Brendan Rodgers promised that Liverpool “would fly” once they had a first home Premier League win under their belts, but if this was the moment their season became airborne it was a somewhat erratic take-off.
The moment was a special one for Raheem Sterling, who scored the goal that mattered. At 17 years and 317 days he is the youngest player after Michael Owen to score in a competitive senior match for Liverpool and the wide smile across his face as he celebrated spoke not only of the joy he was feeling but of the promise he holds for the future in a career that has already taken him to the verge of a senior England cap. The Anfield crowd have already taken him to their hearts.
Yet setting that detail aside there was an overwhelming feeling of frustration to go with only the third home Premier League win those spectators have witnessed in the whole of 2012.
The cause of that feeling stemmed from the extraordinary number of chances Liverpool failed to turn into goals. The home side’s dominance of possession was such that Reading must have spent 75 per cent of the game in their own half.
Never more than four or five minutes went by without a Liverpool chance to score.
“We created many chances, some 19 shots at goal, and we need to improve our finishing, for sure,” Rodgers said. “That is an ongoing theme. But the most important thing was to keep a clean sheet and get the three points.
“It has been a long time coming. We should have had three points here long before today but given that it came off the back of an international break, with players travelling all round the world, I thought it was a terrific performance.
“I was always comfortable with the mindset and the ability of the players, but you don’t want it to keep dragging on,” the Liverpool manager added
Of all those occasions on which they might have scored, there were a good many on which they should. No one was more profligate in that respect than Luis Suarez, who seldom comes up short in goal attempts but converts surprisingly few, in relative terms. If the 14,000 miles of travel he undertook to play for Uruguay against Argentina and Bolivia in World Cup qualifiers had taken its toll it did not show, and therefore could not be taken as an excuse. The striker even managed to overcome a dead leg, suffered just before half time, after treatment during the interval.
Granted, Suarez set up Sterling’s goal, sending the youngster scampering away with an exquisitely lobbed through-ball.
From there, Sterling outpaced Shaun Cummings, who is not the slowest full-back, and drilled the ball across goalkeeper Alex McCarthy into the left-hand corner. Late in the game, still full of ideas and energy, he set up substitute Jonjo Shelvey who should have put the result beyond any doubt.
What happened in between that reinforced the feeling that Suarez is a fine player who might be seen as exceptional if he could only score more goals. Half a dozen of Liverpool’s chances, at least, fell to him – often, to give him credit, of his own invention – but only once did he draw McCarthy into a save.
“He’s not perfect,” Rodgers said, although he disputed the suggestion that he should score more. “He makes a lot of chances but he also scores a lot of goals. If you look at the statistics, he has a great record.
“What we need to do going forward is get more players around him, to take some of the workload off him.”
Sterling looks one who could fulfil that requirement. Rodgers has encouraged him to come inside from wide positions and he showed promise doing so, working well with Glen Johnson on the left flank but also working himself into positions behind Suarez in the middle.
“He is a wonderful talent,” Rodgers said. “He has a good head on young shoulders and I’m really pleased for him. It was a terrific goal that he finished really well.”
If only a few others – and there were opportunities, too, for Johnson, Daniel Agger and Nuri Sahin – could have followed his example, Liverpool’s lift-off might have been a little more smooth.
Liverpool (4-2-3-1): Jones; Johnson, Agger, Skrtel Wisdom; Sahin (Shelvey, 63), Allen; Sterling (Henderson, 84), Gerrard, Suso (Jose Enrique, 74); Suarez.
Reading (4-4-2): McCarthy; Shorey, Mariappa, Gorkss, Cummings; Kebe, Karacan (McCleary, 25), Leigertwood, McAnuff; Guthrie (Roberts 81), Pogrebnyak (Le Fondre 74).
Referee: Roger East.
Man of the match: Sterling (Liverpool)
Match rating: 6/10