A handy win for Liverpool, but you're no Spurs
23:20 GMT, 23 August 2012
Tynecastle is not unlike Anfield in
feel. Hemmed in by Edinburgh's streets and a living piece of the city,
it is also tight, old and on top of the players.
Even for a makeshift
Liverpool XI there was enough about the night to make it familiar.
But it was no home from home. Brendan
Rodgers's side may have won courtesy of a Hearts own goal, but Pepe
Reina made important saves and the maroon noise that rained down all
evening said this was not Anfield.
Hard going: Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers
It sounds unduly negative but what Liverpool were not, and are not, will be one of the memories from Thursday night.
Rodgers was honest enough to say afterwards 'we're not that good to be that complacent', when asked about the notion that the tie is over even with a second leg to play. Following the 3-0 defeat to West Brom in the league last Saturday, such honest assessments will help Rodgers remind the weekly jury that he, like every other manager, requires space and patience. In that respect, a win, however it was accomplished, is not harmful.
But it is an unfortunate hazard of the job that Rodgers must live with comparisons. Usually they are with Liverpool's past but Thursday night it was Hearts's recent experience in this competition which was going to be raised.
Last August, Hearts took on Tottenham Hotspur here in the Europa League and were elegantly thrashed 5-0. Harry Redknapp's team had seen their season delayed by the riots in north London but proceeded to loot old Gorgie.
Rodgers removed much of the room for comparison by leaving the likes of Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez back on Merseyside. It is Manchester City there on Sunday after all. Redknapp had sent out a strong side, as seen in the names of the Spurs scorers – Van der Vaart, Defoe, Bale, Livermore and Lennon.
Easy pickings: Jermain Defoe scores in Tottenham's 5-0 victory over Hearts
Set against that, those selected for Liverpool were far from fully formed. For a start there was 17-year-old Raheem Sterling making a full debut, and he did well in a game lacking pattern.
Ultimately, Sterling may prove to do for Liverpool what Scott Sinclair did for Swansea but that is long-run stuff. Sterling made three appearances as a substitute towards the end of last season and there is an expectation that accompanies him already.
Up against a physical presence in Hearts right back Ryan McGowan, Sterling was given early indications he would not be allowed the freedom of Liverpool's left flank. It is to his credit that he stuck at it, cutting in on to his natural right foot when he could. When Fabio Borini struck the post just before half-time, Sterling had the maturity to tee him up when other teenagers might not have.
It is all part of a changing Liverpool picture. For some the change is not quick enough. Andy Carroll looked on from the sidelines, the non-stop speculation on his future another echo of last August when the fuss was about Spurs's Luka Modric.
Stepping up: Raheem Sterling (right) tussles with Hearts' Ryan McGowan
So not everything changes, but much else has. Redknapp is no longer Tottenham manager. Hearts have a different coach too, John McGlynn having replaced Paulo Sergio, and their best player of recent times, Rudi Skacel, has departed, one of many to leave. Hearts are weaker than a year ago. Then again, the whole of Scottish football is different – Rangers were also in the Europa League at this stage last year. Now they are banned from Europe and play in the Scottish Third Division.
Liverpool and Rodgers are obviously different too. But to those fans in maroon and white filling Tynecastle with an atmosphere that will have appealed to the Liverpool fans holding the 'Against Modrn Football' banner, the most significant contrast with the Spurs game was that this was a contest.
Sadly for them, Hearts lost it. The introduction of Joe Allen midway through the second half had a stabilising effect upon the visitors. Allen is all part of the change: how he, Liverpool and Rodgers compare one year from now is as intriguing as how they compare against City on Sunday.