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Liverpool survive Hearts scare
Luis Suarez spared goalkeeper Jose Reina's blushes - and some of his own - with the late goal that fired the Reds into the Europa League group stage with a 2-1 win over Hearts on the night and a 3-2 aggregate advantage.
Brendan Rodgers' side dominated the second leg of their qualifying round play-off at Anfield but were punished for not adding to their 1-0 aggregate lead when Reina let a David Templeton shot squeeze through late on. With extra time looming, Suarez made amends for missing two earlier gilt-edged chances with a fine finish in the 88th minute.
It was a victory the Reds thoroughly deserved, played out against the backdrop of Friday's impending transfer deadline. With £35million club record signing Andy Carroll conspicuous by his absence - as it transpired, finalising a loan move to West Ham - Rodgers handed a first start to 18-year-old striker Adam Morgan.
With 17-year-old Raheem Sterling having featured in the two previous games, Rodgers has not been afraid to give youth a chance but there was still an experienced look to his side. Captain Steven Gerrard and star forward Suarez, both rested for the first leg at Tynecastle, were included along with the likes of Reina, Jamie Carragher and Martin Skrtel.
With Rodgers having expressed a liking for "multi-functional" players, England winger Stewart Downing was fielded at left-back while Jordan Henderson, whose future has been the subject of speculation, was given a chance. Hearts fielded the same side that started the first leg last week with captain Marius Zaliukas overcoming a thigh injury.
Hearts appealed for a first-half penalty when Callum Paterson went down with Carragher in close proximity, but contact was ruled minimal.Morgan tested MacDonald with a long-range shot as Liverpool came forward again but the goalkeeper managed to clutch the ball at the second attempt as Gerrard hunted the rebound.
Gerrard then weaved his way into the Hearts area to get in a shot but MacDonald blocked his shot - and the Scots breathed another sigh of relief when Morgan side-footed home in the 34th minute, only to have the effort ruled out as the ball had gone out before Suarez crossed.
Liverpool maintained the pressure in the second half with Jonjo Shelvey finding space to shoot wide from 25 yards. The hosts seemed certain to take the lead in the 65th minute when Suarez, who had been goaded by the Hearts fans, timed a run perfectly to race through on MacDonald's goal.
Despite Liverpool's dominance Hearts were still only a goal away from taking the tie to extra-time and Hearts made them pay for their earlier profligacy six minutes from time. Templeton seized on a clearance and took a couple of touches before firing at Reina.
It was well struck but the keeper should still have dealt with it, only it squirmed through his grasp. Liverpool were forced to rouse themselves for one last push and Suarez made no mistake as he burst down the left and fired low across goal from a tight angle.