Sunderland 0 Liverpool 1

With many punters happily predicting another draw for thespecialists in the Premier League, especially after their goalless draw at Anfieldin the reverse fixture, with Sunderland having racked up eleven already at arate of more than 50% for the season so far, Liverpool had other thoughts anddid 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 Serbianwinger Lazar Markovic began to justify his lofty £20 million transfer fee fromBenfica during the summer and scored his first league goal for the Reds in theprocess.

The lunchtime kick-off at the Stadium of Light saw theReds without Raheem Sterling once more, as the club granted him an extendedmini-break in Jamaica, and also Kolo Toure who had departed for the Africa Cup ofNations. However, they did have Markovic in the side and beginning to expresshimself as manager Brendan Rodgers hoped that he would. He looked lively duringthe first period, having a decent penalty appeal turned down when he looked tohave been sandwiched by the Black Cats’ defence in the box and then hitting thebar with a wonderfully adjusted volley. In between those moments of endeavour,he also managed to bundle in the goal that proved the difference between thetwo sides, as a flowing passing move released him into the penalty area and henudged the ball past keeper Costel Pantilimon.

Fabio Borini also went close afterlatching on to an astute through ball from Emre Can. The one-time loanee forthe North-East side rounded the keeper, but could only find the side nettingfrom an acute angle.

Sunderland by contrast strangely created little in thehalf, seemingly unable to draw strength from their home fans’ support nor toput any real pressure on the as of late fragile away side’s defence.

After anuneasy performance against a battling Wimbledon side in the FA Cup on Monday,keeper Simon Mignolet could have expected similar treatment at Sunderland butthey seemed reticent to apply anything like the same.

Captain Steven Gerrard was influential during the firstforty-five minutes but did not come out for the second, citing a tighthamstring as the issue.

He was watching on from the bench as the home side werereduced to ten men soon after the break, when a rather harsh second yellow cardwas given to Liam Bridcutt for a slight contact on Emre Can, as the Germanunder-21 international accelerated down the flank. That should have ensured thethree points for Rodgers’ side one would expect, but it belatedly seemed toprovide a spark to Sunderland who improved slightly afterwards and hit the barwith a spectacular effort from Adam Johnson that Mignolet could only admire.They created little of real significance after that and must now be nervouslywatching the teams below them at the bottom of the league.

Liverpool were not as impressive after the break asRodgers seemed to adopt a more pragmatic approach and hold on to what his teamalready had.

They were also slightly fortunate to keep Philippe Countinho onthe pitch, after the Brazilian schemer avoided a second yellow card for thevery same thing he was awarded his first for, not retreating far enough at a free-kickto Sunderland. It would have been harsh for him to go, but after Bridcutt’sexpulsion the home fans were justifiably irked by the referee’s lack ofconsistency.