Sunderland's Interim Head Coach Kevin Ball chose not to tinker with the side that had performed well to brush aside Peterborough in the League Cup on Tuesday. This meant first starts of the season for Carlos Cuellar and Lee Cattermole, as well as a return to action for Seb Larsson and a return to the right back slot for Craig Gardner. The formation, however, did seem to be slightly different with Emmanuele Giaccherini operating more on the left hand-side of the Sunderland attack, with Seb Larsson dropping deeper into midfield.
The game had a bright start, with chances for both sides within the first five minutes that came to nothing. The first real action occurred when Liverpool were awarded a central free kick just outside the Sunderland penalty area. Liverpool and England captain Steven Gerrard's free kick was saved very well by a diving Keiren Westwood, but the ball fell to Martin Skrtel who managed to put it in the back of the net on the rebound. Or so he thought until he spotted the linesman had raised his flag, with the central defender marginally offside when the free kick was struck.
Perhaps spurred on by going so close to falling behind, Sunderland continued to play well with the lads playing the ball around nicely in the Liverpool half, and pressing their opposition high up when they were out of possession. A few half chances were created by Sunderland's good play, with the best of them coming around the twenty minute mark when Giaccherini's mazy dribble inside was cut short by a Lucas foul, earning a free kick for the lads. It was Seb Larsson who stepped up, and the Swede's effort went up-and-over the wall before cracking against the crossbar.
However, just minutes after Sunderland came close to taking the lead, Liverpool succeeded in scoring. Their fourth corner of the match was swung in, narrowly missed by the jumping John O'Shea, and then re-directed goalwards via the elbow of Daniel Sturridge. The goal came around the twenty-seventh minute, and it's fair to say that it was probably against the run of play with Sunderland having put in a decent performance so far. With this fixture in previous years having seen goals come courtesy of a deflection off a beach ball and the stealing of the ball when it wasn't even in play it was probably appropriate that the opener should be so contentious. Well, I say contentious. There isn't a whole heap to contend really - he elbowed it home, which really isn't allowed in football.
With Liverpool snatching the lead through a corner, Sunderland tried to do the same. However a short spell of three corners failed to produce anything other than a few nervey moments for Simon Mignolet as the ex-Black Cat flapped at a few of the deliveries from his old team-mates. Not long afterwards came another hammer-blow for Sunderland. With Liverpool having scored the first flukily and somewhat against the run of play, their second came through great work from their main man whilst Suarez has been out. A good ball from Gerrard found Sturridge out on the right, the England striker then found himself one-on-one versus Carlos Cuellar, and succeeded in beating the Spaniard to send the ball across the face of goal where it was, inevitably, tapped home by Luis Suarez. Thirty-five minutes in, and it was now 2-0 to Liverpool.
Sunderland had one more chance before the break with Lee Cattermole, excellent throughout, lifting a lovely ball over the Liverpool defence for an onrushing Craig Gardner. Unfortunately for the angry-faced Brummie, his first time effort was saved extremely well by the foot of Mignolet.
We were unlucky to be two goals behind at the break, having performed immeasurably better than in any of our games so far in the Premier League this season. Perhaps being complimented by Bally on a good, if unlucky, performance so far instead of being bollocked and humiliated by Di Canio was what the players needed at half-time, as they came roaring out of the blocks in the second half. Sure enough, the lads soon received their reward for their fast start.
A good spell of pressure and possession around the Liverpool box resulted in Ki having a pop from distance. His fierce shot stung Mignolet's gloves, and the Belgian was unable to do anything other than palm it weakly back out into his penalty area. There Giaccherini was waiting to pounce, and the Italian latched onto the rebound before whacking it with aplomb into the back of the net. With just 51 minutes on the clock, it was 2-1 and Sunderland were back in the game.
Just a few minutes later the lads could've been level. Again Sunderland kept pressure on Liverpool, and Craig Gardner tried a trademark drive from outside of the box. His shot looked like it may have taken a deflection on its way through, and Liverpool's 'keeper was happy to be able to turn it around his post for a corner kick. Sunderland's energy and pressing were paying dividends, with a lot of chances being carved out through the lads' hard work. Bally could be heard throughout screaming encouragement and instructions from the sidelines, and by the hour mark Sunderland had had a remarkable 19 attempts to Liverpool's 9.
The game continued at a frantic pace, with chances for both sides. Sunderland, however, began to look like they might be vulnerable on the counter-attack as they continued to pour men forwards in search of an equaliser. Both Giaccherini and Jack Colback picked up yellow cards for slightly cynical challenges aimed at halting break-aways. With the team's tremendous work effort starting to take its toll on their energy, Kevin Ball made his first change on 73 minutes with Sunderland's erstwhile skipper Cattermole being substituted for Ondrej Celustka. Cattermole, for my money, put in a very impressive performance and surely has to be at the heart of Sunderland's midfield again this season.Meanwhile, the Czech went to right-back with Craig Gardner taking Catts' place in the centre of the pitch.The advantage of having a true full-back on the pitch was shown not long after Celustka's arrival as he managed to overlap Adam Johnson to stick in a cross that Liverpool were forced to deflect for a corner.
At the same time, Liverpool made their first change with Victor Moses coming off to be replaced by youngster Raheem Sterling, whose pace would cause Sunderland problems on the break. Sunderland's final throw of the dice came in the 84th minute as Ball went for all-out attack, removing Seb Larsson who had played primarily in the centre of the pitch, and replacing him with the Greek winger Charis Mavrias. This freed Emmanuele Giaccherini to play much closer to Jozy Altidore, in a similar position to the one he had been in against Peterborough.
However, the consequences of pushing all out for an equaliser were not what Sunderland had desired. After Simon Mignolet rose well to cleanly take a corner into his grasp, the Belgian released the ball early to kick off a Liverpool counter-attack. As the reds raced forwards in numbers, Daniel Sturridge again took the ball wide before cutting it back for Suarez to shot home for his second of the game from the edge of the 6 yard box in the 88th minute.
The final whistle went a few minutes later. In some ways this was an encouraging game for Sunderland, the performance was far far better than anything else we have seen so far this season, and for most of the second half the game was genuinely poised on a knife-edge with the lads having a few chances to draw level with Liverpool. However, it does mean that we will now go into October with just the solitary point after a third 3-1 defeat of the season.
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