Liverpool 2-1 Sunderland: No Points But Pride Partially Restored

Michael Regan

A late Sunderland rally just wasn't enough to nick a point from a nervy Anfield.

Since Norwich, the focus on Sunderland's woes has mostly been on the capacity for lethargy from a squad who appear to be in denial about their situation. However, it was a tactical revamp at Liverpool with which Gus Poyet sought to find a solution to his side's post-Wembley ills.

A 5-3-2 system was adopted with Santiago Vergini coming in at centre back, Connor Wickham getting a game up front, and Liam Bridcutt and Lee Cattermole starting together for the first time in midfield.

The theory was sound enough. Emanuele Giaccherini, the most advanced of the midfield three, pressed high up the pitch when Liverpool were in possession, something he could do without risking compromising the middle of the pitch.

And, in fairness, it worked for much of the first half. Sunderland pressed high and generally protected their box with some authority, challenging Liverpool to punish them for it with a pearler. That's exactly what they did, of course, and Sunderland being Sunderland it was done with nice generous helping hand.

Cattermole surrendered possession in the middle of the pitch, Vergini committed a daft foul for which he was lucky not to get sent, and Steven Gerrard beat Vito Mannone a little too easily directly from the resulting free kick

Just after the break, they repeated the trick to double their lead when Andrea Dossena and Wes Brown thought leaving Daniel Sturridge in space around the box on his left foot wasn't an act of total lunacy. Inevitably, the perpetually in-form England man curled it into the far corner with the aid of a slight deflection.

In all honesty it wasn't altogether unjustified. True, Liverpool had not carved out what you'd call a clear-cut chance up until that point, but they were the better and more authoritative side by far. It didn't flatter them.

They remained very much that until the introduction of Adam Johnson and Ki Sung-yueng on the hour for the ineffectual Giaccherini and the industrious Wickham. Sunderland instantly looked like a side who had just brought on their best two attacking players. Fancy that.

Cattermole crashed one off the crossbar - no, seriously - and Ki grabbed a goal back, diving to head in Johnson's corner at the far post. The Korean, who certainly had a point to prove after his early withdrawal at the weekend, set up a grandstand finish as the nerves began to swill around Anfield.

It so nearly paid dividends too, when John O'Shea flicked a Johnson free kick narrowly past the far post, but it wasn't to be.

It was an absorbing contest, and one in which Sunderland certainly played their part. No points were won, but a semblance of pride was restored against a very good side and Poyet has given everyone food for thought with his tactical experimentation.

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