Liverpool's European hopes in balance after late equaliser
Liverpool 2 Young Boys 2
Maligned midfielder Joe Cole was denied his chance to be hailed a hero after Liverpool conceded a late equaliser to leave their Europa League challenge in the balance.
The 31-year-old’s first Liverpool goal in 19 months appeared to have secured the victory over Young Boys to ensure progress to the knockout stages from Group A.
But having led once through Jonjo Shelvey’s fourth European goal of the season only to be pegged back by Raul Bobadilla’s brilliant equaliser, Brendan Rodgers’ side conceded to Elsad Zverotic with two minutes to go.
Liverpool now have to avoid defeat in Udinese in a fortnight to have a chance of progressing.
It somewhat spoiled what was one of Cole’s better performances in a red shirt, although that is not saying much considering his career at Anfield has generally been viewed as an incredibly expensive waste of resources.
He had provided the assist for Shelvey’s first-half header and had generally been much brighter than Liverpool fans had ever seen him.
Cole is still a long way from getting anywhere near paying back the money already lavished on a player whose £100,000-a-week wages have continually been used to highlight the errors in the club’s transfer dealings.
However, it was a step in the right direction and Rodgers will retain hope he can integrate the midfielder into his system at Anfield.
With Group A leaders Anzhi having beaten Udinese earlier in the evening, Liverpool knew victory would see them progress with a match to spare.
Defeat for the visitors would put them out and they started brightly, fashioning four shooting opportunities inside the opening 11 minutes.
However, none came remotely close to testing Jose Reina, breaking Ray Clemence’s goalkeeper’s record with an 81st European appearance.
Just moments after massively overhitting a simple pass into space out for a goal-kick, Cole had Liverpool’s first real chance but fired an angled shot across Marco Wolfli and wide of the far post having been played in down the right by Shelvey.
Cole then won a free-kick on the edge of the penalty area but Jordan Henderson’s low shot was comfortably claimed by the goalkeeper.
After Young Boys defender Dusan Veskovac was carried off with a hamstring injury, Henderson failed to take advantage of being put clean through by Shelvey’s nifty backheel with Wolfli saving at the expense of a corner.
Suso also had a shot saved before, on the half-hour, Rodgers was forced to send on Gerrard for the apparently injured Andre Wisdom, meaning Henderson shuffled out to right-back.
Within two minutes Liverpool were ahead with Cole playing a significant part.
The former Chelsea midfielder exchanged passes with Suso, whose return was perfectly weighted to allow his team-mate to cross for Shelvey – picked as a nominal striker despite just five goals in 52 previous matches for the club – to head in from three yards.
Suso had two chances to double the lead before the interval, seeing one shot deflected into the side-netting and missing the target with the other while Cole saw his effort bounce off Martin Skrtel only to be cleared off the line by Raphael Nuzzolo.
Alexander Farnerud and Elsad Zverotic were both narrowly off target with long-range efforts early in the second half after Liverpool failed to close them down quick enough.
Cole had a better chance from Suso’s through-ball but Wolfli smothered his shot and Young Boys raced down the other end to equalise.
Henderson was caught on his heels when the long, diagonal pass came over to Bobadilla but that hardly made the 25-year-old Argentinian’s strike that much easier or any less impressive.
He controlled the ball on his right thigh and in the next movement smashed an unstoppable left-footed drive past Reina.
The arrival of Luis Suarez was not delayed much longer and when he replaced Suso new life was breathed into the Reds’ forward line.
Few would have suspected Suarez’s magic dust would have rubbed on Cole but the 31-year-old rolled back the years, as well as his marker, to turn on the pass supplied by Gerrard via the Uruguayan and plant a shot past Wolfli.
Luck was definitely on the midfielder’s side as before the goal Rodgers had summoned Raheem Sterling to be his final substitute and Cole ultimately made way for a player 14 years his junior.
But he was denied his moment of glory by Zverotic’s swerving 88th-minute strike.