Now don’t get me wrong, Ibiza is one pretty amazing place to be, and my compatriots and I had enjoyed a truly glorious week of partying, beaches, laughter, cocktails and the odd ‘recovery’ smoothie. My great mate, fellow Tom and regular match going companion since our Uni days and I were desperate to catch the Ludogrets game having missed our loss to Villa at the weekend and having only vague recollections of being told by someone in a darkened techno filled club that we had lost one nil. I hadn’t believed them, only to wake up and realise that it hadn’t all been a bad dream. So the three football hating females who made up the rest of our crew; reluctantly agreed after five football free days to find somewhere for us to watch the game.
We headed for the rather unglamorous and ‘Brits abroad’ end of the Playa Den Bossa strip and quite easily found a classic holiday establishment which appeared to trade as everything from a bar; to a supermarket; to a games arcade and sometimes pizzeria which had ‘Liverpool – Ludogorets’ scribbled on a blackboard. As me and Tom sat down and ordered Cervezas we agreed that despite being on one of the most beautiful party Islands in the world, we both rather wished we were in that standing Kop as usual. There is something quite wonderful about watching your team in some Spanish basement dive though, dodgy Sky, a group of sunburnt lads from Yorkshire playing pool and an ancient gamer flashing in the corner. We had hoped to combine the game with some food, but as we were looking for something nicer than a soggy pizza, food was off the agenda for 90 minutes. Our supportive females purchased an array of English crisps to keep us going. You can’t beat a pickled onion Monster Munch when you’re abroad.
So we kicked off and I think we can all agree that we were rather taken aback at the quality, pace and inventiveness that Ludogorets showed. Even we could see without sound from the rather jittery satellite that ITV had built the game up as ‘returning European giants’ against unknown minnows, but you’d think everyone would realise by now that any side getting to this stage of the Champion’s League are no push over. It was the first time I’d seen Lallana in a Liverpool shirt, which I was excited about but our line up certainly had a fresh look to it what with all our new faces and recent injuries. It was perhaps no surprise then that we looked a little disjointed at times and struggled to get into much of a rhythm. I am not one to be negative, but I am sticking by my unsure first impression of Lovren and I think he was lucky not to concede a penalty early on. Sterling, Coutinho and Henderson produced our best football of the first half with a brilliant and pacey move, only for Lallana not able to quite provide the finish.
So a typically frustrating opening first half of European football and not a huge amount to get excited about. After attempting to show an initial interest, with questions like ‘is it home or away’ and ‘what is Liverpool’s away kit like?’ our girls were now more concerned with having a cigarette outside and the fact that Olympic gymnast Lewis Smith and his mates had taken over the pool table. Tom and I settled in for the second half and more Cevezas. I felt that we really started to open them up a bit more after half time, but continued to look a little fragile at the back. Henderson produced a brilliant ball for Manquillo only to hit over – but it was a difficult chance for the impressive right back. Mario looked full of endeavour but was struggling to get in goal scoring positions. I think it’s patently obvious that he will perform better with someone alongside him up top and I think that showed with the introduction of Borini – perhaps not out in the cold after all? He should have scored with his second touch of the game, heading straight at the keeper. A glorious chance. Sakho and Lovren can’t seem to handle when one of them should go to get it and the other one cover… we still looked a little all over the place at the back and got off lightly when they hit the post.
Then the moment came… Mario’s moment. A slightly scrappy, bobbly take in the box, which sat up and he finished expertly with the outside of his boot. A poacher’s goal in front of the kop. He is going to be a hero, I’m certain of it… it just feels like the perfect fit. So absolute relief in the basement – among myself and Tom at least. Now could we just kill the game off? Apparently not. We seemed intent on getting a second, with Moreno caught ahead of Sterling as we lost possession and Ludogorets countered quickly. Even with our left back out of position, again the central two were easily split with a decent pass though and with Mignolet rushing out mindlessly they easily slotted in the equaliser.
Cue heads in hands. But then came a poor pass back and poor control from their keeper - credit to Manquillo for not giving up on the loose ball and then inviting the foul for the penalty. We had our second chance. Gerrard took it like only he can, with absolute composure and calmness. Cue absolute delirium from two slightly sunburnt Toms. The girls were just glad it was all over, and to be honest, in some ways so was I. There was a feeling of relief as opposed to jubilation over an unconvincing Liverpool performance. A really tough game – but we got through it. Having Champion’s League football back at Anfield gives me a buzz that nothing else can – even in Ibiza.