David N’Gog: An under-appreciated Liverpool contributor?

13 years on from his first goal for the Reds, James Noble wonders if the French striker might be unfairly lumped in with players who had much less of an impact than him at Anfield.

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Tuesday December 9, 2008, brought 19-year-old David N’Gog’s first goal for the club as he completed a 3-1 Champions League victory over PSV Eindhoven which ensured Rafael Benítez’s side – like Liverpool’s 2021/22 side – progressed to the round of 16 as group winners ahead of Atlético Madrid.

N’Gog’s Anfield career – in which he played 94 games, scored 19 goals and notched one assist – feels a unique, almost puzzling, one.

His three years on Merseyside – from July 24, 2008, to August 31, 2011 – fell within one of the club’s most turbulent spells.

He played under three managers – Benítez, Roy Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish.

He had a little over two years under the increasingly messy ownership of Tom Hicks and George Gillett and then around 10 months with Fenway Sports Group at the helm.

And he arguably had spells as each of a youngster on the outskirts of the first-team squad, a back-up striker, a super sub and a go-to man.

That latter list represents a somewhat subjective interpretation, of course, but it certainly felt like he squeezed plenty into his three years at Liverpool.

Born on April 1, 1989, in the commune of Gennevilliers within the northwestern suburbs of Paris, N’Gog came through the youth ranks at Paris Saint-Germain.

After signing professional forms in 2006, he helped the club to the 2008 Coupe de la Ligue. A victory which came a few months prior to his switch to the Premier League and L4.

He struck in a 4-0 pre-season win at Rangers before he made his competitive debut as a substitute in a 0-0 draw at Aston Villa on August 31 – the first of 19 appearances across all competitions in 2008/09.

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A first start and his Anfield debut came three-and-a-half weeks later in a 2-1 League Cup third round win over Crewe Alexandra.

His first Champions League appearance followed when he came off the bench during the 1-1 home draw with Atlético Madrid on November 4.

Then came that first competitive goal – on his full CL debut. With qualification for the knockout stages secure, Liverpool rotated at the Philips Stadion.

Despite Danko Lazović putting PSV ahead, Ryan Babel and Albert Riera efforts turned things around before N’Gog raced onto a Robbie Keane pass in the 77th minute and rammed a left-footed finish past Andreas Isaksson to secure a 3-1 success.

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Early 2009 brought a first Premier League start in February’s 3-2 win at Portsmouth before his second full league outing saw him open his account in England’s top division.

He started the scoring and then helped tee up Yossi Benayoun’s second in a 2-0 home win over Sunderland on March 3 as the Reds ultimately unsuccessful title chase found new life.

His third and final goal of his debut season on Merseyside came on April 11 as he rounded off the scoring in a 4-0 Anfield win over Blackburn Rovers.

A quietly encouraging opening campaign, especially given he was still only 20 come the end of it.

His remaining couple of full seasons at the club would see him become notably more prominent.

There were 37 and 38 appearances across all competitions in 2009/10 and 2010/11 respectively, with each bringing eight goals for the Frenchman.

After he opened his ‘09/10 account with a header that sealed a 4-0 league win over Stoke City in August and then ruthlessly struck the winner in a 1-0 third round League Cup success at Leeds United in September, he notched what arguably remains his most famous Liverpool goal in late October.

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By this stage, ‘09/10 was already looking like a testing campaign – with the Reds on their way to a seventh-placed Premier League finish and a group stage Champions League exit.

The October 25 visit of Manchester United brought the chance for a bounce, though – and it was an opportunity grasped with both hands.

After Fernando Torres’ superb 65th-minute effort put Benítez’s team 1-0 ahead, they were protecting their advantage doggedly as stoppage time ticked away.

Then, in the sixth additional minute, they got out. Dirk Kuyt’s clever pass allowed Lucas Leiva to stride into the United half and slide N’Gog – introduced for Torres as an 81st-minute substitute – through.

He sized up the target and Edwin van der Sar before he sidefooted coolly into the bottom-right corner via the fingertips of the Dutchman – all in front of a bouncing Kop.

Jumping towards the corner flag, he was mobbed by his teammates, with goalkeeper Pepe Reina somehow the first to reach him.

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He may have hoped for more, but that is still a wonderful, buoyant, highlight for N’Gog in a Liverpool shirt.

At a time when the club felt somewhat fractured, he helped give it a genuinely soulful moment. It’s difficult to put a price on that.

He struck three more Anfield league goals that term – against Birmingham City in November, Wigan Athletic in December and West Ham United in April.

There were also two in Europe. One to earn a 1-0 Champions League group stage win at Hungarian side Debrecen on the night when the Reds would ultimately be eliminated. The other an 81st-minute winner in a 1-0 Europa League last-32 first-leg victory over Unirea Urziceni of Romania.

He netted eight more in 2010/11, although just two of those came in the league and three in Europa League qualifying.

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He notched the first competitive goals of Hodgson’s brief time in charge as he struck both in the 2-0 first-leg win at FK Rabotnički of North Macedonia and then the opener in the Anfield second-leg success by the same scoreline.

Another brace would follow in the 4-1 home victory over Steaua Bucharest on the opening night of the Europa League group stage in September.

Then, six days later, his late extra-time effort made it 2-2 in the third round League Cup meeting with League Two side Northampton Town at Anfield. It proved a grim evening in end, though, as N’Gog and Nathan Eccleston missed in a shootout that the visitors won 4-2.

His two Premier League goals that term were memorable, at least.

One was a thumping near-post finish in front of The Kop which put the Reds 1-0 ahead against Arsenal on the opening weekend, before Reina’s unfortunate 90th-minute own goal saw the points shared.

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The other was a flying header which opened the scoring in a 3-0 win over Aston Villa in early December.

A month or so later, of course, Hodgson’s place in the dugout was taken by Dalglish who led Liverpool to a considerably more encouraging second half of the season.

A lively January didn’t appear to benefit N’Gog’s chances in the long-run, though. As well as the change in manager, the end of the month saw Torres move to Chelsea while both Luis Suárez and Andy Carroll arrived as fresh forward options.

The additional numbers up top made getting game time additionally – and understandably – challenging for the Frenchman, who failed to score in 10 substitute appearances and two starts under Dalglish in the final months of 2010/11.

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He was on the bench for the 1-1 Anfield draw with Sunderland on the opening day of the 2011/12 season but – two-and-a-half weeks later, on the final day of the summer transfer window – he moved to fellow Premier League outfit Bolton Wanderers for £4 million.

The Trotters were relegated at the end of that season, however, as N’Gog found the net only four times before he registered eight in the Championship in 2012/13.

He spent the second half of 2013/14 back in the Premier League – on loan at Swansea City – before he spent the next two campaigns in France’s Ligue 1 with Reims.

A year at Greek outfit Panionios followed before a cruciate ligament injury left him without a club for the final months of 2017.

He completed 2017/18 at Scottish side Ross County under Owen Coyle – who he’d worked with at Bolton – before he spent 2018/19 and the first half of 2019/20 with Hungary’s Honved.

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That campaign was finished with FC Žalgiris of Lithuania and N’Gog – at the age of 31 – then announced his retirement that summer.

It feels a shame that he wasn’t able to enjoy more success and regular playing time within his career, especially given the early age at which he was recruited by a Liverpool side that, when he arrived, was one of the strongest outfits in Europe.

Making his mark and earning game time while first Torres, and then Suárez and Carroll, were at the club was always going to be an immense challenge, though.

Some of the turmoil behind the scenes during his Anfield career likely can’t have helped, either. Stability was rarely a word that could be attributed to the club between 2008 and 2011.

Even so, N’Gog can hopefully still be proud of some of the significant moments he did contribute within his sporadic, unique, LFC career – particularly that clincher against Manchester United in October 2009.

Rarely, perhaps, has Anfield needed such a let-off more. N’Gog provided that moment – and that, in itself, feels like something to take pride in.


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James Noble

Contributor. 20-year-old uni student studying sports journalism. Southern Red.

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