Captain Steven Gerrard scored a winning penalty kick in injury time as Liverpool won 2-1 against Ludogorets Razgard on Tuesday, but the Bulgarian minnows gave the Premier League giants one heck of a shock.
Mario Balotelli gave a laboring Liverpool side the lead in the 82nd minute (his first goal for the Reds) but then disaster struck as Ablo Paulos equalized in the 90th minute as Anfield was stunned. However, in the 92nd minute Ludogorets ‘keepers Borjan brought down Javier Manquillo in the box and Gerrard stepped up to make it 2-1 as Liverpool won their first UEFA Champions League game since 2010.
A win is a win, but Liverpool left it late in a dramatic finale at Anfield.
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Liverpool had all the possession early on and came close to taking the lead in the 21st minute when Mario Balotelli turned beautifully on the edge of the box and forced a block. The ball then fell to Adam Lallana whose shot was saved and then Balotelli was caught offside with the rebound.
The famous Anfield roar was then heard as Balotelli sparked the crowd into life. A surging break down the left saw Philippe Coutinho playi n Jordan Henderson who teed up Lallana but the England man couldn’t get the ball out of his feet and the chance was gone. From the resulting corner Dejan Lovren headed over as Liverpool pressed for the opener but Ludogorets hung on until half time with the score locked at 0-0.
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After the break Henderson played in Manquillo but the Spaniard lobbed the ball over the net when a deft touch was all that was needed. Moments later Ludogorets forced Simon Mignolet into a fine save as the Bulgarian minnows threatened.
In the final 30 minutes Liverpool cranked things up several notches and bombarded the Ludogorets goal with Lallana, Sterling and Balotelli at times getting in each others way.
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Ludogorets were still a threat on the break as Bezjak fired an effort just over the crossbar after reacting first to a quick throw-in. Brendan Rodgers then made two subs to try and change the home sides fortune as Fabio Borini and Lucas Leiva came on for the final 20 minutes. Borini almost scored with his first touch as Manquillo crossed from the right and the Italian attacker headed towards goal but Borjan (who joined Ludogorets on an emergency loan for this game) tipped it over.
Disaster almost struck for the home side in the 72nd minute as Ludogoets were close to going ahead. Slovenian striker Bezjak was set clean through and hit the post then the rebound fell to Minev but he hammered the ball wide. A real let off for Liverpool. Henderson then went close for Liverpool as Alberto Moreno clipped a great ball into the new vice-captain but the midfielder glanced his header just wide of the far post.
Balotelli then volleyed home to give Liverpool the lead in the 82nd minute but as the clock ticked to 90 minutes, Ludogorets sub Paulos latched onto a through ball and rounded Migolet to slot home the equalizer. However, there was to be another late twist in the tale as Manquillo was scythed down by Borjan for the penalty kick and Gerrard slotted the PK home to seal victory for the five-time UCL champions.
Liverpool: Mignolet, Manquillo, Moreno, Lovren, Sakho, Gerrard, Henderson, Coutinho (Lucas, 67′), Sterling, Lallana (Borini, 67′), Balotelli.
Goals: Balotelli (82′), Gerrard (90+2′)
Ludogorets: Borjan, Junior Caicara, Moti, Aleksandar Aleksandrov, Minev, Mihail Aleksandrov, Dyakov (Fonseca, 85′), Abel, Misidjan (Paulos, 73′), Marcelinho, Bezjak (Hamza, 86′)
Goal: Paulos (90′)