Football

Babel strike puts Reds in charge

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Ryan Babel handed Liverpool a slender 1-0 advantage over Trabzonspor in their Europa League play-off but Joe Cole's miserable week continued.

Babel struck in injury time of an otherwise dismal first half against Trabzonspor at Anfield, however, Liverpool should have won more convincingly but big-name new signing Cole, sent off against Arsenal on Sunday and found guilty of speeding on Wednesday, missed a second-half penalty.

Debutant Christian Poulsen also had a goal disallowed as Liverpool carried a much greater threat after the break but the contest remains far from over with another 90 minutes to play.

Manager Roy Hodgson gave Steven Gerrard the night off and Liverpool's dynamic captain was conspicuous by his absence throughout a drab opening 45 minutes as neither goalkeeper had a save to make until the hosts suddenly woke from their slumber with 45 minutes on the clock.

Cole found space and picked out the onrushing Babel with precision and the Holland international struck clinically. Unfortunately for Babel, linked with a move to Wolfsburg this week, it proved to be his final touch of the game as he was replaced by Fernando Torres at the interval.

Liverpool looked a different team from the one that had played out most of the first half and an unmarked Lucas headed a glorious chance wide from a Milan Jovanovic corner.

Liverpool should have had a penalty when Maxi Rodriguez was felled in the area after 50 minutes but the referee pointed to the spot barely a minute later after Serkan Balci brought down Lucas.

Cole, sent off against Arsenal and anxious to get his Anfield career up and running, stepped up to take the spot-kick but shot tamely at Onur Kivrak.

Liverpool thought they had claimed a second after 72 minutes when Kivrak spilled a Sotirios Kyrgiakos header and Cole nodded on for Poulsen to stab in. The Dane, however, had inched offside and the goal was ruled out.

For all Liverpool's dominance, the tie was still far from safe ahead of next week's return trip to Trabzon. The visitors played out the closing minutes safely, perhaps hoping for another chance on home soil.

Copyright (c) PA Sport 2009, All Rights Reserved.

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Topics:
Europa League
Arsenal
Joe Cole
Sotirios Kyrgiakos
Ryan Babel
Maxi Rodriguez
Football
Lucas
Premier League
Fernando Torres
Steven Gerrard
Liverpool

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