Johnson Carragher Kyrgiakos Kelly
Kuyt Lucas Poulsen Aurelio
Kacar (og) 83'
Indescribably terrible for 20 minutes, barely mediocre for the rest of the first half, slightly stronger after the interval (improving as the half went on), and then came two goals in the last ten minutes. Phew. I'd forgotten the immense relief that comes with late winners.
It was never going to be easy against tough opposition in a stereotypically raucous Turkish stadium, especially with a weakened side. And it was the worst possible start, giving up a goal before four minutes were off the clock. Kuyt sloppily lost possession in midfield and Colman's throughball-slash-shot found Gutierrez, played onside by Carragher, for a tap-in. It didn't get any easier from there, with Liverpool shell-shocked and Yattara tormenting both Kelly and Aurelio down the left. The away side, as at City, couldn't string passes or get out of their own half, resorting to ill-advised hoofs in the direction of an incredibly isolated Ngog.
It got slightly better after spending those 20 minutes fumbling with all hands on deck, slowly but surely steadying the ship, which was capped by Johnson – Liverpool's best player on the night – with the ball in the net in the 32nd only to be rightfully ruled offside. And, like against Arsenal and Rabotnicki, Liverpool were thankfully much improved after the restart.
Ngog should have leveled the match in the 52nd, set up by Joe Cole's right-sided cross, only to see his six-yard header whistle past the back post. Five minutes later, the young French striker did well to turn his marker and muscle past two defenders but pushed his shot wide from the top of the box. Trabzonspor's response – sending on the more defensive Atas for midfielder Gulselam – blunted Liverpool's "burgeoning" attack, but the entrance of Pacheco in the 77th (how dare
Within five minutes, Liverpool equalized, leaving Trabzonspor needing two goals to go through. Once again, it came from a Johnson burst forward – cutting inside past the left back and centering dangerously, with the final touch from center-back Giray Kaçar under pressure from Ngog. Liverpool's second came with the game stretched – Babel in space to run at a defender, cutting back for Pacheco, whose laser blast rebounded fortunately for Kuyt. 1-1 would have been a fair scoreline on the night, 2-1 seems a gift, but either would have seen them through, and I'm certainly not complaining about a hard-won win.
It wasn't pretty, but at least Liverpool consistently improved after the early abomination and once again got the late goals to win matches, a trait they thrived on during the wonderful 2008-09 campaign. As angry as I was during the match – and if you follow me on Twitter, you'll know I was murderously angry – by the end of the night, it's a fantastic result. The first time Liverpool's beaten Turkish opposition in Turkey, a side that's rarely beaten at home, with an under-strength squad. That would have been a tough tie with everyone available and fully fit.
After early threats, Johnson was rarely tested in defense, and was Liverpool's only consistent option going forward in the first half. Lucas was typically steady, but Liverpool needed more than steady from central midfield today to make this system work, and his pairing with Poulsen isn't often easy on the eyes. Kyrgiakos was once again dominant aerially. And Pacheco and Babel both had excellent cameos; I hope both have a role to play on Sunday against West Brom. I single out Pacheco for turning the game because his singular ambition to drive forward seemed to perk up the entire side and peg back Trabzonspor, even if he wasn't involved in the crucial equalizer.
But the "fantastic result" can't mute some obvious problems. The team was constantly bereft of ideas for long stretches, bypassing midfield with punts forward despite Ngog unable to hold up play until runners could join in the "attack," which rendered Cole invisible for long stretches. Aurelio's nowhere near fitness and Kuyt looked every bit the scapegoat people make him out to be in the first half, taking both flanks out of the attack. But Fabio, despite his versatility (having played left-back, wing-back, left midfield and central midfield), isn't a left-winger in a four-man midfield, while Kuyt ended up with the final goal thanks to his often-displayed nose for the rebound.
There's still a long season ahead, but Liverpool's over this high hurdle, which will make Anfield a far happier place to be. Confidence matters, and despite the poor performance for long stretches, this result will raise the side's confidence.