Stewart Downing delivers as Liverpool and Newcastle win to top groups
A SUPERB strike from Stewart Downing earned Liverpool a 1-0 victory over Anzhi Makhachkala on a night which saw both the Anfield side and Newcastle top their respective Europa League groups.
Downing cracked home an unstoppable effort from outside the box in the 53rd minute at Anfield after coming in from the left flank.
The win was no less than the Reds deserved having been the better side for much of the contest, and they now lead Group A with six points from three games.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers fielded a strong side including the likes of Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez, resisting the temptation to rest a host of players ahead of Sunday’s Premier League derby at Everton.
It was clear Rodgers was not about to underestimate nouveau riche Anzhi, who lead the Russian top flight, and are overseen by one-time Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink and had former Barcelona and Inter Milan striker Samuel Eto’o up front.
The Reds were looking to bounce back from a 3-2 home defeat to Udinese in their previous Europa League outing and made a positive start. Glen Johnson found himself through on goal in the 35th minute, but failed to get a shot in and took a tumble under the attentions of Kamil Agalarov, with the referee waving the Reds defender’s penalty claims away.
Anzhi then registered an attempt on goal in first-half stoppage-time when Fedor Smolov fizzed the ball across Brad Jones and wide.
Rodgers added new impetus to his attack at the interval by introducing Raheem Sterling for Johnson, and there were encouraging signs for Liverpool soon after the break, with Martin Skrtel’s powerful drive bringing a save out of Vladimir Gabulov before Gerrard headed Jonjo Shelvey’s cross wide.
The Reds kept up the pressure and moments later got the breakthrough as Downing, who had been shifted to left-back, cut in from out wide and smashed the ball into the net.
At St James’ Park, Gabriel Obertan’s first goal of the season maintained Newcastle’s challenge as the Ameobi brothers joined forces to help secure a 1-0 win over Brugge.
Shola, 31, and 20-year-old Sammy combined in breathtaking style three minutes after the break to set up the Frenchman to seal the narrowest of wins. The result leaves Newcastle three points clear at the top of Group D.
Newcastle might have been in control of the game long before Obertan struck had Papiss Cisse managed to convert any of the chances which came his way.
As it was, Alan Pardew’s men were made to fight all the way by the Pro League leaders, with Steve Harper making a fine second-half save from Lior Rafaelov to preserve his clean sheet. But they made it to the final whistle without mishap to take their points tally to seven from three games and leave themselves on the brink of qualification for the last 32.
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Monday 20 May 2013
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