Liverpool came away from the Stadium of Light with three valuable points this afternoon and in the process, claiming eighth place in the Barclays Premier League, four points from fourth spot. The Reds were denied an early penalty but went on to score what tuned out to be the winner shortly after. The sides’ profligacy in front of goal however, almost cost them dearly in a nervy finish with the hosts down to 10 men.
Brendan Rodgers brought in Fabio Borini to replace Raheem Sterling who is currently sunning himself in Jamaica as part of winter break. Nice work if you can get it, but at just 19 the young England international was in need of a rest after starting as many games as he is old this season. The now regular back three, of Emre Can, Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho returned with Alberto Moreno and Jordan Henderson providing the width in the wing-back roles. Lucas Leiva and Steven Gerrard secured the midfield behind the attacking trio of Lazar Markovic, Philippe Coutinho and Borini.
The visitors started brightly and were unlucky not to get an early penalty after the lively Markovic latched onto Coutinho’s through ball only to be hauled over by Wes Brown in unceremonious fashion. Despite voracious appeals from the men in yellow and their travelling support, man in the middle Mr. Pawson was having none of it. Minutes later however, Liverpool were in front.
Markovic, impressive in his fifth league start began and finished a good move with a strong run toward the home penalty box. His pass to Gerrard was fumbled into the home penalty box – somewhat comically I would add – by Borini. As the resulting lose ball bobbled in front of goal, the Serbian was on hand to poke home Liverpool’s first of the game, the ultimate winner and open his league scoring account. From here the visitors pressed but were unable to find a way through despite the porous and chaotic Sunderland defence.
In reality, Rodgers’ men were their own worst enemies as time and again poor finishing thwarted their attacks. Gerrard had two good chances which were both wide of the target and a cheeky volley from Marković hit the crossbar before rebounding off the goalkeeper and away for a corner. It was all Sunderland could do to resist this Liverpool side. Resist they did and the break came without an addition to Liverpool’s opener.
Sunderland Manager Gus Poyet must have given is ineffective the proverbial hair dryer at half time, as the previously absent eleven started the second half with an air of conviction in their play. However, the second half turned out to be a rather scrappy affair. The hosts were reduced to 10 men following a second bookable offence for Liam Birdcutt. Despite a late flurry the Wearsiders’ best chance came through an Adam Johnson shot that hit the Liverpool crossbar with Simon Mignolet well and truly beaten.
Liverpool will be happy with their performance although to be honest, they should have been out of sight in this game by the end of the first half. Despite all the furore over Gerrard’s summer departure, I’m not shedding any tears. He had two great chances in the first half to put Sunderland to the sword but both were missed. Rodgers claimed the 34 year-old was “a wee bit tight in his hamstring”, which if I was cynical translates as he wasn’t having a great game.
For me, I think the team still needs to improve. One win in thirteen sounds impressive but with only three or four strong performances along the way there remains work to be done. Rodgers needs to be credited for (at last) finding a formula that ensures the team isn’t as easy to turn over as it has been in the recent past. Marković is now performing like someone who’s seen a football before and this shouldn’t be overlooked also. I’ve been one of the 20 year-old’s biggest critics and I’ll continue to be so until I see something like a performance that is worth £20m. Call me a hard task-master but I haven’t seen that yet.
Another feather in the Manager’s hat should be his decision to give Sterling a break. At 19 the boy has been carrying not only Liverpool’s, but also the nation’s hopes on his young shoulders this last couple of years and I’m more than happy that he wasn’t playing today. In the same way the team has to get used to playing without Gerrard going forward, they should also be able to manage without Sterling from time to time also, whether this be through rest, injury or whatever.
So, Liverpool lie two points from being able to say they’re “in the mix” as their unspectacular and workman-like progression continues in what has been a difficult season for them and Rodgers. Hopefully the performances will get that bit better and become more consistent but as the saying goes: One step at a time.
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