David Ngog's late header earned Liverpool FC a narrow advantage to take to Romania after a match in which FC Unirea Urziceni made life awkward for their hosts at Anfield.
Liverpool are three-times UEFA Cup winners and manager Rafael Benítez lifted the trophy with Valencia CF in 2004. Yet they struggled to open up a resolute Unirea side in what was both clubs' first appearance in the revamped UEFA Europa League and required the intervention of substitutes Ryan Babel and Daniel Pacheco who combined to set up Ngog with nine minutes remaining. Babel swung a cross over from the left which Pacheco met at the far post, nodding the ball across to Ngog to finish.
The Merseysiders lost twice at Anfield in the UEFA Champions League group stage but a more comfortable evening looked on the cards when, inside 30 seconds, Steven Gerrard got clear to force an early save from Giedrius Arlauskis. Yet the game took a different course with the visitors, making their first competitive outing since mid-December, showing the spirit and resilience that helped them earn more UEFA Champions League points than Liverpool before both finished third in their pools.
In new coach Roni Levy's first outing since replacing Dan Petrescu, Unirea sat deep and set out to contain Liverpool, and it was a plan that largely succeeded, despite a 10-0 corner count by half-time. Dirk Kuyt drew a low save from Arlauskis, who also stopped Ngog's deflected shot, but otherwise Liverpool were frustrated.
The game opened up fractionally after the break with the occasional Unirea foray into Liverpool territory, and Fábio Aurelio forced a fingertip save from Arlauskis with a 20-metre effort just after the hour. Martin Škrtel then headed over from an Aurelio corner, while Arlauskis denied Gerrard. There was a glimmer of a chance for Iulian Apostol at the other end as he robbed Javier Mascherano and curled a shot wide, but Liverpool soon had their breakthrough.