LIVERPOOL FC just about survived the cut last night. But the main issue at Anfield today concerns the players who won’t prove so fortunate.
Brendan Rodgers’s side saw off the plucky challenge of Hearts to progress in their Europa League final qualifying round tie.
The Scottish Cup winners had threatened to take the tie into extra time when Pepe Reina fumbled David Templeton’s shot into his own net with six minutes remaining, only for Luis Suarez to nudge the hosts back ahead on aggregate four minutes later.
It was just about enough to put Liverpool’s name in the hat for today’s group stages draw.
But this was more about the players that weren’t there, most notably Andy Carroll, the striker having accepted the inevitable and, with the game in progress, agreeing a season-long loan move to West Ham United.
Rodgers has until tonight’s transfer deadline to replace the England international. And if this spluttering performance was any indicator, he must surely have a replacement lined up; Liverpool need to bolster their attacking options and allowing Carroll to depart without a new face coming in would represent a huge gamble.
Had they not realised already, Charlie Adam and Joe Cole – both sat in the stands last night – are also surplus to requirements for Rodgers, with Jay Spearing, another absentee, also seemingly on his way through the Anfield exit.
So Liverpool just about protected a proud record of having never been eliminated from European competition after winning an away first leg.
Hearts had given Liverpool a real scrap at Tynecastle seven days earlier, beaten only when centre-back Andy Webster inadvertently turned Martin Kelly’s low cross into his own net.
And they produced the same energetic display last night, the first visit of a Scottish team to Anfield since 2003, when Celtic won 2-0 tobecome the only team from north of the border to eliminate Liverpool from European competition.
The emergence of Raheem Sterling and arrival of Fabio Borini had prompted Rodgers to suggest Stewart Downing may have to reinvent himself as a left-back to extend his Anfield career.
Downing was given his first taste of life in defence last night as the Liverpool manager once again rotated his resources for the Europa League.
Adam Morgan, given a senior bow during a brief run-out in Scotland last week, was handed a full debut on the right of a three-pronged attack that saw Jordan Henderson on the left.
The 18-year-old homegrown talent, brought up in Halewood, was certainly enthusiastic enough, Arvydas Novikovas feeling the fullforce of one over-exuberant challenge from the youngster early on.
Morgan’s involvement had perhaps been enough to persuade Carroll that, despite a preference to stay and fight for his place at Anfield, his future lies elsewhere.The youngster was denied a dream debut goal on 33 minutes when his strike was correctly chalked off after the referee’s assistant adjudged Suarez to have taken the ball over the byline before crossing.