Sofia - There was some respite for under-pressure Liverpool
manager Brendan Rodgers as his side ground out a 2-2 draw away to
European minnows Ludogorets in the Champions League on Wednesday.
The result ended a run of four straight defeats in all
competitions for the five-time European champions but left them needing
to beat Basel at Anfield in their final Group B match in order to
qualify for the last 16 of the continent's elite club football
Liverpool fell behind in the third minute in Sofia but were leading with two minutes to go.
It was anything but plain sailing as Dani Abalo put
Ludogorets ahead before Rickie Lambert's equaliser five minutes later,
the England striker's first Champions League goal, and another before
half-time from Jordan Henderson steadied the visitors' nerves.
However, the truly morale-boosting victory Liverpool craved was denied them when Georgi Terziev levelled in the 88th minute.
"To go a goal behind so early on you really need a team
that is together and I think the character of the team came out,"
Rodgers told Sky Sports.
"We spoke before the game that this needs to be the
night to change our season and for that we needed to show the character
in our team," the Northern Irish boss added.
"We are disappointed with the goal we conceded in the end but it is irrelevant, we need to beat Basel in the final game.
"This is a real confidence boost for us, because Ludogorets are a really difficult team to play against."
Liverpool, runners-up in the Premier League last
season, have struggled badly since the departure of star striker Luis
Suarez to Barcelona.
And their season hit a new low on Sunday as they
suffered a 3-1 loss away to Crystal Palace, leaving them closer to the
relegation zone than the Champions League places.
Fans of the Merseyside club who had made the journey to
Bulgaria must have feared the worst when their side, who needed a
stoppage-time penalty from captain Steven Gerrard to beat European
newcomers Ludogorets at Anfield in September, fell behind to an early
Kolo Toure's poor clearance straight to Marcelino led
to a dipping shot which Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet fumbled into
the path of Abalo, who swept the ball home.
But, to their credit, Liverpool were soon level with a
goal that, like the opener, owed much to the failings of the defending
As Ludogorets defenders waited for goalkeeper Vladislav
Stoyanov to deal with a Henderson through ball, he stayed on his line
and a poor back-header allowed Lambert to nod the loose ball in
powerfully from close range.
Then Raheem Sterling's curling ball behind the home
defence found Henderson, who hooked his shot in from a narrow angle to
make it 2-1 in the 37th minute.
Ludogorets pressed in the second half and they might
have had a penalty in the 61st minute when Liverpool's Glen Johnson
fouled Mihail Alexandrov but got away with conceding a free-kick.
Four minutes later Henderson's blushes were spared when
he blazed over the top from a few yards out after Lambert's header had
been blocked as the referee had already awarded Ludogorets a free-kick.
With eight minutes left, Liverpool had a glorious
chance to win the game but Sterling, released by Gerrard, shot straight
But at just 2-1 up, and given Liverpool's problems in
defending set-pieces, a Ludogorets equaliser could not be discounted and
it duly arrived when the visitors failed to deal with a near-post
corner, allowing Terziev to power in a header.
However, the draw ended the battling Bulgarians' hopes of a place in the last 16.