Liverpool 2 - 1 Sunderland
SCORERS: Liverpool: Gerrard (39), Sturridge (48); Sunderland; Ki (76)
Referee: K Friend
LIVERPOOL may be third favourites in a three-horse race for the Premier League title but, if they continue to get results like this, they won’t care.
Struggling Sunderland were a hurdle they were expected to clear comfortably but the 2-1 scoreline showed it was not a trademark performance of fluidity and control.
Steven Gerrard’s free-kick broke the visitors’ resistance late in the first half but it was Daniel Sturridge’s strike just after the break which had statisticians reaching for the history books before substitute Ki Sung-Yeung’s header made for a tense finish.
In scoring his 20th league goal of the campaign, moving to within eight of team-mate Luis Suarez, England international Sturridge ensured he and his strike partner achieved a feat not seen in these parts for 50 years, since Ian St John and Roger Hunt achieved it. Only six times previously have two Liverpool players scored 20 league goals apiece and in four of those campaigns they went on to win a league title – twice Division One and twice Division Two.
There is still plenty of ground to cover before Liverpool’s 24-year wait for a title becomes a reality and the forthcoming visits of Chelsea and Manchester City take on greater significance with every passing day. But a seventh successive victory moved them back into second place in the table, just a point behind the Stamford Bridge club, and two ahead of City, who have a couple of matches in hand.
The Liverpool team coach had been greeted on arrival at the ground by an avenue of flags and banners down Anfield Road, with fans keen to herald the side they firmly believe can deliver the title.
The atmosphere inside was no less excitable but, whether it was the weight of expectation which lay heavy on the players’ shoulders or Sunderland’s tactics of packing the defence and denying the Reds any attacking width, Brendan Rodgers’ side did not match the supporters’ fervour in the early stages.
Suarez fired over a free-kick and delivered a delightful cross with the outside of his right foot which was just too high for Sturridge to do anything other than head up in the air.
A lay-off from Brazilian playmaker Coutinho ultimately resulted in the breakthrough in the 39th minute. Suarez wriggled past Santiago Vergini and looked set to skip into the area only to be brought down. Gerrard dispatched the 25-yard free-kick into the top corner.
Three minutes after half-time Sturridge collected the ball on the right side, switched it on to his left foot and struck a shot which came off Wes Brown and looped over Mannone.
Lee Cattermole hit the bar for the Black Cats before substitute Ki converted a corner with 14 minutes to go.