Zenit take charge with Liverpool defeat

The Bolton News: Hulk and Sergei Semak, pictured, were on target for Zenit St Petersburg Hulk and Sergei Semak, pictured, were on target for Zenit St Petersburg

Liverpool conceded two goals in less than three minutes at Zenit St Petersburg to leave their Europa League campaign hanging in the balance folllowing a 2-0 defeat.

Despite having failed to properly test goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev with a number of chances, the Reds seemed to be managing to hold on in their last-32 Europa League first-leg tie in the sub-zero Petrovsky Stadium.

But with 20 minutes remaining Hulk powered home a brilliant 30-yard strike before substitute Sergei Semak converted from close-range moments later.

Liverpool - and in particular top scorer Luis Suarez - will have to rediscover their shooting boots for the return leg next week otherwise their last chance of a trophy this season will be lost. Reds boss Brendan Rodgers selected virtually a full-strength side with captain Steven Gerrard starting his first away game in Europe this season.

Concern had been expressed before the match about possible racist abuse targeting Liverpool's black players - of which Glen Johnson and Raheem Sterling were included in the starting line-up - but the Zenit fans, in fact, contributed plenty to generating a good atmosphere.

The Russian champions fed off the fervour of their fans and displayed a sharpness which defied their two months without a competitive match as both striker Alexander Kerzhakov and Hulk, the latter from distance, were denied early on by Jose Reina.

In between Suarez responded by turning Nicolas Lombaerts and rolling a shot past goalkeeper Malafeev and across goal but wide of the far post.

The Reds' attacking was sporadic at best on a pitch cutting up badly but five minutes before half-time Suarez almost pinched a cheeky goal when the Zenit defence got themselves in a mess and Suarez backheeled Sterling's low cross just wide.

Johnson had a shot blocked by Malafeev after a long, driving run early in the second half while Suarez fired wide again as Liverpool could not find a clinical edge inside the penalty area.

With 20 minutes to go Jordan Henderson was dispossessed and Hulk, who had previously threatened without being worryingly dangerous, smashed one in to give Reina no chance. But the defending for the second goal less than three minutes later raised plenty of questions as right-back Alexander Anyukov's low cross was drilled home at the far post by Semak.

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