Brendan Rodgers cited faith in young talent as one of the reasons his Reading tenure ended in dismissal after 23 games. Three years and one transformation later, vindication arrived in front of the man who fired him, Royals' chairman John Madejski, as 17-year-old Raheem Sterling gave Liverpool their first home league win of the season.

The Jamaican-born England prospect became the second-youngest goalscorer in Liverpool's history with a finish that bore the hallmarks of the youngest in his prime. Had Liverpool another Michael Owen in their ranks, the win would have been secure long before Brian McDermott's side stirred to generate a nervous finale.

"It has been a long time coming," said Rodgers. "We should have had three points here long before now, but it was an excellent goal and a terrific performance, especially on the back of an international break. We created so many chances, we had 19 shots on goal, and we need to improve our finishing for sure. It is an on-going theme."

The otherwise excellent Luis Suárez, Nuri Sahin and substitute Jonjo Shelvey all squandered clear chances to add to Sterling's first competitive goal for Liverpool. Reading almost capitalised and the introduction of Jason Roberts, who refused to wear a Kick It Out campaign T-shirt before kick off as he had promised, unsettled the home defence. But Liverpool, for all their profligacy, were thoroughly deserving victors.

Rodgers's team took control from the start. Reading offered nothing more than resistance initially and that was frequently stretched by the runs of Sterling and Suso, plus the imagination of Suárez. "We need to start games at three o'clock," said McDermott, still without a win since Reading's return to the Premier League. "I said to the players at half-time that Liverpool had had the possession, but hadn't hurt us with their passing, only with a ball over the top. We needed to get on the front foot and we did that in the second half. I thought we were going to get a point."

With Fabio Borini out for three months with a fractured foot and Andy Carroll resident at West Ham, where Rodgers appears inclined to leave him, even greater responsibility has fallen on Suárez to provide the cutting edge that Liverpool often lack. But it needs to be shared throughout the side irrespective of problems in attack and, mercifully for Rodgers, Sterling was inclined to agree.

The teenager and Glen Johnson were a constant threat down the left and, with better delivery and luck, Sterling could have scored or engineered the breakthrough long before it came. The Liverpool winger had one effort blocked by Shaun Cummings – and the better-placed Suárez made his displeasure known – then hesitated too long over one break down the left and delivered another into the in-rushing Sahin, who blazed over.

Suárez went close with an audacious chip and as the home crowd began to fear another trying afternoon, the Uruguay international unlocked the Reading rearguard with a first-time flick on of Andre Wisdom's long ball. The pass enabled Sterling to beat Cummings for pace and, taking the shot early, he finished expertly, across keeper Alex McCarthy and into the far bottom corner.

Rodgers said: "I am very pleased for him. That is a part of his game we have been working on in training and it was a wonderful finish. He is a terrific talent, with a good head on young shoulders."

The reception for Sterling's goal was matched only by the crowd's amusing reaction to a free-kick awarded in favour of Suárez. Initially there were ironic cheers as the referee, Roger East, punished Kaspars Gorkss's challenge, but they developed loudly, complete with standing ovation, for a rare call in Suárez's favour. And it wasn't even a foul.

Reading did not have an attempt on goal until the 41st minute, a woeful shot over by Mikele Leigertwood. Brad Jones was given a comfortable first Premier League start in Liverpool's goal in the absence of José Reina. The second half, however, provided a sterner test of the Australia international and substitute Gareth McCleary should have equalised, but shot straight at Jones's legs. Jobi McAnuff and Jimmy Kébé also caused Liverpool problems, but Reading might have been caught out on the counter-attack. They were spared as Shelvey miscued horribly in front of goal and Suárez wasted two good chances. "He is not perfect," said Rodgers.