Steven Gerrard’s last-gasp penalty earned Liverpool a fortunate 2-1 win over brave Ludogorets as they marked their return to the UEFA Champions League with a victory.
Ludogorets looked set to spoil Liverpool’s return to Europe’s premier competition when substitute Dani Abalo scored in the final minute to cancel out Mario Balotelli’s 82nd minute opener.
However, there was still time left for Liverpool to win a penalty when Javi Manquillo was brought down in the box by Ludogorets goalkeeper Milan Borjan and Gerrard stepped up to convert the spot-kick and get Liverpool off to a winning start.
Liverpool were expected to make a fast start to the game, but in a low-key opening, despite dominating the ball, the hosts had no cutting edge in the final third.
Brendan Rodgers was relieved that captain Steven Gerrard held his nerve when converting a last gasp penalty against Bulgarian underdogs Ludogorets.
It took until 20 minutes for Liverpool to create their first opening when Balotelli spun his man on the edge of the box, fired in a shot which was blocked and the ball fell to Adam Lallana who saw his effort pushed out by Ludogorets goalkeeper Borjan.
Liverpool had a lucky escape just before the half hour as Dejan Lovren was fortunate not to concede a penalty when Marcelinho burst into the box and the defender appeared to shove the striker off the ball.
The home side created their best chance of the opening half seven minutes before the break when Henderson burst into the box and picked out Lallana, but the summer signing from Southampton got the ball stuck under his feet allowing the Ludogorets defence to regroup and block his shot.
Liverpool continued to huff and puff early in the second half, but Manquillo wasted a great chance to score on 53 minutes when the ball dropped to him in front of goal, but the defender blazed his shot over the top.
Brendan Rodgers made a double change midway through the second half with Lucas and Fabio Borini coming on for Philippe Coutinho and Lallana, and Borini went close to scoring when he got on the end of Manquillo’s inviting cross, but Borjan produced a fine save to tip the Italian’s header over the top.
Ludogorets were inches away from breaking the deadlock on 72 minutes when Marcelinho slipped in Roman Bezjak on goal and he was unlucky to see his shot come back off the post with Simon Mignolet beaten.
Liverpool finally made the breakthrough 10 minutes later as Balotelli juggled a cross from Moreno inside the box and smashed home a half-volley into the bottom corner to break his duck for his new club.
However, Ludogorets refused to lie down and drew level in the 90th minute when substitute Hamza found Dani inside the box and he rounded Mignolet to slot the ball into the empty net.
It looked like Liverpool would be forced to settle for a draw, but they were handed a lifeline four minutes into stoppage time when Manquillo was felled in the box by Borjan and Gerrard showed nerves of steel to score from the spot.