A wonderfully bright display of attacking prowess by both sides put on a show at the Stadium of Light, but Liverpool pulled out the expected result as they move to second place with a 3-1 win, their 400th Premier League victory.
The Reds welcomed back Luis Suarez, and he rewarded the loyalty of Brendan Rogers with a brace, and Daniel Sturridge added a goal of his own plus he assisted both of Suarez’s strikes.
It was Liverpool who looked the most dangerous in the opening few minutes, but Sunderland had their moments of creativity. Suarez and Sturridge paired together looked a great decision by Rogers, as the two both tested the fluidity of the Sunderland defense early.
The Reds thought they had the opener inside 10 minutes when a Suarez free kick found Martin Skrtel’s head but the offsides flag had gone up.
Sunderland then began to threaten even more, much to the surprise and delight of the home fans. They looked inspired under interm manager Kevin Ball, taking over for the fired Paolo Di Canio.
Sebastian Larsson was the first Black Cat to go ever so close, as a biting free-kick in the 23rd minute clashed the crossbar, out of the reach of Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.
Liverpool responded in the 28th minute when the Reds earned a corner, and Gerrard’s kick met Daniel Sturridge’s head…actually his shoulder…and into the back of the net. No one on the pitch claimed handball, but replays showed Sturridge directed the ball goalwards with his shoulder. Nonetheless Liverpool took a 1-0 lead.
More controversy just after as Sunderland searched to level the score. Mignolet collected a corner but spilled it, and Kolo Toure appeared to pass it back to his goalkeeper. Referee Howard Webb instead said the pass was legal, and replays suggested Toure may have intended to clear but Mignolet got in the way.
Suarez matched Sturridge’s tally and doubled Liverpool’s led in the 36th minute. Steven Gerrard’s pass threaded through Sturridge, and he low crossed to his strike partner lurking at the far post for an easy finish and a 2-0 lead.
In the second half again both sides threatened on goal, but it was Sunderland who pulled one back in the 52nd minute. Emmanuel Giaccherini pounced on a rebound from Ki Seung-Young’s shot and Mignolet, once he spilled it, had no chance at stopping the putback.
The goal lit up the Sunderland squad, and they began to pepper the Liverpool goal. Giaccherini, Altidore, and Larsson all came close to equalizing the score. With both teams pressing for the next goal, the goalkeepers began to step up.
With the game flying open and both sides looking at chance after chance, Liverpool finally killed off any chance for Sunderland at the death. The Uruguayan put up a perfect long ball for Sturridge who put a wonderful move down the left, and again cut it back for his strike partner Suarez to crash home on the empty net to seal the scoreline.
It was a great shift by the Sunderland players under Ball, especially from Giaccherini, but the loss means the Black Cats remain bottom of the table. It was a tall task for the interm manager, but things at least look quite positive against a much better and sharper opponent.
Sunderland – Giaccherini 52′
Liverpool – Sturridge 28′, Suarez 36′, 89′
Sunderland – Westwood; Gardner, Colback, O’Shea, Cuellar; Larsson (Mavrias, 85′), Cattermole (Celustka, 74′), Ki, Johnson, Giaccherini; Altidore.
Liverpool – Mignolet; Toure, Sakho, Skrtel, Enrique; Henderson, Gerrard; Lucas, Moses (Sterling, 75′); Suarez, Sturridge