Liverpool will take a slender 1-0 lead into next week’s Europa League qualification play-off second leg, as Hearts fell victim to a cruel Andy Webster own goal after pushing the English giants all the way at Tynecastle.
John McGlynn’s men gave a strong account of themselves against Brendan Rodgers’ side, but failed to take advantage of early pressure and opportunities, something the Jambos will surely rue as they prepare to head to Anfield.
For the second successive season, the Tynecastle side faced English opposition at this stage of the competition, having been dumped out by Tottenham Hotspur last year following a humiliating 5-0 home leg defeat.
McGlynn had spoken in the build up to his first European game as Hearts manager about using that experience to his side’s advantage and it was the home side that started the better of the two sides.
A loose back-pass by former England defender Jamie Carragher to goalkeeper Pepe Reina was almost intercepted by John Sutton, brother of Chris Sutton who helped knock Liverpool out of the same competition in 2003. However, the languid striker couldn’t quite stretch far enough and the danger was cleared.
Scotland international Charlie Adam wound up a shot from 25 yards only for Jamie MacDonald to palm away from goal, before Arvydas Novikovas went close for Hearts, firing an effort from long range that forced Reina into a good save.
David Templeton was making Carragher’s evening in Gorgie an uncomfortable one, sprinting in between the centre back and Jonjo Shelvey to smash a shot just over the bar from the edge of the box.
Teenager Raheem Sterling provided a constant outlet for the Reds on the left of midfield, and after receiving the ball out there again and cutting inside Ryan McGowan he powered a shot towards goal, only for MacDonald to punch the effort up and out of trouble.
After joining Liverpool from Roma in the summer Fabio Borini was eager to make an impression, but saw his first real involvement in the contest thwarted by Webster, who came across the defensive line to block the Italian’s shot.
But with just seconds remaining of the first half Borini passed up a glorious opportunity to give his side the lead, striking the post with the goal gaping from a matter of yards after Sterling had taken advantage of a careless crossfield pass by Mehdi Taoil.
Following the restart Hearts continued to press hard on Liverpool’s possession, giving their midfield little time to settle into a rhythm. The home side also continued to show ambition going forward, with Callum Paterson slicing high and wide from a tight angle after a fluid passing move.
Adam gave MacDonald another shot to deal with just before the hour mark, moving the ball onto his right foot before striking wide of the target from 25 yards.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers introduced Stewart Downing and Joe Allen with just under 30 minutes to play, replacing youngster Jack Robinson and Jay Spearing.
And the changes had the desired effect for the visitors, as Liverpool’s midfield began to take control of the play, pushing the Hearts backline further towards their own goal.
With just over ten minutes remaining, the Jambos were the victims of cruel fortune. Full back Martin Kelly put in a dangerous ball in between the defence and the keeper, finding Borini who fluffed his shot from inside the six-yard box. But the ball rebounded off captain Webster and past MacDonald into the net to give Liverpool a crucial away goal and a firm grip of the tie as they head back to Anfield for the second leg next week.
Andrew Driver and Dale Carrick entered the game as Hearts tried to recover the deficit, but the Reds, playing in black, had taken control, affording the home side only the one genuine chance for Driver as time ran out.
Carragher’s clearance from McGowan’s deep cross rebounded off the back of Driver inside the box, but as the Hearts attacker spun round and found the ball at his feet he scuffed his shot tamely into the arms of Reina.
GOAL SCORERS: Liverpool (Andy Webster OG)
HEART OF MIDLOTHIAN: MacDonald, R. McGowan, Webster, Zaliukas, Grainger, Barr (Robinson), Taoil, Paterson, Templeton (Driver), Novikovas (Carrick), Sutton. Subs: Enckelman, Smith, D. McGowan, McHattie.
LIVERPOOL: Reina, Robinson (Downing), Carragher, Agger, Kelly, Henderson, Spearing (Allen), Adam, Shelvey, Sterling, Borini (Morgan). Subs: Jones, Coates, Lucas Leiva, Flanagan.