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English Premiership

Ngog keeps Liverpool in hunt

LIVERPOOL, February 19- David Ngog's goal was good enough to give Liverpool a 1-0 win over Romanian side Unirea Urziceni in the first leg of their last 32 Europa League tie at Anfield here on Thursday.
Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez wanted the Reds to secure a significant first leg advantage and selected a strong side.

But Unirea kept Liverpool at bay until French forward Ngog breached their defence with nine minutes left thanks to a close-range header.

"They were very stubborn but we expected that," Steven Gerrard, the Liverpool captain, told Channel Five.

"You could say maybe we needed to be a bit more clinical but I think we’ll get more joy away from home. They’re going to have to come out and try and beat us in the second leg."

Unirea, like Liverpool, found themselves in this competition after finishing third in their Champions League group and so failing to qualify for the knockout stages of European football’s premier club competition.

Gerrard while upbeat about Liverpool’s chances of winning the Europa League, added: "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 it but we’re confident we can go all the way."

Unirea gave the ball away straight from kick-off, allowing Liverpool the opportunity to attack and Gerrard had a shot pushed away by Giedruis Arlauskis after just 27 seconds.

Liverpool’s one-touch passing created another opening when Jamie Carragher moved the ball quickly inside to Dirk Kuyt and the Dutchman’s shot was deflected just wide of the Unirea goal.

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Making his first start in more than a month, Fabio Aurelio curled wide with a free-kick as Liverpool maintained their early momentum.

Alberto Aquilani’s passing was starting to catch the eye and he created space for Albert Riera to clip in a cross from the left that was glanced wide by Gerrard.

Unirea finally posed a minimal threat after Javier Mascherano gave away a needless free-kick for shirt pulling.

But Sorin Frunza failed to test Pepe Reina with a weak effort that was easily held by the Spanish goalkeeper.

The visitors were getting all their outfield players behind the ball whenever they could and a 45-yard shot from Marius Onofras, easily held by Reina, was as ambitious as they got.

Liverpool’s frustration intensified when Gerrard again failed to hit the target with a header from a looping right-wing cross from Jamie Carragher.

And the England midfielder drove high into the stand from another Carragher pass as the anxiety increased at Anfield.

The Romanian champions were growing in confidence and a strong run down the left from Frunza ended with the winger crossing and Razvan Paduretu slicing wide of Reina’s goal.

Just after the hour Arlauskis was forced into action again, pushing away Aurelio’s low drive from distance and as Gerrard and Ngog tried to bustle through a crowd of Unirea bodies, Ngog had another effort deflected wide.

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From the corner that followed, Aurelio’s cross picked out the advancing Martin Skrtel but the Slovakian defender headed over from 12 yards.

Lulian Apostal could even have snatched a dramatic late win but his bending shot flew wide of Reina’s goal.

But with just under 10 minutes left, Liverpool finally scored.

Ryan Babel crossed from the left and Ngog got on the end of a knock-down from Daniel Pacheco to nod in.

Gerrard drilled wide from 25 yards as he looked to give Liverpool a stronger advantage ahead of their trip to Romania next week.

But there was a late worry for Liverpool, who face Manchester City in the Premier League on Sunday, when Ngog limped off injured.

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