Thursday night saw the team begin their latest Europa cup adventure on foreign shores. They had travelled to Romania for the second leg of their opening game in the competition against Unirea. The game was being played in the national stadium because UEFA felt that Unirea's stadium would not be big enough to cope with the interest that the match would hopefully generate.
The team was as expected, Reina, Insua, Carragher, Skrtel, Agger, Lucas, Masherano, Babel, Benayoun, Gerrard and Ngog. Substitutes were Cavalieri, Aquilani, Torres, Aurelio, Kyriaskos, Kuyt and Kelly.
The game opened in a very wet and unfriendly looking stadium. There was very little noise from the crowd and to be honest it certainly did not seem like a European night. The television commentator remarked that there were actually people in front of each stand trying to get a response from the supporters.
Unirea kicked off, but Liverpool quickly gained possession of the ball, with Skrtel getting his first touch. Unfortunately, though it was eventually wasted with nobody to meet it. Unirea had gained their first free kick but with the pitch being slippery, it was miss-kicked and a chance was lost. Stevie G did have a chance for goal but the jinx that has befallen him this season still appeared to be around and he missed yet again
It also another one of those days where I defense did not seem to know who was doing what. We had Martin Skrtel playing extremely well and yet Insua's habit of kicking balls into nowhere was again in evidence. This led several minutes later to the supporters wondering if Liverpool's European dream was over. Unirea had found an opening our defense and they were now 1-0 up. It certainly looked as though it was going to be another one of those evenings when Ryan Babel received the first yellow card of the evening for a rather nasty challenge.
This though seemed to be the wake-up call though that Liverpool needed. Far too many high balls had already been played and Liverpool needed grab the match by the neck, so to speak. Stevie was still at this point not having a good game but Ryan Babel showed why Rafa had finally decided to give him some playing time. He was playing well but unfortunately found himself gaining a yellow card for his efforts. Liverpool had a free kick which was picked up by Mascherano who seizing the chance kicked a wonderfully long ball towards the goal mouth and seconds later the score was 1-1.
Unirea now seemed a little shaken up and were finding it difficult to regroup but to give them their due they tried their best. Liverpool though were now beginning to exert the pressure to win the gam , which led to Unirea receiving their second yellow card of the evening. What I cannot understand is why though the defence goes to pieces so quickly. If it had not been for Pepe Reina literally coming out of his goal mouth and punching the ball away, Unirea would have been 2-1 up. For several minutes before this, there seemed to such a muddle amongst our defensive players that nobody seemed to know what to do. Thankfully though, we recovered quickly, and play quickly returned to the other end of the field and led to Ryan Babel Scoring. Liverpool went in a half time 2-1 up.
Liverpool kicked off the second half but it became evident almost immediately that our defence was going to give us problems again. The team kept on pressing forward though and Stevie G tried for goal again. He missed but from that point onwards his game appeared to improve and he had several more chances, still though not scoring. Unirea made a substitution at this point but it did not make any difference to the field of play. Then it happened, Benayoun passed to Stevie G and his goal famine was broken, the score was now 3-1 and our place in the last 16 was looking good.
With Liverpool now dominating play and the clock reaching that magic 61 minute mark Jamie was substituted with Martin Kelly and Mascherano gained yet another yellow card. But then a game would not be a game at the moment without Mascherano being carded - he has a bad habit of going in for tackles rather hard. To be honest though I don't think we would have it any other way. Play continued but Skirtel then went into a bad tackle which has unfortunately left him with a broken toe. Kyriakos who appears to have adjusted to playing in the premiership was his replacement. Play continued and although Martin Kelly was doing his best, defense without Jamie seemed very rocky but managed to survive. There was also a call for hand ball from Unirea but this was not given and the match was soon entering his closing minutes. Benayoun, who had returned from injury for this game was taken off and replaced by Aurelio for the final couple of minutes.
Thankfully though, we won the game and can now plan for meeting Lille in the next round.