Babel earns Liverpool slender advantage

LIVERPOOL, England, Aug 19, 2010 (AFP) - Liverpool will take a slender 1-0 lead to Turkey after a Ryan Babel goal earned Roy Hodgson's side a narrow victory over Trabzonspor in the Europa League play-off first leg at Anfield on Thursday.

But it could have been so much better for the hosts as Joe Cole suffered another moment to forget for his new club.

Former Chelsea midfielder Cole followed up his red card against Arsenal last Sunday with a glaring second half miss from the penalty spot.

With Liverpool leading 1-0, Cole was presented with a golden chance to open his goal account for his new club after Brazilian Lucas had been fouled by Serkan Balci.

Joe Cole (R) vies with Trabzonspor's Turkish midfielder Ceyhun Gülselam during their UEFA Europa League match at Anfield, Liverpoolon August 19, 2010. Liverpool won 1-0. AFP

But the England international looked on in horror after blasting his 52nd minute spot kick straight at keeper Onur Kivrak.

Fortunately, Babel, starting ahead of Fernando Torres and David Ngog, had already given the hosts the lead on the stroke of half time.

Hodgson rested Steven Gerrard and Christian Poulsen started ahead of want-away midfielder Javier Mascherano.

It was defender Sotiris Kyrgiakos who almost broke the deadlock in the fifth minute. Only a flying save by Kivrak prevented the Greek international from marking his first anniversary at Anfield with his second goal for the club after he rose to meet Maxi Rodriguez's corner.

However, it soon became evident that Trabzonspor had not come just to make up the numbers as they tested the Liverpool defence on the counter-attack.

Colombian marksman Teofilo Gutierrez - five goals in his previous two outings - showed why he is a player in form with some neat touches on the edge of the Liverpool area.

But with Kyrgiakos and Carragher patrolling the edge of the area, keeper Jose Reina did not have a serious save to make before half-time.

Cole, who starts a three-match league ban next week, looked eager to atone for the red card against Arsenal that ruined his Premier League debut for his new club.

In a first half of few chances, Cole caused the visitors defence more problems than Babel until the latter struck in the dying seconds of the first half.

There was no doubt that Liverpool missed set-piece specialist Gerrard. Groans could be heard when Fabio Aurelio's 25-yard free-kick flew harmlessly over the bar midway through the first half.

Indeed one of the biggest cheers of the half was reserved for Torres as he warmed up in front of the Kop before Burak Yilmaz went close to giving the Turkish visitors a vital away goal five minutes before the interval from a free-kick.

But Liverpool snatched the lead deep into first half stoppage time as Cole's beautifully weighted pass paved the way for Babel to produce a composed finish from an angle.

That was Babel's final contribution. He failed to appear at the start of the second half as Torres was given 45 minutes to sharpen up his match fitness.

And the Spain international striker immediately forced a fine save from Kivrak inside a minute of coming on.

Liverpool were firing on all cylinders and Lucas made up for a glaring miss earlier in the game by winning his side a penalty in the 51st minute after being chopped down by Serkan Balci.

Cole immediately stepped forward but missed the perfect chance to open his Anfield goal account by firing straight at Kivrak in front of the Kop.

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