ngog stooped to head in from close range after Daniel Pacheco knocked back a deep cross from fellow substitute Ryan Babel at the far post.

Benitez had warned of a tough battle with a well-organised defensive unit, and the Liverpool manager will derive little satisfactionfrom being proved correct in his assessment.

Liverpool monopolised possession and hammered away at a well-drilled Romanian rearguard but struggled to find a way through.

Steven Gerrard, Dirk Kuyt, Javier Mascherano and Ngog all went close in a goalless first half, as Unirea stuck to their safety-first game plan and saw it succeed in f rust rat ing an increasingly laboured Liverpool side.

It may have been far and away the biggest match in Unirea’s brief history, but it was hardly Liverpool’s. Even so, Benitez stuck to his pre-match promise of fielding a strong starting line-up and, mindful of the Romanians’ reputation for defending stoutly, included Gerrard just behind Ngog, despite the significance of Sunday’s Barclays Premier League game at Manchester City.

Given Unirea’s policy of defending in depth, an early goal would have been useful. One almost materialised from Liverpool’s first attack, too, after exactly 26 seconds.

Kuyt controlled a ball from Fabio Aurelio on the edge of the area, looked up to assess his options and appeared to have chosen the right one with a clever pass that Gerrard met with a first-time side-foot volley from the left of the penalty spot.

Keeper Giedrius Arlauskis sprang to his right to keep it out at the expense of a corner, but it was still a heartening declaration of intent from Benitez’s side, who were looking for a commanding lead to take into next Thursday’s return leg.

Liverpool’s supporters were taking the competition as seriously as their manager, with Anfield looking as full as on Champions League nights.

subdued after the excitement of Gerrard’s first-minute near miss.

Liverpool fashioned another opening in the 11th minute. Kuyt benefited from a lucky rebound off a defender and almost made the most of it, as he steadied himself before unleashing a low angled drive that Arlauskis tipped round the post at full stretch.

Low-key it may have been, but there was no shortage of chances for Liverpool in what was beginning to resemble a training ground game of attack versus defence.

The next one arrived in the 19th minute, and Gerrard was left shaking his head in dismay at not making more of it. A sweeping pass from Alberto Aquilani picked out Albert Riera in space on the left, and the winger’s early cross looked tailor-made for  he onrushing Gerrard. 

To the Liverpool’s skipper’s obvious displeasure, though, he mistimed an unchallenged header and saw it sail harmlessly wide.

Liverpool were making heavy weather of turning their supremacy into goals but at least could not be faulted for perseverance.

Riera hopelessly miscued an overambitious long-range attempt in the 25th minute but was undeterred two minutes later after being set up by a combination between Daniel Agger and Aurelio.

Setting his sights 25 yards out, his left-foot drive looked like troubling Arlauskis until deflecting off a defender and drifting wide.

Unirea’s masterplan appeared to extend no further than packing as many bodies as possible behind the ball.

What it lacked in adventure, it more than made up for in effectiveness, as Aurelio and Riera both discovered with shots that cannoned back off white shirts.

Meeting a half-clearance from 30 yards, the midfielder’s first-time thunderbolt was screaming towards the top corner until striking Sorin Frunza’s straining forehead and flying over for a corner.

The little wing back merely shook his scrambled senses back into place before trotting towards his post for sentry duty at the resulting flag kick.

It was turning into that sort of night, with Unirea showing not the slightest attacking ambition.

Ngog was next to try his luck, in the 37th minute, with a smart turn and low snap shot that met the same fate as so many Liverpool attempts before it, divertedbehind by a defender’s outstretched leg.

The familiar pattern of the first half was soon in evidence after the break, as Liverpool continued their quest for a breakthrough.

Unirea did at least force a corner in the 54th minute, but their goal had already had another narrow escape by then.

It was a well-worn routine that worked the opening, Jamie Carragher swinging over a cross and Gerrard meeting it with a firm header that flew a yard wide.

Read the article on Mail on Sunday

Liverpool 1 Unirea Urzicini 0: David Ngog breaks Iron Curtain as Reds labour past Romanians

David Ngog banished Liverpool’s mounting frustration with a priceless late breakthrough against stubborn Romanian champions Unirea Urziceni at Anfield.

Rafa Benitez’s side had spent 80 minutes hammering away at the Unirea goal without reward when Ngog stooped to head in from close range after Daniel Pacheco knocked back a deep cross from fellow substitute Ryan Babel at the far post.

Benitez had warned of a tough battle with a well-organised defensive unit, and the Liverpool manager will derive little satisfactionfrom being proved correct in his assessment.

Liverpool monopolised possession and hammered away at a well-drilled Romanian rearguard but struggled to find a way through.

Steven Gerrard, Dirk Kuyt, Javier Mascherano and Ngog all went close in a goalless first half, as Unirea stuck to their safety-first game plan and saw it succeed in f rust rat ing an increasingly laboured Liverpool side.

It may have been far and away the biggest match in Unirea’s brief history, but it was hardly Liverpool’s. Even so, Benitez stuck to his pre-match promise of fielding a strong starting line-up and, mindful of the Romanians’ reputation for defending stoutly, included Gerrard just behind Ngog, despite the significance of Sunday’s Barclays Premier League game at Manchester City.

Given Unirea’s policy of defending in depth, an early goal would have been useful. One almost materialised from Liverpool’s first attack, too, after exactly 26 seconds.

Kuyt controlled a ball from Fabio Aurelio on the edge of the area, looked up to assess his options and appeared to have chosen the right one with a clever pass that Gerrard met with a first-time side-foot volley from the left of the penalty spot.

Keeper Giedrius Arlauskis sprang to his right to keep it out at the expense of a corner, but it was still a heartening declaration of intent from Benitez’s side, who were looking for a commanding lead to take into next Thursday’s return leg.

Liverpool’s supporters were taking the competition as seriously as their manager, with Anfield looking as full as on Champions League nights.

subdued after the excitement of Gerrard’s first-minute near miss.

Liverpool fashioned another opening in the 11th minute. Kuyt benefited from a lucky rebound off a defender and almost made the most of it, as he steadied himself before unleashing a low angled drive that Arlauskis tipped round the post at full stretch.

Low-key it may have been, but there was no shortage of chances for Liverpool in what was beginning to resemble a training ground game of attack versus defence.

The next one arrived in the 19th minute, and Gerrard was left shaking his head in dismay at not making more of it. A sweeping pass from Alberto Aquilani picked out Albert Riera in space on the left, and the winger’s early cross looked tailor-made for  he onrushing Gerrard. 

To the Liverpool’s skipper’s obvious displeasure, though, he mistimed an unchallenged header and saw it sail harmlessly wide.

Liverpool were making heavy weather of turning their supremacy into goals but at least could not be faulted for perseverance.

Riera hopelessly miscued an overambitious long-range attempt in the 25th minute but was undeterred two minutes later after being set up by a combination between Daniel Agger and Aurelio.

Setting his sights 25 yards out, his left-foot drive looked like troubling Arlauskis until deflecting off a defender and drifting wide.

Unirea’s masterplan appeared to extend no further than packing as many bodies as possible behind the ball.

What it lacked in adventure, it more than made up for in effectiveness, as Aurelio and Riera both discovered with shots that cannoned back off white shirts.

Meeting a half-clearance from 30 yards, the midfielder’s first-time thunderbolt was screaming towards the top corner until striking Sorin Frunza’s straining forehead and flying over for a corner.

The little wing back merely shook his scrambled senses back into place before trotting towards his post for sentry duty at the resulting flag kick.

It was turning into that sort of night, with Unirea showing not the slightest attacking ambition.

Ngog was next to try his luck, in the 37th minute, with a smart turn and low snap shot that met the same fate as so many Liverpool attempts before it, divertedbehind by a defender’s outstretched leg.

The familiar pattern of the first half was soon in evidence after the break, as Liverpool continued their quest for a breakthrough.

Unirea did at least force a corner in the 54th minute, but their goal had already had another narrow escape by then.

It was a well-worn routine that worked the opening, Jamie Carragher swinging over a cross and Gerrard meeting it with a firm header that flew a yard wide.

Read the article on Mail on Sunday

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