Liverpool overcome ten-man Sunderland amidst blustery conditions at the Stadium of Light…
The Reds were again without the rested Raheem Sterling and the injured Daniel Sturridge so Fabio Borini was handed a rare start up front against the team he enjoyed a successful loan with last season.
The only other change from Monday night’s win at AFC Wimbledon came at wing-back where Alberto Moreno replaced compatriot Javier Manquillo.
A controversial moment occurred in the opening five minutes when Wes Brown felled Lazar Markovic in the box as the pacy winger looked to latch onto a Philippe Coutinho through-ball.
To most observers it was a blatant penalty but referee Craig Pawson left Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers and his players agasp by remaining unmoved.
Fortunately their understandable anger was quickly eased when Markovic opened the scoring in the 8th minute, prodding past Costel Pantilimon from close range.
Although guilty of an awful decision previously, Pawson deserves praise for playing a great advantage in the build-up to the goal after Borini was unceremoniously dumped to the floor by John O’Shea.
Sunderland, very much under the cosh early on, briefly found their feet around the 15 minute mark, forcing the Reds back with a period of sustained pressure.
Former Black Cats keeper Simon Mignolet remained relatively untroubled though and Liverpool were soon back on the front foot.
Skipper Steven Gerrard twice went close to extending his side’s advantage before the impressive Markovic struck the crossbar with an improvised volley from the edge of the area.
Further opportunities came and went for the Merseysiders before half-time including Jordan Henderson hitting the post, although any goal on that occasion wouldn’t have stood after the midfielder was harshly adjudged to have handled whilst controlling the ball.
As he had been in the Cup on Monday night, Gerrard was involved in most of Liverpool’s best work and the midfielder had two further strikes at goal before Borini hit the side-netting from a tight angle after rounding Pantilimon.
The dominant Reds really should have gone into the break with a bigger lead and they were disadvantaged during the interval when Dejan Lovren had to replace an injured Gerrard.
Sunderland’s chances of capitalising were handed a huge blow shortly after the restart though when Liam Bridcutt received a second yellow for halting a powerful Emre Can burst forward.
In the absence of Gerrard, the German U21 international was now operating at right wing-back with Markovic pushed inside and Lovren taking his place in the back three.
A spectacular, swerving Adam Johnson strike almost made a mockery of the numerical issue but the crossbar came to Liverpool’s rescue before Martin Skrtel mopped up the danger.
Indeed, despite being reduced to ten and seeing Markovic again go close, the hosts were enjoying their best spell of the entire match as the hour mark approached.
However, guilt-edge opportunities remained few and far between for the Wearsiders, unlike at the other end where Lovren and Coutinho both threatened to give the visitors the much-needed breathing space their display deserved.
As the game headed into the final quarter of an hour, Liverpool, who now had the mercurial Mario Balotelli on, began to dominate once more.
Coutinho forced a smart stop out of Pantilimon before the Reds had another penalty shout turned down when the ball inadvertently struck Patrick van Aanholt’s hand.
O’Shea had a half chance of forcing an increasingly unlikely equaliser from a corner but the former Manchester United defender kicked only fresh air.
Poyet chucked attacking players Danny Graham, Will Buckley and youngster Mikael Mandron on in the closing stages but it was to no avail as Liverpool secured a deserved three points.
Another encouraging display by the Reds who dominated this game from start to finish and carved out openings almost at will. Thankfully our lack of potency in front of goal wasn’t exposed on this occasion unlike in many previous outings this season. Defensively we looked pretty solid for once although in truth Sunderland were extremely poor and rarely threatened other than Johnson’s rocket from distance. In addition to the goal scoring Markovic, there were impressive individual performances from Coutinho and Can while Mignolet dealt with crosses as well as I’ve seen him in a long time. Liverpool will be hopeful of building on their good recent run and closing the gap to the top four further when they visit struggling Aston Villa next weekend.
Lazar Markovic – The winger’s best showing since joining from Benfica in the summer. Carried a threat throughout with his great technique and direct running style and could easily have had a couple more goals to show for his efforts. Versatility and an improving work rate and confidence, all point to a bright future.
Mignolet, Can, Skrtel, Sakho, Markovic, Moreno, Lucas, Henderson, Gerrard (Lovren 45′), Coutinho, Borini (Balotelli 67′).
Unused subs: Ward, Manquillo, Enrique, Rossiter, Lambert.
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