Advantage Liverpool in Europa League's Battle of Britain
Thursday night’s UEFA Europa League action saw many of the expected names take a giant step into the group stages of the 2012-13 competition.
In the first leg of the battle of Britain at Tynecastle, Liverpool take a valuable 1-0 lead away from Scotland in their tie with Hearts.
The game was evenly matched, with the Scottish Cup holders, giving Brendan Rodgers side a stiff examination.
The deciding goal came 12 minutes from the end. Martin Kelly’s dangerous ball into the box was diverted in unfortunately by experienced defender, Andy Webster.
The Reds decided to give youth a chance, with rare games for Jonjo Shelvey, Jay Spearing and a competitive debut for 17-year-old bright star, Raheem Stirling.
Stirling was a danger all night, setting up Fabio Borini for the best chance in the first half, only for the Italian to strike the post.
Hearts can take great pride from their performance here and although it is a difficult task at Anfield next week, it isn’t impossible.
Tough task for Motherwell
The same can’t be said for Motherwell, whose task looks like a mountain to climb, after losing 2-0 at home to Levante.
Outplayed for the majority of the match, they were caught out three minutes before the interval, by Juanlu and midway through the second half; former Liverpool player Nabil El Zhar doubled the Spanish side’s comfort zone.
A red card for Shaun Hutchinson on 76 minutes only compounded what was a difficult night for Stuart McCall’s side.
Newcastle will be pleased to have left Greece with a 1-1 draw against Atromitos.
Denis Epstein put the home side infront but a trademark free-kick from Ryan Taylor on the stroke of half-time, meant the Magpies left with a crucial away goal and the chance to bring back the stars for next week’s second leg.
Manager Alan Pardew made nine changes from the side that beat Tottenham last weekend, with a key trip to Chelsea around the corner.
This meant the likes of Jonas Gutierrez, Demba Ba and Hatem Ben Afra weren’t seen in the first leg.
Twente in trouble
Elsewhere in Europe and Steve McClaren hasn’t had the best of weeks.
After losing an injunction against the Sun newspaper regarding a reported affair in his marriage, the former England boss witnessed his FC Twente side lose 3-1 to Buraspor of Turkey.
Last season’s finalists Athletic Bilbao can look forward to the group stages already, after thumping HJK Helsinki 6-0 in Spain.
One of this season’s favourites for the competition must be 2010 Champions League winners Inter Milan and they took a giant step into the group stages, winning 2-0 away at FC Vaslui.
Lacina Traore scored the only goal as Guus Hiddink’s Anzhi beat AZ Alkmaar 1-0 in Russia.
Meanwhile, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer got the better of Marco van Basten, as Molde FK recorded an excellent 2-0 triumph over Heerenveen, to complete a miserable night for the Dutch sides.
PSV Eindhoven did win though, 5-0 away from home at FK Zeta, with Ola Toivonen and Mark van Bommel amongst their scorers.
There were also victories for Marseille, Lazio, CSKA Moscow and Hannover 96.
UEFA EUROPA LEAGUE PLAYOFF ROUND, FIRST LEG RESULTS
AC Horsens 1-1 Sporting Lisbon
AIK Solna 0-1 CSKA Moscow
Anzhi Makhachkala 1-0 AZ Alkmaar
Athletic Bilbao 6-0 HJK Helsinki
Atromitos 1-1 Newcastle United
Buraspor 3-1 FC Twente
Crvena Zvezda 0-0 Bordeaux
Debrecen 0-3 Club Brugge
Dinamo Bucharest 0-2 Metalist Kharkiv
Ekranas 0-2 Steaua Bucharest
F91 Dudelange 1-3 Hapoel Tel-Aviv
FC Luzern 2-1 KRC Genk
FC Midtjylland 0-3 Young Boys
FC Sheriff Tiraspol 1-2 Marseille
FC Vaslui 0-2 Inter Milan
FK Zeta 0-5 PSV Eindhoven
Feyenoord 2-2 Sparta Prague
Hearts 0-1 Liverpool
Legia Warsaw 1-1 Rosenborg
Lokeren 2-1 Viktoria Plzen
Maritimo 1-0 FC Dila Gori
Molde FK 2-0 Heerenveen
Motherwell 0-2 Levante
Mura 0-2 Lazio
Neftchi 1-1 APOEL Nicosia
PAOK Salonika 2-1 Rapid Vienna
Slask Wroclaw 3-5 Hannover 96
Slovan Liberec 2-2 Dnipro
Trabzonspor 0-0 Videoton
Tromso 3-2 Partizan Belgrade
VFB Stuttgart 2-0 Dinamo Moscow
By Simon Wright – Follow me on Twitter @Siwri88
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