Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez did the damage as Liverpool got back to winning ways with an away victory at Sunderland that put them second in the Premier League.
England striker Sturridge opened the scoring in controversial fashion, but laid on two more strikes for partner Suarez. Emanuele Giaccherini replied for the hosts, but in vain.
Black Cats caretaker Kevin Ball and Reds boss Brendan Rodgers both named unchanged XIs despite varying fortunes in the League Cup midweek.
Lee Cattermole was back in the Sunderland fold anchoring midfield. Jack Colback and Craig Gardner continued to masquerade as fullbacks. On-loan forward Fabio Borini was ineligible against his parent club.
The Merseysiders meanwhile stayed with three at the back. Victor Moses had a free role behind both Sturridge and Suarez. Jordan Henderson and Simon Mignolet faced their former side.
A menacing start from Liverpool saw Suarez lash wide and Keiren Westwood superbly parry Steven Gerrard’s free kick. Martin Skrtel turned in the rebound, but was rightly flagged offside.
Sunderland weathered this early pressure, however, and Seabstian Larsson cracked a free kick off the bar. As the half hour approached the hosts fell behind to a contentious goal from a corner.
Gerrard delivered, the presence of Kolo Toure distracted Black Cats defenders and Sturridge forced the ball over the line with his upper arm. If Sunderland felt hard done by conceding the opener there was no doubt about the visitors’ second strike.
Suarez tapped in at the back post as Sturridge showed a turn of pace to get away from Carlos Cuellar. That driving run infield from the flank made this goal as it dragged the centre half out of position with makeshift left back Colback caught upfield.
Reds defender Toure meanwhile kept taking chances at set pieces by grabbing at John O’Shea’s shirt. The Black Cats continued to press for a goal to bring themselves back into it with Mignolet saving with his leg from Gardner from a Cattermole ball over the top.
Adam Johnson also curled over before the break and dragged wide after it. Sunderland pulled one back seven minutes into the second half through a Di Canio signing in Giaccherini.
The versatile Italian reacted quickest when Ki Sung-Yueng’s long range shot flew through the legs of Martin Skrtel and Mignolet could only parry. Giacherrini gave the home crowd something to cheer, though was later booked.
Gardner then saw a strike divert off the head of Mamadou Sakho. Mignolet turned this effort behind with a late reaction stop. The Stadium of Light crowd, lifted by this Black Cats flurry, were backing their team once more.
Striker Jozy Altidore stung the palms of Mignolet for Sunderland as sloppy defensive errors crept into the visitors’ passing game. Liverpool winger Moses then saw a curler, which took a slight nick on its way through, tipped over by Westwood.
Toure later tried his luck as the presence of Suarez occupied the home defence. Westwood used fingertips to help this effort over. Late on the Reds sealed victory despite a spirited Black Cats display through a swift counter.
Mignolet claimed a Sunderland corner, set Suarez away who found Sturridge, and he crossed back for the Uruguayan to sidefoot home. This was a bitter pill for Sunderland supporters as their team were much improved in the second half.
Liverpool leapfrog Spurs and only Arsenal are ahead of them at the top of the Premier League. Rodgers’s experiment with three at the back was less than convincing, but it’s hard to argue with the result. The Black Cats meanwhile remain rooted to the foot of the table.
- Sunderland: 20 Keiren Westwood, 8 Craig Gardner, 24 Carlos Cuellar, 16 John O’Shea (c), 14 Jack Colback, 7 Sebastian Larsson (35 Charis Mavrias 85’), 33 Lee Cattermole (12 Ondrej Celustka 74’), 4 Ki Sung-Yueng, 11 Adam Johnson, 17 Jozy Altidore, 23 Emanuele Giaccherini 4-3-3
- Goals: Emanuele Giacherrini 52’
- Liverpool: 22 Simon Mignolet, 4 Kolo Toure, 37 Martin Skrtel, 17 Mamadou Sakho, 14 Jordan Henderson, 8 Steven Gerrard (c), 21 Lucas Leiva, 3 Jose Enrique, 12 Victor Moses (31 Raheem Sterling 75’), 15 Daniel Sturridge, 7 Luis Suarez 3-4-1-2
- Goals: Daniel Sturridge 28’, Luis Suarez 36’, 89’