For the second week in a row, the Anfield crowd was starved of entertainment as the Reds struggled, and ultimately failed, to overcome opponents who they must beat if they are to achieve the top four position they aspire to.
Remarkably, it wasn’t until the 63rd minute that a shot on target was registered; when it finally did arrive, it wasn’t exactly worth the wait, as Lucas’ tame effort from the edge of the box was more of a back pass than a shot on goal. Unsurprisingly, the instantly forgettable clash was shown last on Match of the Day.
With a must-win match at home to Basel in the Champions League on Tuesday night in mind, Brendan Rodgers rested Steven Gerrard again, as former Sunderland star Jordan Henderson took the skipper’s armband while Gerrard began on the bench.
|Henderson wore the armband against his former employers|
Fabio Borini was once again left out of the matchday squad altogether in another puzzling piece of team news. The Italian’s absence from the bench meant that Liverpool lacked another striker to call upon to assist or replace Rickie Lambert, which would have been helpful considering the damning fact that only Aston Villa and Burnley have scored fewer goals at home than Liverpool this season.
Sunderland had the better of a first half that was as dull as the first 45 against Stoke City a week earlier. Neither side managed to dirty the opposing keeper’s gloves, but the Black Cats were happier with how they had played at half time, Wes Brown heading the best chance of the half over the bar literally seconds before the referee blew his whistle.
Their main striker Connor Wickham also had two penalty appeals turned down by referee Neil Swarbrick during the first 45 minutes. The first, coming after only two minutes, was a close one. Although the contact from Skrtel was minimal, he entered the challenge in such a way as to risk conceding a spot kick. Had the match been played at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light, the decision just might have been different.
His second appeal ten minutes from the break was much more dubious, as the former Ipswich striker hit the deck under pressure from Johnson and Lucas despite neither player touching him. He was rightly ignored by the referee.
Liverpool, meanwhile, struggled to get going. Lambert headed Lallana’s cross over the bar and Coutinho drove just wide after cutting inside from the left, but apart from that the hosts appeared bereft of ideas, unable to take the initiative and break down the visitors’ fairly resilient but relatively untested defence.
Frustratingly, it was little different after the interval. On perhaps the only positive note, though, Sterling seemed on the road back to his best form during the second half; the mesmerising mazy dribbles that he embarked on several times looked the most likely route to breaching the Black Cats’ back line.
It was following one of his diagonal runs that Lucas passed the first shot on target back to Sunderland’s untroubled stopper Costel Pantilimon. From another, Coutinho shot straight at the keeper, while at the other end Simon Mignolet was called upon to make a decent save from Gomez’s thunderous drive from range. Getting desperate, Sterling went down easily under a challenge from Brown after another twisting run, but he couldn’t con Neil Swarbrick.
The final chance of the match involved Liverpool’s two substitutes, Gerrard and Markovic, who both made a positive contribution from the bench; the former predictably lifted the crowd and the latter provided a surprisingly good account of himself when given a rare opportunity by Rodgers.
|Gerrard made a difference when he was introduced for Lallana|
Truth be told, this was a tedious match that will not live long in the memory. Credit to Sunderland, they came with a clear game plan, stuck to it and, as a result, returned to Wearside with a valuable point. The Merseysiders should have done so much better, though, and must up their game against Basel in midweek if they hope to reach the knockout stages of the Champions League.