Liverpool FC put their recent domestic troubles behind them as two second-half goals gave them victory Bulgarian side PFC Levski Sofia at Anfield. It took 67 minutes for them to break the deadlock, but Steven Gerrard's left-foot cracker was then matched by Harry Kewell three minutes later.
For a club which clinched the UEFA Cup only three seasons ago, and for which this represents the only hope of silverware this season, Liverpool found it difficult to find their rhythm. It was not until the later stages that they were able to dominate the visitors in the first leg of this third-round tie.
Levski were limited to only one real chance in the first half, but Liverpool were unable to take advantage of their greater possession. Chances for Milan Baroš, Danny Murphy and Michael Owen all went begging.
Two rejected penalty appeals within as many minutes revealed a certain degree of desperation on the part of the home side, who became increasingly frustrated with their inability to break down the stubborn Levski defence.
It was a brighter Liverpool who came on to the pitch in the second half. Owen could have scored a hat-trick in the first ten minutes, before Levski's Kostadin Vidolov tested home goalkeeper Chris Kirkland with a powerful shot from 25 metres.
Owen was twice more denied by visiting goalkeeper Dimitar Ivankov before Gerrard scored with a stunning left-foot strike from the edge of the area. Three minutes later Harry Kewell, in a game which seemed to mark his long-awaited return to form, scored from a Danny Murphy short corner on the right-hand side.
Liverpool were untroubled for the remainder of the match, and home Gérard Houllier was delighted with their performance, saying: "
It was very professional. When you have to play at this level it is always difficult to break teams. It is a matter of persistence and skill."
But he praised the Bulgarian team and admitted the tie was far from over, with the second leg in Sofia on Wednesday. "Levski look a good team," Houllier said. "They look extremely clinical when they have the ball. This is only half-time in the tie. It is good that we kept a clean sheet."