In Pictures: Relief for Liverpool as Ngog strikes
Liverpool 1 Unirea Urziceni 0
Published 19/02/2010 | 03:34
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard remains confident the Reds can win the Europa League despite struggling to beat Romanians Unirea Urziceni last night in the first leg of their last-32 clash.
Rafael Benitez's side dominated proceedings at Anfield, but could not break their opponents down until David Ngog's late strike earned them a 1-0 victory.
Gerrard said: “They were very stubborn, but we expected that. Maybe we needed to be a bit more clinical, but I think we'll get more joy away from home.
“We were patient and the goal came. They're going to have to come out and try and beat us in the second leg.”
Like Liverpool, Unirea finished third in their Champions League group and Gerrard knows they will have to beat some big names if they are to make the final in Hamburg.
He continued: “The teams knocked out of the Champions League are fantastic teams and some of the top sides across Europe are in the competition so it's going to be tough to win, but we're confident we can go all the way.”
Ngog's goal nine minutes from time eventually broke the resistance of a determined Unirea. The Frenchman's close-range header gives the Reds some breathing space as they head to Bucharest for next week's second leg.
Their job would have been easier had Gerrard converted their first chance after just 25 seconds when Unirea lost possession straight from the kick-off.
Albert Riera and Dirk Kuyt linked up for the Dutchman to put the midfielder through, but his side-foot shot was tipped over by goalkeeper Giedrius Arlauskis.
Kuyt enjoyed some luck in the 10th minute when his heavy touch in the penalty area was not cleared and he followed up to flash a shot across goal.
Gerrard was next to miss a chance, planting a 12-yard header from Riera's cross well wide.
Unirea rarely ventured forward. When they did, with a counter-attack just after the half-hour, Marius Onofras attempted an lob over Jose Reina from the halfway line, but the Spain goalkeeper comfortably claimed.
Javier Mascherano's 30-yard drive was deflected wide by Razvan Paduretu while Ngog's shot on the turn from just inside the penalty area was diverted wide.
Five minutes before half-time Bruno Fernandes was booked for bringing down Gerrard, but Daniel Agger drilled the 35-yard free-kick straight into the wall.
Unirea looked more inclined to go forward after the break, but it was Liverpool who had the first chance with Gerrard heading wide again from Jamie Carragher's 52nd-minute cross.
Pablo Brandan was booked for tripping Gerrard in the centre-circle, ruling him out of next week's second leg through suspension.
Riera was replaced by Ryan Babel for the last 28 minutes and he began encouragingly with two decisive runs, the latter resulting in a cross to Gerrard at the far post which he could not keep in.
Benitez sent on reserve team striker Daniel Pacheco, making only his second appearance in Europe, for Alberto Aquilani with
quarter of an hour remaining in a bid to break the deadlock..
With nine minutes to go the breakthrough finally came, with Pacheco playing an key role.
The diminutive Spaniard, possibly the smallest player on the pitch, out-jumped his marker at the far post to head back across goal for Ngog to nod in from five yards.
Gerrard fired just wide in the closing stages as Liverpool pushed for the second which would give them a cushion ahead of the second leg.