BRENDAN RODGERS paid tribute to his Liverpool players despite seeing them agonisingly dumped out of the Europa League at the hands of Zenit St Petersburg.
The Reds, backed by a rousing Anfield atmosphere, secured a 3-1 win on the night, which levelled the tie 3-3 on aggregate. Zenit, though, progressed courtesy of Hulk’s vital away goal. The Russians will take on FC Basel of Switzerland in the last 16.
Afterwards Rodgers told his post-match press conference: “We are very proud of the club and the players tonight, even though we lost the tie. They showed why they are part of probably the world’s greatest football family, with the atmosphere and the effort the players put into the game.
“To have to come back from a three-goal deficit, and to put that amount of effort and quality and character into the game, it was a phenomenal show.
“The atmosphere was breathtaking. They (the fans) couldn’t have give us any more than they did. To sample a night like that from the home dugout was special, but we just couldn’t do it in the end. Hopefully there can be many more nights like this to come, and I believe there will be.
“I don’t think the players could have done any more, certainly the crowd couldn’t have done any more. We probably lost the tie over there, but I can take great pride from how they performed.”
Rodgers was aggrieved after seeing his side denied a second-half penalty after Tomas Hubocan appeared to handle in the area.
“It certainly was a penalty,” he said. “Everyone could see that.
“It looked a clear penalty, too. I don’t think it was one that you can have any debate over. The fourth official, or fifth official rather, is behind the goal and looking straight at it, so we are disappointed with that.”
Hulk’s goal, which ultimately proved decisive, came after an error from Jamie Carragher, making his 150th and final European appearance for the Reds.
“There’s no blame,” Rodgers said. “That’s probably the first mistake I’ve seen him make since I’ve been at the club, and that’s including training.
“I thought he was brilliant tonight. He controlled Hulk, who is a real threat, and showed real strength and power. It’s just one of those unfortunate things. I’m disappointed for Carra because he’s a brilliant professional and he deserved to go through to the next round, but unfortunately it was not to be.”
He added: “Our season doesn’t finish here. It doesn’t finish until the final whistle against QPR. You have seen the level of performance from this team tonight, to dominate a team of that ilk, and control the game as we did, it was incredible really.
“So for us going forward, the aim is to continue and keep working as we have been since the turn of the year. As the season has gone on we have got better and improved, and we want to carry that through to the very last whistle of the season.”