Liverpool 1 Reading 0
LIVERPOOL // It was an afternoon of firsts at Anfield. If Brendan Rodgers's maiden Premier League win on home turf felt overdue, however, it was a sign of Raheem Sterling's precocity that he opened his Liverpool account. In their 120-year existence, only one player has struck at a younger age.
If it was historic, it was also timely. Never, in their distinguished past, had Liverpool failed to win any of their first home league games of the season. During a subdued start, that appeared a possibility until the teenage winger turned match-winner.
It was just the third time in the calendar year Liverpool claimed three points at home. When that dreadful run began, Sterling was yet to debut but has progressed swiftly since. After his second league start, he received an England call-up. His seventh start was marked with a goal.
He finds himself in distinguished company. Only Michael Owen has registered for Liverpool when less than his 17 years and 317 days and, with his pace and composure in front of goal, there were hints of Owen about Sterling. "It was a wonderful finish and he is a terrific talent," said Rodgers.
It was a reward for his dynamism and his side's dominance. Their problem was a constant at Anfield this year: missed chances. An otherwise impressive performance could have resulted in a rout. Instead, Reading, yet to win this season themselves, retained a chance of a point until the final whistle.
"It was a terrific performance," Rodgers added, but with a caveat. "We had 19 shots on goal and need to improve our finishing."
The one exception was Sterling. Luis Suarez had come close with a deft chip that nestled on the roof of the net before an equally inventive touch, a first-time flick with the outside of his right foot sent Sterling scurrying through. With time to consider his options, the teenager selected the right one and drilled his 18-yard shot past goalkeeper Alex McCarthy. "He has a good head on young shoulders," his manager said.
He also looked Liverpool's most clinical finisher. Suarez displayed pace and persistence, but not penetration as he missed a further hat-trick of chances, each easier than the last. "He was fantastic but he will be disappointed he didn't score," Rodgers said.
The Uruguayan was not the only culprit - Martin Skrtel, Jonjo Shelvey and Steven Gerrard all had opportunities to add to the lead - but his profligacy could have been costly.
With a hamstring strain keeping Pepe Reina out, Brad Jones made a belated first league start, two years after his arrival. It may have been worth the wait.
The Australian was twice called upon to deny Jobi McAnuff, once when the winger was clean through on goal, denying Reading an equaliser.
"In the second half, I honestly thought we were going to get something," said manager Brian McDermott.
The reality, though, is that seven games into their season, they are yet to win.
"Reading will be fine," said Rodgers, the manager they sacked in 2009, an expert in ending a lengthy wait himself after the elusive home win was secured. "It has been a long time coming," he remarked.
So long, indeed, that the last came when Kenny Dalglish was manager, Andy Carroll leading the line and Sterling was an unknown.
Now, while they have been consigned to the past, he represents Liverpool's future.
Published: October 20, 2012 04:00 AM