Sunderland 0 Liverpool 1

With many punters happily predicting another draw for the specialists in the Premier League, especially after their goalless draw at Anfield in the reverse fixture, with Sunderland having racked up eleven already at a rate of more than 50% for the season so far, Liverpool had other thoughts and did more than enough to warrant their narrow one nil winning margin by the end. Indeed, they could have been two or three clear by half-time, as the Serbian winger Lazar Markovic began to justify his lofty £20 million transfer fee from Benfica during the summer and scored his first league goal for the Reds in the process.

The lunchtime kick-off at the Stadium of Light saw the Reds without Raheem Sterling once more, as the club granted him an extended mini-break in Jamaica, and also Kolo Toure who had departed for the Africa Cup of Nations. However, they did have Markovic in the side and beginning to express himself as manager Brendan Rodgers hoped that he would. He looked lively during the first period, having a decent penalty appeal turned down when he looked to have been sandwiched by the Black Cats’ defence in the box and then hitting the bar with a wonderfully adjusted volley. In between those moments of endeavour, he also managed to bundle in the goal that proved the difference between the two sides, as a flowing passing move released him into the penalty area and he nudged the ball past keeper Costel Pantilimon. Fabio Borini also went close after latching on to an astute through ball from Emre Can. The one-time loanee for the North-East side rounded the keeper, but could only find the side netting from an acute angle.

Sunderland by contrast strangely created little in the half, seemingly unable to draw strength from their home fans’ support nor to put any real pressure on the as of late fragile away side’s defence. After an uneasy performance against a battling Wimbledon side in the FA Cup on Monday, keeper Simon Mignolet could have expected similar treatment at Sunderland but they seemed reticent to apply anything like the same.

Captain Steven Gerrard was influential during the first forty-five minutes but did not come out for the second, citing a tight hamstring as the issue. He was watching on from the bench as the home side were reduced to ten men soon after the break, when a rather harsh second yellow card was given to Liam Bridcutt for a slight contact on Emre Can, as the German under-21 international accelerated down the flank. That should have ensured the three points for Rodgers’ side one would expect, but it belatedly seemed to provide a spark to Sunderland who improved slightly afterwards and hit the bar with a spectacular effort from Adam Johnson that Mignolet could only admire. They created little of real significance after that and must now be nervously watching the teams below them at the bottom of the league.

Liverpool were not as impressive after the break as Rodgers seemed to adopt a more pragmatic approach and hold on to what his team already had. They were also slightly fortunate to keep Philippe Countinho on the pitch, after the Brazilian schemer avoided a second yellow card for the very same thing he was awarded his first for, not retreating far enough at a free-kick to Sunderland. It would have been harsh for him to go, but after Bridcutt’s expulsion the home fans were justifiably irked by the referee’s lack of consistency.

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