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Downing strike earns Liverpool win against Anji

Liverpool FC 1-0 FC Anji Makhachkala
Stewart Downing's second-half strike made the difference, helping Brendan Rodgers' side leapfrog the visitors to the top of Group A.

Jonjo Shelvey congratulates Stewart Downing after Liverpool go ahead
Jonjo Shelvey congratulates Stewart Downing after Liverpool go ahead ©Getty Images

Liverpool FC earned a narrow but deserved victory against FC Anji Makhachkala to climb above the visitors to the top of UEFA Europa League Group A.

Five days after recording a belated first home win in the Premier League this season, Brendan Rodgers' evolving side prevailed by the same 1-0 scoreline, Stewart Downing striking from the edge of the box in the 53rd minute. It was Liverpool's 550th European goal and means they will travel to face Anji in Moscow on 8 November with a two-point advantage over Guus Hiddink's men, beaten here for the first time in 14 fixtures.

The match was slow to warm up though Oussama Assaidi, Liverpool's slightly built Morocco winger, certainly did his bit to excite the Anfield crowd in the first half. With his jinking runs he troubled the Anji defence, coming in from the left to set up Luis Suárez and Glen Johnson in the opening quarter, though neither troubled Vladimir Gabulov with their near-post shots.

Liverpool came closer after 24 minutes, but Jonjo Shelvey shot wastefully over after being played in by Suárez. The Uruguayan international was then involved in fashioning another clear opening as Johnson surged clear after a one-two, only to mis-kick with just Gabulov to beat.

The second half began with Raheem Sterling on in place of Johnson, forcing Downing to drop to left-back, yet it did not stop him getting forward for his decisive goal. As he ran infield from the left, no Anji player got close and he took full advantage, arrowing a fine right-footed shot across Gabulov and into the far corner.

That forced Anji to awaken as an attacking force, although it was not until the 70th minute that Brad Jones had a save to make from a rising Samuel Eto'o effort. Lacina Traoré turned wide a low cross by Shamil Lahiyalov with the clock running down, but it was Liverpool's night.