Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers hailed Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge as the most lethal strikeforce in the Barclays Premier League after watching them shoot down struggling Sunderland.
Scorers: Sunderland - Giaccherini (52); Liverpool - Sturridge (28), Suarez (36, 89)
Referee: H Webb
Suarez marked his return to league action after a ten-game ban for biting with a double after Sturridge had opened the scoring at the Stadium of Light, with the former Chelsea man setting up both of his sidekick’s successful efforts.
Their contribution saw the Merseysiders claim a 3-1 victory which propelled them into second place in the table and left the managerless Black Cats rooted to the bottom with just one point from a possible 18 so far this season.
Rodgers said: “I am not sure there are two better in the league, in all honesty. There are some wonderful partnerships around – you have got [Robin] Van Persie and [Wayne] Rooney up there, who are outstanding. We have changed the structure of our team a wee bit to allow us to pass it better – we have still got an awful lot of work to do – and also to fit in with the types of players we have. Those two are right up there with the best in the country and you saw that today.
“The [second] goal, Steven Gerrard makes an absolutely breathtaking pass out of pressure and Daniel’s touch, pace and power takes him in, and he has shown that quality just to roll the ball in for Luis to get his finish. Those two will only get better. You can see their understanding – we have done a lot of work with them together in training and they looked very, very bright today.
“They are two different types as well, which makes it hard for defenders because one has pace, one has power and two good feet, and the other is a wriggler and can shift his body very quickly and ends up in the box. The dynamics of them are very good.”
There was an element of good fortune about Sturridge’s 28th-minute opener when he attempted to head home Gerrard’s left-wing corner, but actually bundled the ball over the line with his arm, although not in the sight-line of referee Howard Webb. Rodgers said with a smile: “He needs to work on his heading, I think. He has actually been working on his heading, believe it or not, Daniel Sturridge. He meant to head it and it missed his head and hit his arm and went in, and if you watch it again, if you look at the reaction of the Sunderland players, there’s not one reacted to it being handball.”
But it was then that Suarez, making his first league appearance since 21 April, took over, tapping home from close range from Sturridge’s ball eight minutes before the break, and then after Emanuele Giaccherini had pulled a goal back seven minutes into the second half, finishing off a fine counter-attack by steering home the same man’s cross.
Rodgers praised the Uruguay international’s mental strength on his return from his extended lay-off. He said: “He is not fazed by much. He has a remarkable mentality. His determination, the steel in his mindset, is phenomenal. He is just so focused and for us, he is like a new signing, really, coming back into the team. It’s great for the team and it’s great for the supporters. Our supporters deserve to see someone of that quality, but his talent deserves to be out on the field rather than sitting in the stand, and that’s something that we are working very hard in order to make sure that happens this season.”
Sunderland, under the charge of interim head coach Kevin Ball while the search for Paolo Di Canio’s replacement continues, produced a performance which combined character, organisation and some intent, with little to choose between the sides during the early exchanges. Sebastian Larsson came close to giving the home side a 24th-minute lead when his free kick beat former team-mate Simon Mignolet, but came back off the bar. Wide men Giaccherini and Adam Johnson were causing problems for the Reds, as was bustling striker Jozy Altidore. However, it was Liverpool, who had seen an earlier Martin Skrtel effort ruled out for offside, who got their noses in front four minutes later, although in controversial circumstances. Kolo Toure only just failed to make meaningful contact with Gerrard’s left-wing corner, but Sturridge smuggled the ball over the line, although replays revealed with more than a little help from his right arm.
But the visitors’ second goal was a thing of beauty, Gerrard picking out Sturridge with a raking 37th-minute pass and watching the striker sweep past Carlos Cuellar before drilling in a cross for Suarez to steer home at the far post. The Black Cats left the pitch at half-time perhaps aggrieved to be two down having created chances of their own, the best of them falling to full-back Craig Gardner with a minute of the first 45 remaining.
Lee Cattermole’s deft pass over the top put Gardner in on goal and it took a fine reaction save by Mignolet to keep out his first-time effort. Suarez picked up where he had left off after the break, winning a 48th-minute corner with a deflected shot and then firing across goal from the resulting set-piece. But the Black Cats continued to battle for a way back into the game and found it with 52 minutes gone when Mignolet could only parry Ki Sung-yueng’s long-range drive and Giaccherini pounced on the rebound to score.
Mignolet redeemed himself two minutes later when he dived to his right to push away a dipping Gardner effort as it sped through a crowded penalty area with the home side very much back in the game. The Belgium international proved equal to the task when Altidore let fly from distance with 62 minutes played, but opposite number Keiren Westwood had to acrobatically turn away Victor Moses’ stinging right-foot shot from a tight angle five minutes later.
Suarez passed up a chance to claim a second goal of the afternoon with 18 minutes remaining when Cuellar did just enough to prevent him from converting Enrique’s inviting cross, and Cattermole denied him once again two minutes later with a good block. But the South American was not finished and having picked out Sturridge with a fine 89th-minute pass, he made his way into the box to convert his cross and seal victory.
Despite the defeat, Sunderland’s interim head coach, Kevin Ball, was able to take positives from the game. He said: “I’d be a fool if I hadn’t been encouraged by it. A lot of credit should be given to them.
“They have worked hard his week. Yes, they would have liked to have got a result in the game today, but it definitely wasn’t for the want of trying. Going forward, I have told them that must always be the case. Irrespective of whoever is in charge, they must be the ones who drive it on and not necessarily the man in charge.”