Liverpool's Brendan Rodgers is relieved as reign starts with a win
Gomel 0 Liverpool 1
Brendan Rodgers declared himself pleased after his first match in charge of Liverpool ended in victory after a 1-0 win against Gomel in their Europa League third qualifying round first leg tie at the Central Stadion in Belarus.
The Co. Antrim man’s competitive debut as Reds boss was fraught with danger, but they avoided the potential banana skin against the Belarussians to take an advantage back to Anfield for next Thursday’s second leg.
That was given to them by Stewart Downing's 25-yard effort midway through the second half, only the England wingers third goal for the club, but enough to get Rodgers’ reign as Liverpool manager off to the winning start he had hoped for.
Gomel dominated the majority of the game and the Merseysiders were lucky to leave with the win after the hosts missed plenty of chances, but while Rodgers will demand an improvement in the level of performance, he will be happy that he is already off and running with a win under his belt.
“I'm pleased and it was an excellent test for us,” said Rodgers.
“It was very important to get off to a good start and when you win any game it's always important. I was delighted for the players.
“It was really special for me as it was the first competitive game. It wouldn't have mattered where the game was, whether it was in Belarus or Brazil, it's an honour for me to manage the club and I'm very proud to lead the players and be their manager.
“Hopefully this can be the start of many more wins and positive games for us.
“As the game wore on we started to get more space and our quality began to show through.
“I was delighted for Stewart Downing. It was a wonderful strike and that's why we put him on that side so he could come in and shoot.”
Rodgers promised he would take the competition seriously and picked a strong side although Daniel Agger and Andy Carroll — both of whom have been linked with moves away from Anfield — were left back in Liverpool.
Steven Gerrard was captain, while Jamie Carragher made his 700th Liverpool appearance and was partnered in the heart of the defence by Martin Skrtel.
Joe Cole, who spent last season on loan at Lille, also started - while summer signing Fabio Borini led the line in the 4-3-3 formation that Rodgers deployed.
However, Cole lasted just 23 minutes as he hobbled off with what appeared to be a hamstring injury, with 17-year-old Raheem Sterling his replacement.
Both teams began slowly although Liverpool showed they were already buying into the Rodgers approach, with the vast majority of their football played on the ground.
Sadly for the Merseysiders it failed to yield opportunities and it was Gomel who created the first chance 25 minutes in.
Dmitri Platonov skipped past Gerrard and surged to the byline before delivering a cross to Igor Voronkov, who headed over.
Five minutes before the break Skrtel was first outmuscled and then outpaced by striker Aleksandr Alumona, who shot straight at Jones.
The danger was far from over and a short corner from Gomel caught the visitors out and Platonov should have tested goalkeeper Brad Jones with a free header from 10 yards out, but mistimed his jump and looped his effort over.
The hosts took just a minute to create an opportunity in the second half as once again the Liverpool backline fell asleep as Platonov was played onside by Carragher and raced away down the left. The striker rounded
Jones, but his touch was too heavy as the ball ran away for a goal-kick.
Liverpool had another let off and it was Platonov who again went close after 65 minutes. Jay Spearing gave the ball away cheaply and Sergey Kozeka hit a rasping shot which cannoned onto the post with Jones well beaten. The rebound fell to Alumona who completely mishit his effort into the path of Platonov who, with the goal gaping, somehow managed to shoot wide.
Gomel were made to pay for their incompetence in front of goal as just two minutes later — following the introduction of Lucas for Jordan Henderson — Liverpool were in front.
Downing cut inside from the right and unopposed from 25 yards fired past Vladimir Bushma into the left hand corner.
“What I was really pleased with, which is a vital ingredient for success, is desire and commitment,” said Rodgers.
“We have a lot of improvement to make but I am excited in the future we will make those improvements.”