Tuesday 24 April 2018

Sterling repays Rodgers' faith

Liverpool 1
Reading 0

Andy Hunter at Anfield

Brendan Rodgers cited faith in young talent as one of the reasons for his Reading tenure ending in the sack after just 23 games. Three years and one transformation later, he received vindication in front of the man who fired him, Reading chairman John Madejski, as 17-year-old Raheem Sterling gave Liverpool their first home win in the Premier League this season.

The Jamaican-born England prospect produced a fine first-half winner as Reading, for whom Jason Roberts appeared as a late substitute having refused to wear a 'Kick It Out' T-shirt before kick off, were left waiting for a first victory of the campaign. They rallied to cause a nervous finale at Anfield, but Liverpool were worthy of maximum points.

There was an inevitability to Liverpool's lead -- courtesy of the first senior goal of Sterling's career -- with their patient, probing display the dominant feature of the opening period. Nevertheless, their half-hour struggle to punish a mediocre Reading team had threatened another trying afternoon at Anfield.

Reading offered nothing more than resistance, starting with an excellent tackle by Kaspars Gorkss inside his own area as Glen Johnson looked to capitalise on a return pass from the hugely influential Luis Suarez.

Sterling and Johnson were a constant outlet down the left, the England international pushing forward at every opportunity and testing Alex McCarthy in the Reading goal. With better delivery, and luck, Sterling could have produced the breakthrough long before it arrived.

The winger hesitated over a cross when released down the left and ran the ball out of play with Suarez screaming for the pass, before -- having learned the lesson -- finding Nuri Sahin when put into an identical situation seconds later. The on-loan Real Madrid midfielder blazed over.

Reading midfielder Jem Karacan was injured in a 50-50 challenge with Steven Gerrard and was eventually withdrawn, the visitors becoming more open as a consequence. Suarez sent an audacious chip just over from the edge of the box, created a clear opening for Sahin, who completely missed the ball under pressure from Jobi McAnuff, and was inevitably involved when the breakthrough finally came. A first-time flick over the Reading defence enabled Sterling to beat Cummings for pace and he finished expertly into the far bottom corner. He is Liverpool's second-youngest goalscorer after Michael Owen.

The reception for Sterling's goal was matched only by Anfield's amusing reaction to a free-kick awarded in favour of Suarez just outside the Reading area. Initially there were ironic cheers as the referee, Roger East, punished Gorkss's challenge, but they soon grew to a crescendo of noise, complete with standing ovation, for a rare call in Suarez's favour.

And it wasn't even a foul.

Brad Jones was given a comfortable first Premier League start in Liverpool's goal in the absence of Jose Reina. The second half, however, provided a sterner test of the Australia international, as Reading finally displayed some adventure.

McAnuff forced Jones into a decent save with a 20-yard drive and Jimmy Kebe's centre across the face of Liverpool's goal forced Jonjo Shelvey into a vital clearance. But Liverpool could easily have made the game safe counter-attacking an exposed Reading defence. Suarez squandered two clear chances and was denied at close range by McCarthy. Gerrard then shot wide of the far post, and -- latching on to a fine cross from Suarez -- Shelvey was caught in two minds whether to shoot or control. He achieved neither, the ball bouncing off his shins and to safety.


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