Liverpool scraped a 1-0 win over Heart of Midlothian, while a Newcastle United side shorn of several familiar faces survived sweltering heat to hold Greek side Atromitos to a 1-1 draw in their Europa League playoff round first-leg matches on Thursday.
Liverpool needed an own-goal from Andy Webster with 12 minutes remaining at Tynecastle to see off Hearts in the absence of several first-team regulars, including England forward Andy Carroll — persistently linked with a return to Newcastle.
Carroll, nursing a sore hamstring, was not even on the bench as coach Brendan Rodgers fielded Fabio Borini and Raheem Sterling in attack.
The Reds also left out Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez, Martin Skrtel and Glen Johnson with Manchester City to visit Anfield in the Premier League tomorrow.
Arvydas Novikovas might have given the Edinburgh side a shock lead, but Pepe Reina saved well in the Liverpool goal, before Borini hit the post at the other end.
Liverpool made the breakthrough when Martin Kelly sent in a challenging cross from the right that Borini did not connect with, only for the unfortunate Webster to deflect into his own net.
Veteran Jamie Carragher praised Liverpool’s youngsters, particularly young striker Sterling.
“This club’s got a great tradition of bringing young players through and the way the manager wants to play suits him [Sterling] down to the ground,” Carragher said. “He’s come in and done really well, and at the age of 17 it looks like he’s got a big future.”
Newcastle were playing in Europe for the first time in five years, but coach Alan Pardew made nine changes from the side that beat Tottenham Hotspur in their opening Premier League match last weekend to give fringe players some game time.
The new faces included Adam Campbell, a second-half substitute who became the Magpies’ youngest European debutant at 17 years, 236 days — 64 days younger than former favorite Andy Carroll when he played in Palermo, Italy, in 2006.
Another getting a rare game was former first choice goalkeeper Steve Harper, who at 37 was handed a start with Dutch international Tim Krul giving way.
“In the second half, I was a little bit disappointed we didn’t get the win — I thought there were good opportunities — but overall I was very, very pleased with the performance,” said Pardew, who also gave youngsters Romain Amalfitano and James Tavernier a chance to prove themselves in stifling heat at the Peristeri Stadium in Athens.
Harper was unable to keep a clean sheet as German striker Denis Epstein gave the hosts the lead on 24 minutes, before Ryan Taylor fired home a free-kick in first-half stoppage-time to give Newcastle a good chance of reaching the group stage with the home leg to come.
Pardew rang the changes with his team facing a difficult trip to Chelsea today, though striker Papiss Cisse did feature.
Cisse set up a headed chance for Sylvain Marveaux after the break, but the Frenchman was unable to find the target.
Cisse then saw former Liverpool reserve goalkeeper Charles Itandje deny him late on as the Senegal international attempted to poach a winner, before Konstantinos Giannoulis missed a gilt-edged chance for the Greek side.
In other games, former European champions Olympique de Marseille won 2-1 at Moldova’s Sheriff Tiraspol, with Andre-Pierre Gignac bagging the winner.