Own-goal spares Liverpool Euro blushes
EDINBURGH, Aug 23, 2012 (AFP) - A makeshift Liverpool side needed a late own goal to secure a narrow 1-0 win over Scottish Premier League Hearts in their Europa League play-off round first leg match at Tynecastle on Thursday.
Liverpool rested several first team stars for the match with the weekend's clash against English champions Manchester City in mind but Brendan Rodgers was still able to field a side with seven internationals.
However, they struggled to contain the home side in the early stages although Liverpool striker Fabio Borini came closest to scoring when he sent a shot off the post on the stroke of half-time.
Just as Liverpool looked to have run out of ideas they made the breakthrough in the 78th minute when Andy Webster turned Martin Kelly's excellent cross past his own keeper to hand the visitors a slim advantage heading into next week's return at Anfield.
Despite the defeat the performance will help Hearts bury the memory of the 5-0 hammering they took from Tottenham at the same stage of the competition last year.
Liverpool made seven changes to the side that lost to West Brom at the weekend with Steven Gerrard, Glen Johnson, Luis Suarez and Martin Skrtel rested while Andy Carroll missed out with a hamstring strain.
Captain Marius Zaliukas passed a late fitness test for Hearts while Jamie MacDonald kept his place in goal following the birth of his daughter on Wednesday.
The home side made a lively start and were presented with an early chance when John Sutton nearly pounced on a short back pass from Liverpool skipper Jamie Carragher but Pepe Reina was out of his box quickly to clear the danger.
Liverpool's Scotland international Charlie Adam then carried the ball forward from the half-way line before testing MacDonald with a low drive.
Mehdi Taouil showed some lovely skill to get away from Jack Robinson before lining up Arvydas Novikovas for a rising drive from 30 yards which Reina did well to turn over the bar.
David Templeton became the next Hearts player to threaten as he drove in on goal from the left and sent his angled shot just over.
Liverpool were on the back foot but carved out a chance in the 34th minute when Jordan Henderson's floated pass found Borini unmarked in the box but he fluffed his attempted volley.
The English giants should have taken the lead right on the stroke of half-time when Raheem Sterling intercepted a cross-field pass from Taouil and played in Borini but the striker sent his shot crashing off the base of the post.
At the start of the second half, Adam made some space for himself inside the Hearts' half before sending a right-foot shot wide while, at the other end, Novikovas let fly with a fierce strike that sailed over the bar from 20 yards.
Hearts looked the likelier to score but with 12 minutes remaining the home side found themselves behind through Webster's own goal.
Kelly whipped in a ferocious cross from the right and the unfortunate defender knocked the ball past MacDonald from five yards out under pressure from Borini.
The home side came close to an equaliser in the 90th minute when Reina had to dive low to his right to stop teenager Callum Paterson's stinging drive from sneaking in.