Leading up to kickoff, the intrigue of a strong Liverpool lineup including Steven Gerrard, Joe Allen, Martin Skrtel, and Luis Suarez took a backseat to news that Andy Carroll was in London undergoing a medical to seal a season-long loan with West Ham. At the same time, Jay Spearing and Charlie Adam also didn't even make the bench as rumours swirled that their futures at the club were also in doubt. And somewhere in amongst all the late transfer window insanity there was still a match to be played—a match that, in the end, saw Liverpool make things far more difficult for themselves than it probably should have been.
Liverpool 1 Suarez 88'
Hearts 1 Templeton 85'
The game kicked off with Adam Morgan and Jordan Henderson on the wings to make room for Luis Suarez at centre forward while Steven Gerrard, Jonjo Shelvey, and Joe Allen set up in midfield behind them. Elsewhere, it was a first start at left back for Stewart Downing after his previous cameo appearance as a defender off the bench, and though he had some effective moments going forward, the converted winger looked less than entirely natural when it came to defending. Particularly problematic for Downing was transitioning back into defence whenever Liverpool lost the ball in the attacking third, as he would often appear to switch off for a second, loitering rather than rushing to defend.
His defensive shortcomings, however, were balanced by an effective attacking display, and Downing almost set up a goal inside ten minutes when he broke free down the left and whipped a driven cross in to Adam Morgan. But the young striker, nervy at times inn his first senior start, couldn't control. Five minutes later, Downing again crossed to Morgan, and with the striker deep on the right he headed the ball back across the six yard box to Suarez. This time it was Suarez' turn to spurn a golden opportunity, and with the Uruguayan unable to get any power behind his attempt the ball was easily cleared off the line.
As was often the case last season under Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool's inability to turn their early control into goals resulted in a Hearts resurgence as the half progressed, though just past the thirty minute mark Morgan thought he'd found his first goal for the senior squad when Luis Suarez drilled in a low cross from the byline. Unfortunately for the young striker, his celebration turned to almost instant disappointment as it became clear that the assistant had flagged—Suarez had taken the ball just over the line and out of bounds before cutting it back across the six-yard box.
However, despite getting into good areas around the box and being involved in Liverpool's three best chances of the half, Morgan often looked uncomfortable further away from goal as he was asked to take up an unfamiliar position on the wing—a position that moreover doesn't seem a natural fit for his poacher's skill-set. His day on the right also wasn't helped by Martin Kelly, who looked thoroughly uncomfortable on the ball throughout the match, continuing a slow start to life under Brendan Rodgers for the young defender.
Liverpool looked to increase their tempo when the second half kicked off, but still weren't able to convert their dominant play into goals despite further spells of dominant possession. At the time, with Hearts looking far less dangerous than they had at home, it didn't look as though Liverpool would need to find a goal on the day, but still it was discouraging to watch Liverpool once again struggle to put anything truly dangerous together in the final third.
Then, just past the sixty minute mark, fans were given another reminder of the club's disastrous 2011-12 campaign when Luis Suarez was sent clear. The striker rounded the keeper and had the open goal ahead of him, but taking one too many touches to get the ball back under control for a strike gave a Hearts defender time to rush back and block the route to goal. Suarez tried to pass the ball between his legs and into the goal, but the ball glanced first off calf, then off post, and then out of play.
Soon afterwards, Rodgers removed Adam Morgan in favour of Raheem Sterling, and with it Liverpool had a presence on the right for the first time in the match. It led to a twenty minute spell where the hosts played their best football of the night, and Sterling was hugely impressive—and constantly dangerous. What seemed a deserved goal never came, though, and with the clock ticking past the eighty minute mark Liverpool began to look to preserve the nil-nil draw and advance through to the group stages thanks to the away goal scored at Hearts the previous week.
And then, in the eighty-fourth minute, it all went wrong for Liverpool thanks to a Pepe Reina howler. When David Templeton, the Hearts midfielder who put in a man of the match performance in the first leg but was largely anonymous at Anfield, picked up the ball outside the box off a scrambled corner and drilled a long shot at Reina, it seemed a simple save—low and hard, but with little movement and with the goalkeeper not having to move an inch to get his body behind it. But instead of handling it confidently, Reina fumbled it into his own goal in a sequence that was perhaps most reminiscent of Rob Green's howler at the 2010 World Cup for England in the pantheon of recent goalkeeper calamity, and suddenly extra time and the threat of dropping out of the Europa League before the group stages loomed.
Suarez, though, would soon made up for hitting the post almost thirty minutes earlier, as with Hearts still on a high from scoring their own away goal he drove towards the byline and a hammered a shot through keeper Jamie MacDonald from a poor angle with his left foot just short of the ninety minute mark. Liverpool were once again going through, but they'd made it far more difficult for themselves than it seemed as though it should have been when the night started.