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Tuesday 12 December 2017

Reds' future in their own hands with shoot-out

Rickie Lambert (R) of Liverpool celebrates with teammate Steven Gerrard after scoring against Ludogorets during their Champions League Group B match
Rickie Lambert (R) of Liverpool celebrates with teammate Steven Gerrard after scoring against Ludogorets during their Champions League Group B match
Brendan Rodgers

HE has spent many hours providing excuses as to why Liverpool are not what they were from last season, but finally Brendan Rodgers has some reward.

He got a result in Sofia, perhaps not the one he wanted or deserved, but with Basel losing at home to Madrid, Liverpool's Champions League future will come down to a shoot-out at Anfield.

Once again, Liverpool caved in at the death and conceded a late goal but this was a decent performance and something for Rodgers to grab hold of.

"We know we needed to show character tonight and I thought we showed that to stay in the game," said Jordan Henderson.

The Champions League was money in the bank for Rafa Benitez for more years than he deserved and now Rodgers has at least found a way to relieve the flow of bad news and offer some reason to be cheerful.

Oddly enough, it is a path which doesn't include Mario Balotelli but instead a journeyman pro who dreamed of Anfield as a boy and in the last two games has scored twice. Ricky Lambert scored his first against Crystal Palace and it was a personal moment of pleasure but didn't amount to a whole lot in the context of the game.

But his second and another debut goal, this one in the Champions League, clawed back an early soft goal for Ludogorets and kept the door to the next phase open - maybe swinging in the breeze but still open. When Ronaldo knocked Basel back into the pack in Switzerland, the first glimmer of brightness in a gloomy picture thus far for Rodgers cut through the murk of a November evening in an old, battered stadium which Liverpool used to visit and plunder regularly back in the day.

Up popped Raheem Sterling, up to then largely unnoticed for 45 minutes, to engineer a crucial goal for Liverpool and a change of luck for Rodgers.

He should be down on his hands and knees thanking his stars that Sterling, at least, remains as a link to those heady days of last season and the dreary weeks they've been ploughing through of late. His effervescence has been blunted all season by the fact that he toiled in vein in Brazil with England and that Liverpool have been travelling backwards much more than forwards since August.

But given an open acre and a clean run, he is still devastating. One moment was enough to turn the game and it came about because of his pace, an accurate cross and Jordan Henderson's excellent finish.

With a lead to defend and the news good from Basel, Rodgers' Liverpool set about the task of doing what their forebears used to do as easily as breathing on the road in Eastern Europe.

Rodgers was never allowed breath easily but he got a result in the end, not the preffered one.

The job now is to shift Mario Balotelli out the door as soon as is humanly possible and find a striker, any striker, to help proper professional players like Lambert enjoy his days in the sun.

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