EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - AUGUST 23: Raheem Sterling of Liverpool shoots at goal during UEFA Europa League play-off first leg match between Hearts and Liverpool at Tynecastle Stadium on August 23, 2012 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
On a night when there was little to celebrate other than the result, Raheem Sterling gave Liverpool supporters encouragement, providing many of the positives for Brendan Rodgers' squad and strengthening the popular notion that, while he's still got a ways to go, there's very likely a more significant role for him to play this season. Hearts certainly didn't provide the type of test he'll face in the Premier League on a weekly basis, but given that we've been clamoring for more of the youngster during the past year, his display at Tynecastle was a welcomed sight.
With a midfield contingent that conspired to produce sixty-seven minutes of embarrassed goosebumps before Joe Allen came on and a backline that produced as many chances for Hearts as Hearts did, Liverpool's only worthwhile plan for much of the match seemed to be to just survive whatever sort of calamity their inability to maintain possession created and then get the ball to Raheem Sterling on the left in hopes that he could create something threatening. And as was pointed out in Noel's recap and the subsequent comments, an involuntary appointment as the lone source of creativity is a tall order for anyone, let alone a 17 year-old make his full debut for the club. But somehow he didn't fall too short of the task with which he was burdened, didn't let the lack of support get to him, and, perhaps most impressively, didn't prove anyone who'd placed their belief in him wrong.
His excellent awareness and blinding pace nearly gave Liverpool the lead just before the half, as he intercepted a cross-field ball and started a 2-on-1 with Fabio Borini streaking towards goal. It ultimately resulted with the Italian hitting the post in some sort of sick joke, but the play was a perfect microcosm of what the young winger can offer--good positional sense, speed that can leave defenders for dead, and an unselfishness that might serve other burgeoning English forwards well. The second half was more or less the same as the first, darting past the right back and dangerous inward runs that caused havoc on the right side of the Hearts defense.
The anticipation for him to be a regular contributor right now might be a bit much, but if displays like last night's become the norm in the action that he does get, consistent first-team football's not that far off.