LIVERPOOL, August 6 – Roy Hodgson's first home match as Liverpool manager ended in triumph as the five-times European champions overcame Rabotnicki 2-0 at Anfield on Thursday to coast into the play-off stage of the Europa League.First half goals by David Ngog and captain Steven Gerrard capped the easiest of wins as Liverpool overcame their Macedonian opponents 4-0 on aggregate.
The tie took place against the backdrop of a takeover bid for the club, with rumours sweeping Anfield that a deal is close to being struck.
On a day when the Chinese government’s foreign investment arm denied funding a bid for Liverpool, there was no confusion on the pitch about who was going through to the play-off stage of Europe’s second-tier club competition.
Having established a 2-0 first leg lead in Skopje seven days earlier, Hodgson’s Anfield arrival was never in danger of turning sour.
Hodgson made sure of that by naming his strongest side available to him.
Jamie Carragher and Glen Johnson also started along with Gerrard and new signing Joe Cole, who impressed the longer the tie progressed.
But it was Gerrard who really caught the eye.
The England midfielder set the tone for a fine individual performance by produced a stunning piece of skill to present Ngog with a glorious opportunity to put the tie out of sight in the 14th minute.
However, the young Frenchman wasted Gerrard’s good work as his attempt to dribble the ball round the keeper and walk the ball into the net ended in failure.
Gerrard did not look like a man who had endured a bitterly frustrating World Cup as he set about Rabotnicki with the same hunger and drive as if facing Manchester United or Chelsea.
It was Gerrard’s powerful 21st-minute effort won the corner from which the hosts took the lead.
The over-worked Rabotnicki defence could only half clear the set-piece and Cole’s delightful pin-point cross into the danger area allowed Ngog, whose header went in off the bar, to atone for his earlier miss.
Former Chelsea midfielder Cole got busier as the game progressed.
Liverpool’s new 90,000 pounds (120,000 dollars) a week man was unfortunate not to mark his first competitive appearance for the club with a goal in the 28th minute, his attempt from outside the area curling narrowly wide of the post.
Yet Cole might just be feeling a tinge of frustration after failing to find the net against a poor team.
Rabotnicki may have finished runners-up in Macedonia’s top-tier last season, but they were totally out-played in a one-sided affair at Anfield.
Gerrard capped a fine first half display with his side’s second on the night from the penalty spot after Ngog had been wrestled to the floor by Fernando Lopez six minutes before the interval.
Boasting a four-goal cushion, Liverpool could have been excused for taking it easy in the second half.
But in what was another encouraging sign of Hodgson’s management, they looked to build on their lead after the interval.
Cole impressed the longer the match went on.
He rattled the woodwork with a cross-cum-shot in the opening seconds of the second half before forcing keeper Martin Bogatinov into a 50th minute save.
There will be much more tougher tests for Hodgson and Liverpool over the coming months.
But, despite Rabotnicki substitute Felip Petkovski hitting the post in the dying seconds, this was not bad for starters.