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European wins for Reds and City
19 Aug 2010 - 22:04:38
Ryan Babel and debutant Mario Balotelli scored important goals as Liverpool and Manchester City won their Europa League play-off first leg encounters by 1-0 scorelines.
Liverpool edged out Turkish side Trabzonspor at Anfield, while City earned a valuable away victory in Romania with their new £30million signing Balotelli shooting down FC Timisoara.
Reds boss Roy Hodgson rested captain Steven Gerrard, with Denmark international Christian Poulsen handed a debut in midfield and star striker Fernando Torres again named on the bench.
Trabzonspor, the Turkish cup winners, threatened early on but the home side went in 1-0 up at the break when Babel produced a cool, angled finish to clip home a through ball from Joe Cole.
Cole missed a second-half penalty when the keeper guessed correctly in diving to his left to deny the summer signing his first goal for the club in front of the Kop.
Umut Bulut almost punished the home side as he found himself through on goal only to see Pepe Reina turn his goalbound effort over the bar to the relief of his static defence.
Poulsen then saw a late effort cruelly ruled out for an infringement on the goalkeeper when he forced the ball home from a corner.
Meanwhile, City were 1-0 winners away in Romania courtesy of one of their big-money summer signings.
Balotelli joined from Internazionale for a reported £30million last week and immediately repaid a chunk of his huge fee.
The 20-year-old Italian was a second-half substitute for Gareth Barry before coming up the only goal of the game in the 72nd minute.
Seconds after Yaya Toure had rattled the upright with a powerful shot, Balotelli swept the ball home after a move involving Carlos Tevez and Emmanuel Adebayor.
The livewire striker ignited a low-key game with his strike and late yellow card for squaring up to the opposition captain, but City boss Roberto Mancini will be pleased with an away goal and slender lead heading into the second leg.
Earlier in the evening, a youthful Aston Villa side also earned a valuable first-leg result away at Rapid Vienna.
Caretaker-manager Kevin MacDonald did his chances of earning the job on a full-time basis no harm as his much-changed side drew 1-1 at the Gerhard Hanappi Stadion.
Villa lost to Rapid at the same stage last season as they made an early exit from European competition.
However, the odds are now stacked in their favour ahead of next week's second leg at Villa Park after Barry Bannan scored a priceless away goal.
Without the injured John Carew, Carlos Cuellar and Gabriel Agbonlahor, suspended Richard Dunne or rested Ashley Young and captain Stylian Petrov, Villa took the lead in the 12th minute when Bannan swept home Marc Albrighton's cross.
Rapid equalised through Atdhe Nuhiu in the 33rd minute, but the Premier League side left Austria with a positive first-leg scoreline.