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Ludogorets 2-2 Liverpool: Reds keep Champions League hopes alive despite draw


first_img1 Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson celebrates his goal against Ludogorets in the Champions League Liverpool kept their Champions League last-16 hopes intact despite slipping to a late equaliser in a 2-2 draw with Ludogorets in Sofia.The Reds were hoping to kickstart their season and halt a run of four consecutive defeats in all competitions with victory against the Bulgarian minnows, but instead found themselves a goal down inside three minutes when a mistake from Simon Mignolet allowed striker Dani Abalo to score.Brendan Rodgers’ men soon recovered from their shocking start, however, with goals from Rickie Lambert and Jordan Henderson handing them a half-time lead.But the Merseysiders were sluggish after the break, and they eventually conceded following a sustained period of pressure from the hosts, who equalised from a corner in the final five minutes to deny the Reds a much-needed win.Fortunately, though, the result doesn’t end Liverpool’s chances, as Real Madrid’s 1-0 victory over Basel means the Premier League outfit can progress to the knock-out stages if they beat the Swiss side in their final Group B fixture.It was a disastrous start from the Merseysiders, who went behind moments after kick-off following a horrible mistake from Mignolet.The Belgian has come under fire for his poor performances this season, and the error-prone stopper’s woes continued as he failed to hold a routine shot from Marcelinho, the ball squirming out of his grasp and falling straight to forward Dani Abalo, who dashed in to open the scoring.But to their credit, the Reds’ heads didn’t drop and Rodgers’ side had to wait just five minutes for the equaliser, though it came in fortuitous circumstances.Ludogorets were caught napping as they failed to clear a searching cross from Jordan Henderson, with Rickie Lambert, playing on his own upfront in the absence of the injured Mario Balotelli, pouncing on the loose ball and deftly heading over the stranded goalkeeper for his first goal in European football.The former Southampton man’s strike seemed to settle down the Merseysiders, but Ludogorets remained a threat on the break with Dutch speedster Virgil Misidjan proving a nuisance on the left flank.They could do little more than force a few corner kicks though, while Liverpool also failed to really prove a threat in the final third.Veteran centre-back Kolo Toure was a commanding figure once again in his second straight European appearance, having impressed in the 1-0 defeat to Real Madrid, though there was a heart-stopping moment when his sliding interception to prevent a dangerous cross saw the ball trickle just past his own post.And the hair-raising action continued shortly after when Mignolet came out of his goal to punch away a free-kick but missed the ball entirely, though fortunately the hosts couldn’t capitalise on another mistake as the Reds cleared.It was clear the Reds were missing that zip in the final third as, having blown teams away with their breathtaking counter-attacking play last term, they failed to really make any ground towards the goal.Lone frontman Lambert did hold up the ball well, but the pace of departed star Luis Suarez and injured striker Daniel Sturridge – and even, dare I say, Mario Balotelli – was sorely missed.Despite making little leeway upfront, that all important goal did come moments before the break from their first clear breakaway.Raheem Sterling pushed forward and sent a brilliant low cross into the area, with the energetic Henderson running from deep to meet the pass at the back post to tap Liverpool in front.Henderson then appeared to have blown a huge chance to increase his side’s lead shortly after the re-start when he followed up Lambert’s blocked header by firing astonishingly over the bar with an open goal at his mercy, but the England midfielder’s blushes were spared as the referee had already blown for a free kick following a foul on the keeper.More and more mistakes crept into Liverpool’s game as the half progressed and they soon found themselves on the back foot when they faced a barrage of corner kicks, though Ludogorets’ lack of clinical touch saw the visitors escape with their slender lead intact.Sterling was by far the Anfield outfit’s most lively player, but despite his energy and efforts in and around the box, the youngster was often muscled off the ball and looked ragged as the second-half went on.He eventually made way for Alberto Moreno, but not before going closet to a Liverpool third, being played through one-on-one by a defence-splitting Steven Gerrard pass but taking a touch too many as the goalkeeper gobbled up the chance.The scrappy affair continued with quality at a premium from both sides, and – with the fresh legs of three late substitutes giving them added oomph upfront – the hosts’ continued pressure eventually bore fruit when another corner finally found its way through the Reds’ defence.It was Glen Johnson who lost his man, with Georgi Terziev nipping in front of the defender to deservedly level with a close-range header.There was no mistaking the Reds’ disappointment at the final whistle having let another victory slip away, but a draw still means they are just one win away from progressing to the next stage.last_img

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