Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers praised his side’s character as they narrowly won in a late-battled game against Bulgarian side Ludogorets, which was their first game in the UEFA Champions’ League in five years.
Captain Steven Gerrard converted the second-half injury-time penalty which earned the Reds all three points in their Group B game, with Ludogorets threatening to spoil Liverpool’s return to Europe’s elite club competition.
After Mario Balotelli’s goal on the 82nd minute, subsitute Dani Abalo equalised for the away side in the last minute of normal time to silence Anfield.
However, Gerrard’s last-gasp penalty saw Liverpool fans go home happy, and Rodgers was delighted to pick up all three points after a laboured performance.
“It is a great three points for us,” the Liverpool manager said.
“Our objective going into the game was to win the game, your home games in this competition are very important for you.”
“You could see they were technically good, they are a team that is not used to losing games and they have come into it unbeaten in seven. They are champions of their country, so it was always going to be a difficult match.”
“We are still adapting with a lot of new players coming into the squad. At times in other games in the league we have been outstanding and at other times we have been a wee bit slow. But the thing I can never question is the determination and character of this team.”
“So to get that win tonight and start back in the Champions League with three points was vital for us and I am delighted for the players and the mentality tonight.”
“They are a team that will take points off other teams in the group, but tonight we got three points and it’s a great start for us.”
Rodgers praised his players for working hard up to the final whistle, and hailed Gerrard for keeping his cool from the spot.
“We have seen that [late goals] so many times over the years, but I think it says everything about the club. You have to play right until the end and maybe in the first six months I was here that was a game we may have drawn or even lost,” added Rodgers.
“Even with the late equaliser, coming back to get the penalty showed we were still on the front foot to try and score. There is no one better in the pressure situation than Steven Gerrard and it was a great penalty from him.”
Rodgers has backed his players to improve after they suffered for long periods to find the attacking mindset and quality they showed the previous season.
“I think that will come. I think we were outstanding last season – the key for us is the speed and movement and obviously we are not quite there in terms of fluency, because of so many players coming in and adapting to the style,” Rodgers continued.
“That will come, but until it does you have got to show the character and that focus and concentration to win games when maybe you are not at your fluent best. For us to do that tonight makes me even more proud than some of the games where we are winning four or 5-0 in big games.”