Brendan Rodgers made a winning start to his Liverpool managerial career as Stewart Downing's goal secured a fortuitous Europa League qualifying victory over FC Gomel. If you cannot be good, be lucky, and the old saying certainly applied to the Northern Irishman's competitive debut in Belarus.
Jamie Carragher marked his 700th Liverpool appearance by captaining a team containing Steven Gerrard, and Rodgers' team grew stronger as the third qualifying round first leg wore on. Otherwise this was no more than a case of job done as a series of woeful finishes from FC Gomel saved the Anfield club from what should have been a punishing night.
The tie illustrated why a manager would prioritise the Premier League above European football's secondary competition, as Rodgers had done on the eve of his competitive debut. Liverpool faced travel problems and an accommodation shortage in Belarus before the game plus an obvious lack of match fitness and cohesion during it. Injury and fresh transfer speculation added to the Liverpool manager's difficulties before Downing, a man with much to prove at Anfield, this season, delivered a win from out of nowhere.
Rodgers had left Andy Carroll on Merseyside despite including the West Ham United and Newcastle transfer target in his initial squad officially after the striker suffered a slight groin strain in training, and there was also no place in the travelling party for Daniel Agger, the Denmark international who has been subject of an inquiry from Manchester City.
"He's not injured at all," said Agger's agent, Per Steffensen, before kick off. "I can't tell you why he isn't in the squad. Only the club and manager can do that. He has not asked for a transfer, that's nonsense. Daniel is happy in Liverpool." Liverpool later claimed the defender had been left at Melwood to work on his conditioning following a delayed return to training after Euro 2012.
Matters were no more straightforward on the pitch. Joe Cole, eager to resurrect a Liverpool career that has never got started, lasted 14 minutes before pulling up with a hamstring injury. He replaced by Raheem Sterling, the second youngest player to appear for Liverpool in Europe. Fabio Borini, the £10m capture from Roma, turned a half-chance wide from a Downing corner and Glen Johnson headed over from Gerrard's free-kick. They were the only first-half threats from an experienced Liverpool team who were fortunate in the extreme to reach the interval on level terms. Igor Voronkov headed wastefully over from an inviting cross from the by-line and, with Martin Skrtel and Johnson clearly off the pace, Gomel debutant Aleksandr Alumona had the chances to establish an alarming lead for the Belarusians.
Alumona sent two weak shots at Brad Jones when free inside the area, the second after shrugging aside Skrtel too easily and signalling a calamitous period when Gomel created four clear openings in two minutes, squandering them all.
Within a minute of the restart Dmitri Platonov broke away from Skrtel and rounded Jones only to take a heavy touch that sent the ball out of play and gave Liverpool another reprieve. That was nothing compared with their escape when Sergei Kozeka struck a post from 25 yards, Alumona sliced the rebound wide in front of an open goal but straight to Platonov who also miscued wide. Moments later Downing cut inside from the right and let fly from 25 yards with his left foot. The hosts' goalkeeper Vladimir Bushma was nowhere near it and Rodgers was off to a winning, eye-opening start.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © strabanephotos