By Joel Richards

LIVERPOOL kept their Europa League hopes alive thanks to a superb effort from Stewart Downing gave them a 1-0 win over Anzhi Makhachkala.

Despite Sunday’s Merseyside Derby appearing on the horizon, Brendan Rodgers opted to play a near-full strength side against the Russian Premier League leaders, with just three changes made to the side that defeated Reading 1-0 last Saturday.

The first real effort of the night came following a great ball by Gerrard who finds Suarez. After nutmegging the first defender, Suarez fails to get past the second with the ball going out for a throw-in.

Then on 11 minutes Glen Johnson played a great ball down the left to Oussama Assaidi who passed to Suarez. However the shot was weak and turned out to be a comfortable save for the keeper Vladimir Gabulov.

One notable highlight of the first half was Assaidi’s great work down the left. His trickery found Johnson who managed to get a shot on goal. However it was straight at Gabulov.

The home side enjoyed further pressure when Suarez’ dummy allowed him space to pass to Shelvey in the centre. However his effort went horribly over. Liverpool were on top but lacked any real conviction against a side who offered little threat.

Anzhi’s only real effort of the half came when Smolov’s effort whistled past Brad Jones’ post. For all the supposed threat Anzhi seemed content with just stopping Liverpool by any means necessary.

The second half started in similar fashion with the hosts again dominating early on. A Martin Skrtel shot from long-range, fumbled by Gabulov. Then some great play from half-time substitute Raheem Sterling found Jonjo Shelvey on the left who crossed to an unmarked Gerrard in the centre. However his header went horribly wide and with it another chance went begging.

However, the home side finally made the breakthrough on 52 minutes after Stewart Downing, eager to prove a point to Rodgers, cut inside from the left and unleashed a magnificent effort passed an outstretched Gabulov.

The opening goal seemed to increase Liverpool’s confidence and Suarez then attempted a long-range effort of his own which flew narrowly past the left-hand post. Guus Hiddink’s side were struggling to cope with the pressure that was being thrust upon them.

Only a defensive error allowed Anzhi their first real chance on 69 minutes. However Samuel Eto’o’s effort was straight at Jones.

Five minutes later Assaidi was sent tumbling into the box by Arseni Logashov. However the penalty appeal was turned down and Suarez was shown an unecessary yellow card for protesting the referee’s decision.

Just two minutes later Anzhi’s closest effort of the night came as Mbark Boussoufa’s effort was deflected off Skrtel narrowly wide.

The visitors left it late to attempt to get themselves back on level terms. On 82 mins they came close again after Lacina Traore’s effort from close range went narrowly wide.

In stoppage time Carcela-Gonzalez managed to break down the right-hand side but then dragged his shot wide. Liverpool hung on and a valuable three points were secured ahead of their trip to Russia in two weeks time.

Liverpool (4-3-3): Jones, Wisdom, Skrtel, Agger, Johnson, Gerrard ©, Sahin, Shelvey, Downing, Suarez, Assaidi
Subs: Gulacsi, Henderson, Carragher, Allen, Suso, Sterling, Yesil

Anzhi Makhachkala: Gabulov, Agalarov, Samba, Joao Carlos, Zhirkov, Shatov, Gabulov, Boussoufa, Carcela-Gonzalez, Eto’o ©, Smolov
Subs: Pomazan, Gadzhibekov, Lahiyalov, Tagirbekov, Logashov, Muhammad, Traore