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Gerrard ensures Liverpool edge Ludogorets

Liverpool FC 2-1 PFC Ludogorets Razgrad
Steven Gerrard converted a penalty deep in added time just after Dani Abalo seemed to have denied Liverpool victory.

Gerrard ensures Liverpool edge Ludogorets
Gerrard ensures Liverpool edge Ludogorets ©UEFA.com

Steven Gerrard converts a penalty deep in added time to secure the Group B points
Dani Abalo had only just equalised for the impressive Bulgarian debutants
Mario Balotelli hit what seemed to be the winner eight minutes from the end
Roman Bezjak had struck the post not long before in a fine showing by the visitors
Next fixtures: Basel v Liverpool, Ludogorets v Real Madrid (1 October)

Liverpool FC's return to the UEFA Champions League after five years away ended in victory – but only just after a tremendous fight by tournament debutants PFC Ludogorets Razgrad.

There was expectancy in the air before kick-off. Brendan Rodgers' match programme notes talked of embracing a rich heritage, one perfectly illustrated by the Kop's pre-match mosaic showing five European Cups. This is a new era, though. Liverpool's lineup featured five players with no UEFA Champions League experience and they began slowly.

Of course, for every Ludogorets player this is a new adventur, not least goalkeeper Milan Borjan, the Canadian signed only a few days ago to deputise for the suspended Vladislav Stoyanov. Central in the late drama, he was eased into the action as Liverpool's attacking fluency came only in fits and starts.

After 21 minutes Mario Balotelli turned his marker, Cosmi Moţi, but Aleksandar Aleksandrov got in the way of the ensuing shot and Borjan foiled Adam Lallana on the follow-up. Lallana had an even better chance eight minutes before the break after Coutinho sent Jordan Henderson bursting into the box, but Borjan saved.

The lively Ludogorets fans in the Anfield Road end will have been pleased by their team's first 45 minutes of UEFA Champions League football – not least the confident touches of Marcelinho. The Liverpool crowd, meanwhile, saw the purposeful work of left-back Alberto Moreno, providing regular sorties down his flank.

As it was, their side's first opportunity after the restart fell to the other Spanish full-back, Javier Manquillo, but he lifted his effort over the bar. Ludogorets were making life awkward for their hosts and Marcelinho twice set up Roman Bezjak, who with his second chance shot against the far post. Marcelinho then went himself, forcing Moreno to make a brilliant saving tackle.

That was the cue for Liverpool to go to the other end and strike. Moreno played a high ball into Balotelli and he turned between two green shirts before finding the far corner of the Kop net. Borjan's flying stop repelled another Balotelli attempt yet it was in stoppage time that the real drama arrived.

Dani Abalo was played through by fellow substitute Younes Hamza and he confidently rounded Simon Mignolet and slotted in to secure what seemed a memorable draw. But then Borjan brought down Manquillo after miscontrolling a back-pass and Steven Gerrard, naturally, made no mistake from the spot.

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